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Could Sag Harbor Be the World’s Next ‘Blue Zone’?

Thu, 10/05/2023 - 10:02

One doctor says yes, and sets up shop in the village

After going through his “own health care transformation,” Dr. David Luu, a cardiac surgeon with a house in Sag Harbor, was inspired to open Hearty Lounge to help others follow a similar path.
Christine Sampson

What do Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia in Italy, Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya in Costa Rica, and Loma Linda in California have in common? They are considered by some health experts to be “blue zones” — places where people are living longer lives with fewer health troubles than in the rest of the world.

In 2000, in Okinawa, Dan Buettner, a journalist and National Geographic Explorer and Fellow, chronicled that city’s longest-living humans — mainly women — and their habits. Four years later, in the Journal of Experimental Gerontology, Giovanni Pes and Michel Poulain identified Sardinia as having the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians. Similar studies in Ikaria, Nicoya, and Loma Linda established a pattern: Where people were moving more, eating wisely, and engaging in their communities, they were living far longer than the average American does. Which, right now, stands at about 78 years.

Out of that research came a collaboration called Blue Zones and the identification of about 70 more such communities worldwide. Dr. David Luu thinks Sag Harbor Village is going to be on that list someday soon.

That’s one of the reasons why Dr. Luu, a cardiac surgeon who has lived in Sag Harbor since 2020, chose to establish Hearty Lounge — a “boutique,” science-based health club with a focus on longevity — on Division Street over the summer.

Sitting down for an interview recently in a sunny, pleasant-smelling lounge, Dr. Luu explained that longevity “is not just about the things you do,” like diet and fitness practices, but it is also about community.

People in blue zones “live in a really, really healthy way, but most importantly they have a great community. That’s what fascinated me here — how people are taking care of each other. I think that’s something really special.”

Dr. Luu, a pediatric heart surgeon from France, was in New York City until the Covid-19 pandemic. He and his wife, who is from Martinique, decided to settle here full time “for the health of our family and our kids. Everything is so much quieter and more peaceful, and there’s less pollution — air pollution, noise pollution, visual pollution. We’re in a more balanced space.”

New York City is not a blue zone. Sag Harbor? Maybe. What combination of factors makes a town or city eligible? The National Geographic offshoot has identified nine factors: moving naturally, finding purpose, “down-shifting” stress, not eating until one’s stomach is entirely full, eating with a “plant slant,” consuming alcohol moderately, finding a community to belong to, finding lifelong friends, and maintaining strong family ties.

People who focus on living as long as possible and as healthy as possible are often called “biohackers.” Laughing, Dr. Luu said, “We’re here for it.” Some people have life coaches and financial advisers; Hearty’s team could be considered longevity coaches.

“I want to educate people on the impact of their lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be exclusive or elitist,” he said. “Most of the time when you’re a surgeon, you see people too late. People only go to a doctor when they’re sick. After the pandemic, a lot of people are realizing we can do things for ourselves. We can take care of our physical health and mental health, aging properly if we know what to do. It’s a new way of educating people in the health care industry — a system that is super broken, by the way.”

Dr. Luu has assembled a diverse team of experts, including Dr. Frank Lipman, a part-time East Hampton resident, who has been practicing functional medicine for 40 years. They conduct health screenings and prescribe diagnostic tests to ultimately create a blueprint for a sustainable way to improve health and even slow down the aging process. Membership in Hearty even comes with a mobile app.

In true Hair Club for Men style, Dr. Luu is not just the founder — he’s also a client. “I had an accident and broke my clavicle, and I went to the emergency room in Southampton,” he said. “I looked at the blood tests and I realized my cholesterol was high. I had a little bit of a blood pressure issue. I was getting overweight. I was only in my 40s. That was a wakeup call — I’m going the wrong route. I’m going down the path of having a heart attack in the next decade. So I started my own health transformation.”

The founder of the Heart Fund, a nonprofit that for the last 12 years has been caring for kids at risk for heart disease in developing countries, Dr. Luu also plans to monitor his Hearty clients’ long-term health to potentially author research studies in peer-reviewed scientific publications.

“Preventive care is not something people are usually excited about. Checkups have bad press,” he said. “But if you make it nice and cool with great people and a great experience, less friction, and present education around it with compassion, then it becomes pleasing and people will do it. That’s how we challenge the status quo.”

And if enough people take on that challenge together, well, perhaps blue-zone status will be within reach.

“It takes a village, and that’s good because we are in Sag Harbor Village,” Dr. Luu said. “We’re here to stay and hopefully we can empower people in the community to become those ambassadors of healthy lifestyles and longevity.”



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