Over the weekend, in a brief conversation with a friend back from the tennis court, we talked about improving the quality of our lives as we age. How to “die young as late in life as possible.”
I said exercise is king. Not only because it is my passion, and I genuinely believe it can enhance, improve, and enrich one’s life. But because exercise allows us to continue to do the things we NEED, LIKE, and WANT to do, like walk, sit, stand, climb stairs, carry groceries, ride our bikes, play tennis or golf, and so much more.
No, we can do many other things to achieve functional longevity. Modern lifestyles — including sedentary behavior and poor eating habits—are a breeding ground for chronic illness. That makes it harder for people in the U.S. to live long and prosper. Yet, there are regions around the globe where pockets of people appear to be living longer and healthier lives.
In these Blue Zones, residents statistically live the longest and produce people ages 90 and above at seemingly extraordinary rates. The specific areas are Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece), and the Seventh-day Adventist religious community in Loma Linda, California (USA).
For years, doctors, anthropologists, nutritionists, and epidemiologists have looked at their behavior patterns.
Here are some of the most important practices and suggestions for creating your own Blue Zone.
1. Plant-Based Diets Predominate
Diet is an entrance ramp to better health. The average tofu-laced menu in Okinawa may differ from what is on offer in a Costa Rican village, where beans and rice dominate, but Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RDN, a senior medical writer and epidemiologist with Cambia Health Solutions in Portland, Oregon, says a parallel among Blue Zones is that diets are predominantly plant-based.
What We Can Do: Focus on minimally processed plants, including vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains. Look for ways to add more plants and slice out some meat.
2. Physical Activity Fills the Day
Physical activity in all Blue Zone areas involves a consistent flow of natural movements, including those involved in gardening, pounding corn by hand, practicing tai-chi daily, and shepherding livestock in the hills.
What We Can Do: Get up and move — often! Beyond going hard at the gym, engineer more movement in daily life. For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go for a walk after dinner, embrace an active hobby (like gardening or tennis) and set a timer to get you up and moving after sitting for more than an hour.
3. Purpose Defines a Long Life
Nicoyans call it Plan de Vida, and Okinawans refer to it as Ikigai, both of which essentially translates to “a reason to live.” Adults who begin each day with a sense of purpose and fulfillment while recognizing how they contribute to their communities seem to live long lives or, at the very least, feel positive, upbeat, and happy.
What We Can Do: Find and cling to your purpose. A sense of usefulness can come from something as simple as immersing yourself in a hobby or actively volunteering time to worthy causes. In addition, crafting a personal mission statement can guide the way to living longer.
4. Social Circles Reinforce Health
Researchers have identified social interactions as a significant player in Blue Zone longevity. For example, the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda live in tight-knit communities. At the same time, Okinawans have their moai; a social circle that provides support during life stressors and reinforces shared healthy behaviors. These communities focus on face-to-face time and not Facebook likes.
What We Can Do: Create an environment that encourages daily socializing with family and friends. Schedule weekly get-togethers with friends, volunteer for a cause that forces interaction with others, or join a sports league that involves group play. And find ways to enjoy more of your meals in good company.
Also, do not smoke — or if you already smoke, quit now. You might fail on your first try, but the earlier you start the quitting process, the more smoke-free years you can invest in your happiness account.
If you want to ascend to that upper branch of happiness and live a long, vibrant life, following these steps as best you can is the most reliable way to do so. But, first, take an inventory of your habits and behaviors today, and see where you need to invest a little more time, energy, or money to start moving in the right direction.
We, at Fit Factor, can help you move more and move better. We can help you eat better and find your purpose. We can help you socialize with other like-minded individuals.
Call us today to schedule a complimentary session, and start reaping the same benefits of those in the Blue Zone areas.
Everyone loves a happy ending, especially in their own life story. So start writing that ending today.
See you soon.