Longevity, Blue Zones, & The Road to 100
My mom at 100, still drinking her smoothies and taking her vitamins!
Is There a Formula for Longevity?
I’ve always been fascinated by age and why some people live very long lives while others are gone at an early age. My father died at the age of 67, but my mother lived to be 100 plus. What made such a difference?
My father had a work ethic and lifestyle that I believe took him early. He had a thriving printing business in Los Angeles with endless projects that kept him very busy. Although he loved his work, the lifestyle that accompanied his job was not the healthiest. He worked long hours to support his family and provide a life that was healthier for us than it was for him.
My mother had a full-time job at home. She was busy with a house full of seven kids, overseeing our school activities, transportation, and managing everyone’s day-to-day schedule. She was involved with many church and volunteer organizations. Her life was busy and she excelled at being a wife and mother, but the intensity of her days didn’t have the same effect on her and her health. After my dad died, my mother loved spending time with her seven children and, eventually, seventeen grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She had a family who loved her and spent time being with her. This was her Happy Place.
I can't help but ponder... Was it stress, environment, genetics, or perhaps a combination of all three that played a part in my parents' significantly different lifespans?
What does my future hold? Will I live to be 100 years old?
Blue Zones: What They Are, and Why We Should Pay Attention
My interest in longevity has led me to study the Blue Zones. These places are home to the world’s healthiest living people. In these Blue Zones, people live longer and are healthier than anywhere else on earth. Five of these Blue Zones exist around the world, and in each of these places people commonly live to 90 or even 100. And they aren’t just living long, either; these people are living healthy, good quality lives without medication or disabilities.
The five Blue Zones are:
- Barbagia, Sardinia: a mountainous highlands region of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians
- Ikaria, Greece: an Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia
- Nicola Peninsula, Costa Rica: has the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians
- Loma Linda, California, USA: home to a large population of Seventh Day Adventists who on average live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts
- Okinawa, Japan: Okinawa has more people over 100 years old per 100,000 people than anywhere else in the world
While there may be more, so far these five Blue Zones have been identified and thoroughly researched by journalist Dan Buettner. In a partnership with National Geographic, Buettner dedicated over five years of on-site investigation to the secret of longevity and health present in these fascinating communities. Utilizing a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists, Buettner searched for evidence-based common denominators among all places and found there were nine.
Blue Zone "POWER 9" Principles (and how YOU can apply them, wherever you live!)
1. MOVE NATURALLY The world's longest-lived people don't pump iron, run marathons, or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without having to think about it. They live in places where they can walk to the store, to their friend's house, or places of worship. Their houses have stairs. They have gardens in their yards.
Application: To start moving naturally, consider making things a little inconvenient. Take that extra trip up or down the stairs instead of loading things at the top or bottom to take up later. Walk to your airport gate instead of taking the moving walkway or park far from the entrance when you visit a store. Walk the dog, do your own yard and housework, and get rid of some the time-saving electronics and power equipment that have "simplified" your life.
2. KNOW YOUR PURPOSE
Having a sense of purpose is shown to add up to seven years of extra life expectancy. The Okinawans call it "ikigai" and the Nicoyans call it "plan de vida"—for both, it translates to "why I wake up in the morning."
Application: Begin investigating your own purpose by creating an internal inventory of your life. Try to articulate your values, passions, gifts, and talents. What are the things you like to do and the things you don't? Then incorporate ways to put your skills into action in ways that will add meaning to your life and the lives of others.
3. DOWN SHIFT
Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with every major age-related disease. Although everyone experiences stress, the world's longest-lived people have routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap, and Sardinians do happy hour.
Application: You, too, can find a stress-relieving strategy that works for you and make it a routine. You'll be able to benefit both physically and emotionally!
4. 80% RULE
Marketers tell us we can eat our way to health, but America has been eating its way well beyond health. The 80% Rule is a strategy that focuses on taking things out of everyday diets instead of putting more things in.
Saying "Hara hachi bu," the 2500-year old Confucian mantra, before meals reminds Okinawans to stop eating when their stomach is 80% full. This 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it.
Application: You can also take simple steps like replacing your big tableware with smaller, 10" plates and tall, skinny glasses. Remove any TVs from the kitchen that might encourage idle eating. People in the Blue Zones areas eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then don't eat any more the rest of the day.
5. PLANT SLANT
While most people in the Blue Zones areas only consume small amounts of meat on rare occasions, all of them eat a rich array of fresh fruits and vegetables, which are packed with disease-fighting nutrients. The cornerstone of most centenarian diets is beans, favorites including fava, black, soy, and lentils.
Application: You can eat meat if you want to, but try considering it as a side dish, and make sure you buy the leanest, finest meat you can afford. Limit portions to the size of a deck of cards, and don't exceed serving it more than twice a week. This is consistent with the USDA's MyPlate recommendations to make fruits, vegetables, and grains the majority of your intake. You can also focus on eating nuts — a handful a day can give you an extra 2-3 years of life expectancy!
6. WINE @ FIVE
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers generally outlive non-drinkers.
Application: The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine!), with friends and/or with food. (And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday!) Thanks to healthy plant compounds and antioxidants, wine has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, certain cancers and slow the progression of neurological disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Limit your daily intake to one glass for women and two glasses for men. Try drinking while you eat a meal with friends to experience the full benefits of this Power 9® principle. Remember, however, that if you go overboard, the positive effects will be replaced with negative habits, so be mindful of your intake.
All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
Application: Join a civic- or faith-based organization, since strong social relationships can add years to your life. If you already belong to a group, great! If it's been a while or you aren't sure where to start, try asking friends and neighbors for their suggestions or search for additional information online.
8. LOVED ONES FIRST
Happy, healthy centenarians in the Blue Zones areas put their families first. This can take shape in many ways, from keeping your aging parents and grandparents in or near your home to being in a positive, committed relationship. These practices have been shown to add up to 6 years of life expectancy.
Application: Caring for children is important for many reasons, and many people in the Blue Zones areas go out of their way to invest time and love in their children and grandchildren. In turn, their families are more likely to care for them when the time comes.
9. RIGHT TRIBE
The world's longest-lived people are either born into or choose to create social circles that support healthy behaviors. Ikarians enjoy tight-knit communities that socialize frequently, while Okinawans build "moai" groups of five friends that commit to each other for life.
Application: Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, and even loneliness are contagious. The good news is that happiness is also shown to be contagious! Assessing who you spend time with and then proactively surrounding yourself with the right friends will do more to add years to your life than almost anything else.
How can the Blue Zones principles make a difference in our lives today?
I'm fortunate to have grown up in a place and in a family where many of these practices were followed. The Beach Cities Health District in the South Bay of California where I live recently moved to incorporate these Power 9 Principles (Copyright 2016© Blue Zones, LLC and Healthways, Inc.) as community standards and added what we can do today to insure our success of longevity.
You may need the right genetics to make it to age 100. Most of us, however, may have the potential to make it well into our late 80s and early 90s, largely without chronic disease, by following simple, daily practices that have a longterm, profound effect. As the Blue Zones inhabitants demonstrate, the average person’s life expectancy could increase by 10-12 years.
What are you willing to do to add those extra happy years full of vitality to you life?
Contact me, and let's work together to find personalized solutions to get you on the right path to a long and happy life.
Live & Love Your Life with Vitality!