Can you live to be 90 or 100, and enjoy it? According to Dan Buettner, internationally recognized researcher, National Geographic Fellow and founder of Blue Zones®, much depends on your environment.
Dan has extensively studied the world’s regions with the longest lived people – Ikaria, Greece, Loma Linda, California, Nicoya, Costa Rica, Okinawa, Japan, and Sardinia, Italy. The people here not only live close to (or past) the century mark, they have full and productive lives and much lower rates of disease.
What I find interesting is that unlike Americans, who spend over 9 billion a year on weight loss, these people are not trying to live to be a hundred. It just happens to them. And it isn’t because of their genetics. It is because their environment sets them up for long, healthy living.
So what can we learn from them and implement in our own lives and homes, so that we can live long and happy lives?
Dan found that these Blue Zone communities, as diverse as they are, shared nine food and lifestyle patterns. And I was happy to find that these all fit nicely into the five areas that I cover in my health coaching programs.
Although the exact foods differ from one Blue Zone region to another, they all have something in common. Their diets are primarily plant based, with meat being enjoyed about once a week, or not at all. Beans and lentils are the cornerstone of these diets. They also eat less late in the day, and stop eating before they are “full.”
What can you do to increase your consumption of beans and vegetables, and reduce your intake of meat? Can you use a smaller plate, or eliminate evening snacking?
Blue Zone communities get their exercise by moving naturally throughout their day. They don’t generally “work out” like Americans do. Of course, our jobs frequently have us sitting for large chunks of the day, so if that is the case, working out helps make up for it.
But is there a way to get more natural movement into your day? Could you walk to the corner store or a neighbor’s house rather than drive? Can you park farther from your destination and get some walking in? Gardening and other activities get us moving, reaching and exercising without even thinking about it.
Almost all of the centenarians in Blue Zones belong to some faith-based community. At least once a week they take a break from work, and focus on their faith and their friends in their congregation. This sense of belonging, combined with the stress-relief that comes from down-throttling from a busy week and taking a break from the secular, reduces chronic inflammation and results in an additional 4 – 14 years of life.
What can you do to feed your spiritual need and reduce the stress in your life? This is the area of healthy living that usually gets put off in our rush to get things done. Stopping the rush of life to worship, reflect and appreciate all of the good things in our life brings us contentment and happiness.
What we do for work is a big chunk of our lives. Blue Zone centenarians have a sense of purpose. They know why they wake up in the morning, and their work is congruent with that purpose. It turns out that knowing your “why” is worth an extra seven years of life expectancy.
Do you engage in purposeful work that brings real meaning to your life? This can be challenging, as we don’t always have a job that we enjoy. Career change can be a difficult journey, but well worth the effort if your job is overly stressful or not aligned with your principles.
This is a big one. Blue Zones all have tight-knit communities that support one another emotionally and contribute to their healthier choices. Family is important to them, and grandparents often live in the home or nearby. They invest their time and energy into their spouses, parents and children. Believe it or not, this actually leads to an extra three years of life on average.
What can you do to improve your relationships and enrich your life and theirs? Strained relationships take a toll on your health. It’s worth every effort to put resentment aside, forgive and love one another again. Or maybe the demands of life have tilted the balance, and you would benefit by putting away the gadgets of life and spending more time with your friends and family.
The recipe for a long and healthy life involves much more than the food we eat. Our relationships, career, spirituality and exercise all affect our health. That is why these four areas are a prominent feature of any good health coaching program. By giving attention to all of the areas of your life that feed you, you have the recipe for a long, healthy and happy life.