I want to live a long and healthy life, I want to see 100. My grandparents got no where close, it has been a huge motivating factor to get control of my health now and learn how to feel my best.
For centuries people have been seeking out the meaning of life; talking with the people in my life I’ve come up with it is all about feeling good. Of course there is more to it, but simplifying it (which we all need to simplify and slow down) we just want to feel good.
You know what they say, “We are what we eat”. If you are like me, you are not always paying attention to how you feel and relating it to food? I’m coming to find this is very important and contemplating more when I’m getting hungry and in the search of food. How will this food make me feel after I eat it, will it sustain me?
These thoughts have led me to a fantastic book by Dan Buettner called the Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest. Dan is an national geographic author who traveled the world to five “blue zones” where communities have a higher than average population to live to be one hundred and older. He went to explore why and has discovered secret trends in his interviews with centenarians to longevity and a happier, healthier life. They really resonated with me and I would like to share them with you.
Lessons from the Blue Zones:
1. Move naturally. Incorporate movement in your everyday life. A walk everyday is the best thing you can do for your body. Working out and exercise are not as important as gentle consistent activity. For all the centenarians in Buettner’s book activity was just a part of their everyday life, gardening, walking to town, chopping wood, doing regular household chores.
2. Mindful Eating = calorie reduction. The majority of us eat too much, we consume on average 20% more calories than our bodies need and they get stored as fat if we don’t burn them off. One of the Blue Zones is in Okinawa, Japan, and every centenarian interviewed there said Hara Hachi Bu before eating. It means stop eating when the stomach is 80% full. Okinawans stop eating when they no longer feel hungry, typical Americans stop eating when they feel full. There is a time lapse between the stomach communicating with the brain when we are full. There is a big difference between no longer being hungry and being full, by time we feel full we’ve already overeaten by 20%. The continued over eating is detrimental to our health. None of the centenarians had ever been on a diet, it’s not about controlling your food, but listening to your body.
3. Avoid processed food and limit meat. Food processing strips away the natural nutrients and fibre of food, making it less digestable and harder on the body. Meat is not bad for us, it is an excellent source of protein. However it also has a lot of fat and calories, so in the amounts that average Americans eat it in, is not good for us. Adults only need 0.8 grams of protein for every one kilogram or 2.2 pounds of body weight, approximately 50-80 grams of protein per day. There are healthier foods with protein in them. The staple foods of all the blue zones are beans, whole grains, and fresh vegetables. Buettner found that the most impressive of all longevity foods are nuts, 3-7 servings of nuts a week decreases the rate of heart disease.
4. Red wine in moderation. Most centenarians of the blue zones had a daily drink of beer, wine, or spirits which may have health benefits, but in moderation is key! It was always part of a social setting and no more than two drinks. The health benefits are only received if it is consistent and small amount, since an excessive amount of alcohol is detrimental to the liver, organs, and brain. Red wine is best because of the artery scrubbing polyphenols.
5. Have a life purpose. All the centenarians could articulate why they wake up in the morning. For many it was for their family, others it was obligations to the community, others it was rituals and routines. Cultivate your passions have a mission in life. Get lost is your hobbies and recreation. Something I’ve studied heavily in university is the sense of “flow” coined by Dr. Csikszentmihalyi meaning enjoy what your doing so much that you lose a sense of time and worry and experience enjoyment, freedom, skills, and fulfillment.
6. Downshift. This one is so important, you must be able to relieve stress. Take time for your self, even just moments to appreciate the view. Slow down. Stress causes inflammation in the body and all disease begins with inflammation. The best advice offered from Raffaella at 107 years old, from the Sardinian village of Arzana, an Italian island, “life is short. Don’t run so fast you miss it.” A great way of doing this that I would like to make an effort at is meditation. It’s new to me, we all need to start somewhere, but meditation allows us to see the world as it really is and create clarity in our lives.
7. Belong and participate in a spiritual community. All religions allow for scheduled self-reflection, decompression, and stress relief. There is an accountability associated with religious communities, a code of behaviour that leads to positive expectations developing an increased self worth.
8. Loved ones first. Make family a priority they are a necessary support system. The young keep the old young. It’s important to cultivate family relationships and strengthen those bonds. Families provide incomparable care. Create rituals with your family, have a meal together everyday, see the grandparents once a week. These relationships are proven to keep the mind sharp.
9. Right Tribe. This last secret I find very interesting, it is about the influence the people in your life have on you.”It’s much easier to adopt good habits when everyone around you is already practicing them.” Social connectedness will make you live longer and get the most enjoyment out of life. I find this true in my own life, I met my best friends in college and university. None of us live in the same community but we keep close touch, get together and they challenge me to do things I wouldn’t do on my own. I’m so lucky to have these positive life loving friends to have adventures and many laughs with. Surround your self with the positive.
We are in control of our lives and have the choice to determine what kind of lives we live. The Blue Zones present two options, “We can live a shorter life with more years of disability, or we can live the longest possible life with the fewest bad years.” I’ve been thinking a lot about what is a good life, quality is more important to me than quantity, but Buettner has given us the secrets to have both.
If you are interested enough in living a long happy life to make it to the end of this post I have one more proposal for you. The centurions in the Blue Zones live on a whole foods diet, this is important to how they feel. As North Americans we have developed an addiction to sugar, it is hidden every where, have you looked?
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I highly recommend The Blue Zones to anyone who has considered what it takes to live a long, healthy, happy life. How long do you want to live? Take the quiz at the blue zones website to find how long you are expected to live. http://apps.bluezones.com/vitality/