Last week I introduced you to the concept of Blue Zones, which are places around the world where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else. In each of these places, people living 90 or even 100 years is common. And they aren’t just living longer, they are living healthier.
You might be inclined to think that people who live in these regions have better genes. And while that could account for part of their longevity, it isn’t likely enough to make that much of a difference. A Danish twin study showed that genes dictate only 20 percent of longevity. Lifestyle and environment account for the rest.
With lifestyle and environment accounting for the other 80 percent, and moving to one of these exotic locations likely isn’t an option (if it were, sign me up for Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula), the big question remains: how do we work to increase our own longevity in our current environment.
Trying to follow the Power 9 principles in our current environment would be a daunting task (although I think a lot of us can get on board with the wine at 5 principle). The surroundings in which we live, work, and play don’t exactly lend themselves to a healthy lifestyle. Sure… there are plenty of places to eat fairly healthy and exercise, but diet and exercise are only one tiny part of living longer. Even those of us who do exercise regularly are set up for challenges by our daily lives. The vast majority of us live in places built for cars and not pedestrians, which affects not just moving naturally (walking, biking, hiking), but the other Power 9 principles, as well.
We spend so much of our daily lives in our cars commuting to work, stores, and yes, even to the gym. This only increases stress and leaves precious little time for cooking healthy meals, socializing with friends and family, and getting involved with volunteer work. We have “mod cons,” that’s modern conveniences, so that we don’t have to lift a finger…and every store and restaurant is filled with easy, unhealthy choices. So, every year, we become more unhealthy, heavy, stressed, and lonely.
What can we do given we live in an “unhealthy” world?
Add more plant-based foods in to your diet. Note I’m not suggesting you go to an all plant-based diet. If you want to, that’s you’re prerogative, but I think for most of us (and our families) that would be too much of a shock to our system. If I were to suggest one plant-based addition to your menu it would be beans. According to Blue Zones researcher Dan Buettner, “a cup of beans a day could add two to three years to your life.”
Be more social. Humans are social creatures and being lonely can shave eight years off our lives. From a young age, we learn the importance of teamwork and collaboration. For instance, Buettner says young children who can’t lift a bucket of water on their own will understand that if they work together, they’ll succeed. “We’re genetically hardwired to crave social interaction and when you don’t have it, there’s a level of subconscious stress that grates away at you,” Buettner adds.
Being social in these Blue Zone cultures has a bit of a different meaning than we may think. According to Buettner, “these people are investing in family, keeping their minds engaged, and there’s no existential stress of being worthless in life like so many Americans.” I don’t know that we Americans feel worthless, but we do tie an awful lot of our self-worth to how successful we are in our careers – not in our community.
Walk more, drive less. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and you can do it without thinking about it. For short trips, ditch the car keys and just walk out the door, especially if you live in Old Town or Del Ray. “If you do need to drive, park further away. You’ll be guaranteed a parking spot and you’ll get in a little additional movement time,” says Buettner, who encourages people to rely less on cars and more on public transportation so that they have to walk more.
You may want to hide this recommendation from your kids, but if you really want to get moving everyday…bring a dog in to your life. Says Buettner, “They’re a great companion to help strengthen your family’s social relationship and they’re a perfect nudge to get you walking everyday.”
There’s no magic Blue Zone potion. That’s kind of the point. Ultimately, the secrets of the Blue Zone are not so secret after all. They each prioritize health and happiness in ways that we’re increasingly learning about and embracing.