The Secret to Health and Longevity
What is the best way to stay healthy?
Do I need to eat vegetarian, pescatarian, paleo, keto, gluten-free, sugar-free, or dairy-free? Spend hours in the gym every day, do crossfit, or run a triathlon? What nutritional supplements should I take?
It seems the answers to these questions changes with the seasons. Trends should be for our clothes, not our health!
Along with all of these health trends comes… fear - that I’m not doing it right. Guilt - for feeding my son processed foods. Frustration - because I don’t have the time and money it must take to cook healthy, organic food every single day. To go to those fancy group fitness classes. I just want to live a healthy life and feel good about myself.
Isn’t that what we all want?
And then, what does it really mean to be healthy?
Living to be a hundred years old probably doesn’t sound appealing to most of us given the quality of life that we see in the elderly. We can’t see what is happening inside our bodies and many health problems don’t surface until we’re older.
I firmly believe that health is not only seen in how you look. More importantly, how do you feel?
Every time I turn around, there are health experts telling me to do this, or stop doing that. There are toxic ingredients to avoid everywhere! It can get so overwhelming sometimes that I’m tempted to just give up.
But I can’t give up. I know that health is life. It’s everything. I want to be here for my family and to enjoy a long, healthy life on this earth. I want to feel amazing and look my best.
I have to remind myself that a healthy life is a journey, not a destination. I’m not “there” yet. But I’m doing what I can every day. I’m doing my research and making informed decisions about what to put in my body. I’m making exercise a priority. Most importantly, I’m figuring out how to fit all of this into my crazy busy life and learning to banish guilt!
Lessons from the healthiest people on earth
We’ve all heard of the fabled Fountain of Youth but I’ve only recently learned about Blue Zones: areas of the world where people enjoy long, healthy lives. These areas have unusually high numbers of centenarians and they do not suffer with “diseases of old age” that are so common in other areas of the world. In his book “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest,” author Dan Buettner explores the commonalities between these little pockets of healthy humans that are spread out across the world (Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Icaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and a group of Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California). So how do these folks stay healthy?
You are what you eat (and drink)
People in the Blue Zones eat beans and legumes daily and have a diet heavy in whole grains, nuts, and hyper-local produce (much of which they grow themselves). They limit eggs and fish to several times per week and some celebrate with pork or other meats from time to time. Yogurt and cheeses are made from fresh goat or sheep milk.
Blue Zoners intentionally consume sugar but stick to naturally occuring sugar vs. artificial sugars that are added to so many commercially processed foods. As you might have guessed, they have no need to take vitamins or supplements because they get everything their bodies need from their whole food diet. This is interesting- they always stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full and eat their smallest meal in the early evening. They drink mostly water but enjoy a glass or two of wine - every day (except for the Seventh Day Adventists group, who do not consume alcohol).
Life in motion
Do you think that the laid-back folks in Sardinia are competing in triathlons or weight training? Nah, they’re too busy gardening, walking to the market and to visit friends, and being sure to always make love on Sunday’s. Turns out, doing bursts of strenuous exercise isn’t a thing in the Blue Zones. Instead, movement is weaved into everyday life. Even if it’s just getting up and down off of the floor up to 30 times a day as the Okinawans do, well into their old age.
Find purpose and take it easy
Apparently, health isn’t all about our bodies. The studies of the Blue Zones have shown amazing insight about how our values, mindset and connections to other people and to the earth, affect health and longevity. In addition to valuing strong family relationships that span decades, people in these areas also have strong social connections and most belong to faith-based communities. One claim that stood out to me the most is that loneliness can take up to 4 years off of your life! Also, stress-relieving activities such as prayer, meditation, naps, or happy hour are built into daily routines.
Here’s to family and good friends- may we always know the importance of staying connected.
Baby steps to Blue
I know, I know, we can’t just pick up and move to a Blue Zone and our modern day culture in industrialized nations seems far from that of the dream-like lifestyle pictured on the island of Icaria, Greece. We don’t get to spend our days roaming the countryside, gardening, preparing food and laughing with old friends. Far from it. But there are small steps we can take to redesign our lifestyle, taking a few lessons from our centenarian friends. And no, we don’t have to spend millions on Blue Zone consultants like some US cities are currently doing.
I’ve learned that “cold turkey” never works for me. Let’s take our time, always learning and improving, and never letting ourselves get bogged down in guilt and shame. Let’s find simple ways to interject exercise into our daily routine. Let’s find a way to get fresh local produce and make yummy recipes using the common ingredients found in the diets of the Blue Zoners. And for heaven’s sake, let’s find ways to reconnect to our families, build meaningful relationships, cut stress, and regain the sacred connection to the earth that so many of us have lost in this day and age. Our bodies are all different, yet so much the same. Regardless of gender, age or culture, we are all part of the human race and the basic principles of health and nutrition are universal. The key is to find healthy things that you actually enjoy eating and doing and set your mind to make small changes and stick to them. It’s not about going on a diet, it’s about changing our daily habits, forever.