So many things to learn, so little time – that’s been my mantra for years now. Do you feel the same way? When I read this research study in a recent issue of Positive Aging, the online newsletter of the Taos Institute (http://www.taosinstitute.net/), I was encouraged. It turns out that there are many people across the planet who live exceptionally long lives. They live in the following places which are referred to in the study as the “Blue Zones”: Sardinia; the IKarian Island off the coast of Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and the Seventh Day Adventists who live in Loma Linda, California and live ten years longer than any other North Americans.
What do these people have in common? Nine characteristics that may give us some insights into how we can at least try to emulate their habits, attitudes and activities. Want to see how many you already share in common with them? Here we go…
- Keep moving, and “natural” movements are the best. These people grow food and flowers in their gardens, do much of their yard and house work by hand; they walk around a lot; and some have to climb small mountains just to perform tasks of daily life.
- Have a purpose in life which translates into a reason to get up each day. A sense of purpose, making a contribution to family and community, has been associated with an added 7 years of life. It’s the feeling of being needed, and useful, that fuels their energy and activities.
- Relieve daily stress; even people who live long have stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, a condition that is implicated in every major age-related disease. The longest lived folks have routines to help get rid of stress that we don’t have in our culture. The Okinawans take a few minutes daily to remember their ancestors; the Adventists spend daily time in prayer; the Ikarians take a nap, and the Sardinians have happy hour.
- Follow the 80% Rule, when eating. They stop when they feel 80% full! That 20% gap may make the difference between gaining weight and keeping it off. In these parts of the world, people eat their smallest meal of the day in late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more before going to bed.
- Eat beans. Fava, black, soy and lentils are main dietary forms of plant protein. Meat, mostly pork, is eaten only 5 times a month, and in serving sizes that are equivalent to a deck of cards.
- Drink wine. These folks outlive non-drinkers and they drink moderately and regularly, with food and friends. (One has to wonder – is it the wine or the fellowship that helps them live longer?)
- Belong. Most are members of a faith-based community, and denomination does not seem to matter. Attending services 4-5 times a month adds 4-14 years in longevity. (Again, is it the faith practice or the fellowship that accounts for those added years of life?)
- Put the family first. Aging parents or grandparents are nearby to the younger generation or actually live together in one home. They commit to a life partner and spend time and love on their family members. The study shows that these arrangements contribute longevity and reduced mortality among family members as well as the centenarians themselves. Talk about a win-win!
- Membership in the Right Tribe, a social circle that supports healthy behaviors. Having five friends who are committed to each other for life, as in the case of the Okinawans, adds years to their lives. (There it is again – the importance of having a social network for support during our many life transitions, the good times and the hard times.)
In order to live to the ripe age of 100, we have to win the genetic endowment lottery. But studies like this one show that there are also many things we can do to live to be 90 and largely without chronic disease. As the Adventists demonstrate, we who are “average” can adopt healthy habits and add 10-12 years to our life expectancy. It reminds me of the wisdom of the old adage that “it’s the little things that are the big things” in life. If we manage the little things, such as practicing healthy daily habits, then over time that pays off in big things, like reducing the risks of strokes, heart attacks, and dementia. Small choices made consistently over time from which we reap great benefits. I’m in. Are you?