Over the past two blogs, we have discussed the centenarians from 5 well-researched Blue Zones, including the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the Greek Island of Ikaria. We have highlighted the secrets of successful aging and the secrets of maintaining good health a decade+ longer than most Americans. How much have you learned? Do you remember their main secrets? And, most importantly, can you apply them to your life?
From my vantage point, longevity comes from a specific group of habits. The first crucial habit is an increased focus on family and friends. The second crucial habit is a life purpose with the goal of helping others. The third habit is a sustained effort to reduce stress. Coupled together, those three habits steer people towards the more meaningful parts of life: greater interactions with family and friends. That focus leads to better friendships, increased support, and a happier life. Better yet, that focus leads to enhanced immunity, better protection from disease, and increased vitality. Most Americans need to shift their living style toward these goals.
The next group of habits focuses on daily physical activity and a healthy eating style. The centenarians are daily walkers. Unlike Americans, they do spend their time collapsing in front of a TV. As for their eating style, centenarians are not vegetarians, but they eat a plant-slanted diet. Americans need to shift their life-long eating style to more vegetables, fruits, beans, and nuts, coupled to a reduced consumption of meats and dairy products. In addition, Americans need to drink more water during the day and consume a little red wine before their meals. Healthy exercise during the day, plenty of water during work, a glass of red wine in the early evening, and a good vegetable-filled dinner is a program for prolonged good health and prolonged longevity.
So, what have we missed? Is there anything else that centenarians can teach us? Actually, there are two key points. The first point is Vitamin “S”; and the second point is the “right tribe.” Let’s start with Vitamin “S”. The “S” stands for smile. Why? Because centenarians are renowned for their life-long good disposition. Americans need to learn to smile more, laugh more. What are our current statistics? Babies smile hundreds of times each day and adults smile only 20-30 times a day, if that much? A positive attitude with an accompanying habit of looking for the good is a key to longevity. Doesn’t that make sense? If you are going to search for the bad, your mood will be sour, your chemistry will be scrambled, and your internal rejuvenation / recovery will be blocked. Do you want to be healthier, living longer? Follow their lead. Look for the good. Find the good. Relish the good. It is that easy – if you just give it a try!
The other recommendation? Stay with the “right tribe”? On the surface, they sound elitist, almost racist. Why not mingle with “others”? In truth, the habit is not directed at excluding other religious or ethnic or social groups. The Japanese in Okinawa have no hesitation in getting along with Americans, even though the United States killed most of their family and friends. The “right tribe” does not refer to who you are on the outside; it refers to who you are on the inside. Centenarians surround themselves with positive people who will enhance their life, not degrade their life. They surround themselves with friends, not adversaries. You should follow that advice. You should cultivate more friendships, learn to spend more time with those friends, and make those positive connections a focus of your life. The more friends? The more time that you spend with them? The longer you live.
In summary, are these recommendations surprising? Not really. Too many of us rush through the day; we spend time with people we do not like; and we pay too little attention to our level of exercise or our eating style. Too many of us power through work only to rush through meals of processed, quick (unhealthy) foods, We say too little to our spouse, children and friends. Instead, after a hard day of work or a long day of household activities, we collapse in front of the TV, buried behind the large screen. Where is the healthy living style? Where is the healthy food? Where is the necessary exercise? Where are the connections with people we love? Where is our break from stress? And we wonder why we have trouble sleeping? Or why our health deteriorates so much as we age?
Well, here is a simple formula. Start the day by appreciating your family. Smile at them in the morning! Through the day try to spend time with friends – co-workers or neighbors – whom you like. Try to find time for some exercise or at least some walking. Try to find time to break your steady stress. When you survive through the day, do not retreat into some corner. Push yourself toward those connections (spouse, children, neighbors, friends) that will re-invigorate you. Try for some more exercise if you have time before dinner. Or have that glass of red wine with a handful of nuts. At dinner (as you hopefully did at lunch), slant your eating choices toward vegetable and fruit. Eat healthy with reduced meat. And at night re-engage your family, not just the TV. Close the day with some time with your spouse. Let go of that daily stress. Appreciate the people in your life. It’s simple. With just this approach, you will feel better, live longer, and be far happier. Even sleep better! Now, do want to give it a try? Or would you prefer to die well before your time?