The Best Kept Secrets to Thrive Until 100
In the health industry, and especially in functional medicine, evidence-based medicine is crucial. We rely on sound research to guide us in HOW to improve medical conditions that are treatable and reversible, with the goal to achieve long term health and vitality. So, what better way to learn how to live for long term health, than to look to the populations around the world that are known to live for more than 100 years, while still being active and healthy!
There are 5 areas in the world known for their healthy population, and among them, have the most individuals that enjoy more than 100 years of life! These are called Blue Zones. These places are – Loma Linda, California, Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, and Nicoya, Costa Rica.
Longevity researchers, National Geographic, the National Institute on Aging, and a man by the name of Dan Buettner, all worked together for a major purpose – learn from these populations and cultures, to extract the key elements that have aided in their wonderfully long-lived lives. They discovered that there were 9 commonalities to health and longevity, and today’s post is all about the Power 9, as they are called by the Blue Zone Project. Movement, having the right outlook on life, meaningful connections, and eating wisely are all at the center of the Power 9.
#1 Natural Movement
These Blue Zone populations around the world truly embody the notion of an active LIFESTYLE. Movement is part of their day-to-day life, they don’t think about “exercise,” they just move. Moving is how they make their living, how they get to where they need to be, or how they feed themselves. Driving is not how they commute, they walk, they often garden to provide themselves with fresh whole foods, or work as shepherds or farmers. Their natural, day to day environment and how they live, involve movement! A big key factor here is that they don’t think about their movement – it’s quite literally, their lifestyle.
#2, #3 • Right Outlook: Purpose & Downshift
Having a sense of purpose in life, and reason to wake up every day is something that plays a major role in the health and wellbeing of people living in these Blue Zones. Research on this showed that having a strong sense of purpose attributed to roughly 7 extra years of life, compared to others that did not have a clear purpose. That’s significant if you ask me!
We know it’s impossible to never feel stressed in life, and these individuals aren’t an exception to stress. However, what makes them different is that they prioritize stress management routines in their daily life. HOW you deal with stress can make a huge difference when it comes to inflammatory disease development. Their stress management practices are oftentimes linked to strengthening their sense of purpose – bringing their attention to the present, back to things that fuel their positive outlook on life such as passions and interests or community. Including practices or rituals like prayer, remembering loved ones, even getting together for drinks with friends, or simply taking a nap. This is what was deemed as the “downshift” in these populations – they all know how to downshift their stress, let it go, fuel their wellbeing, and live in the now!
#4, #5, #6 • Eat Wisely: Rule, Plant Slant, Wine at 5pm
When it comes to healthy living, eating wisely is something we hear OFTEN. Research is always working to define what eating wisely for health really means, and truthfully, there isn’t 1 diet that fits all. But a common practice among centenarians and people in these Blue Zones was eating smaller meals later in the day or early evening, not eating too late, and focusing on stopping when their stomachs feel about 80% full. Not Thanksgiving Day kind of full.
The plant slant, as it’s called, refers to eating mostly plant based. Whole foods that really aren’t included much in American’s diets are beans, and lentils – of which Blue Zone centenarians consume regularly. What was surprising to see, especially from an American perspective (culturally), meat is only consumed sparingly, a handful of times per month and in modest portions.
Wine has its reputation for being heart healthy due to its resveratrol content, but you might be surprised to hear about its place in Blue Zone lifestyles. It’s enjoyed essentially every day, or most days, about 1-2 glasses max. BUT, something unique was mentioned with this – only if you have a healthy relationship with wine, and it’s enjoyed with friends/family or food. So, wine as a means of stress management, probably is NOT a healthy part of your lifestyle, but including it at the center of daily connection, and togetherness seems to aid in the health and wellbeing of these populations! Which beautifully brings me to the last component of these Blue Zones – connection.
(Important to mention, the 7th Day Adventists that live in Loma Linda, California do not drink wine as part of their religious beliefs, they were the only Blue Zone excluded from this).
#7, #8, #9 • Connection: Loved ones First, the Right Tribe, Belonging
Habits and ways of living can be quite contagious – whether they are negative habits, or positive ones. This is probably because we have an innate need for belonging. As you may have assumed already, it’s all about the kind of belonging we associate ourselves with that can either help our health or hinder it.
Family is put first in each of these cultures, and often have multiple generations living together. Making sure the elderly are taken care of by the younger generations. Although from the gist of things, these centenarians are active and spry so it’s not necessarily out of need.
Speaking about the concept of belonging, research from the Blue Zones found that belonging to a faith-based community was something all centenarians participated in! Except 5… so 258 centenarians out of 263 (included in this research) were all actively participating in faith-based communities once a week. Which religion did not matter.
Lastly, the idea of the “Right Tribe,” came from learning that many of these populations were part of life-long social groups, people they could lean on throughout life! Children in Okinawa are assigned groups of friends at young ages, and they take that “tribe” of friends to heart, for life. It’s clear that having a deep sense of community, connection, belonging, and purpose are wholeheartedly part of these healthy lifestyles across the world. Proving that health really is so much more than just diet and exercise. It’s HOW we live our lives.
If you’re interested in learning more about these cultures and the Blue Zones, I urge you to check out Blue Zones – Live Longer, Better – Blue Zones or Blue Zones Project: Transforms Communities – Longer, Healthier Lives and see if there are initiatives in your area to bring these attributes of long term healthy lifestyles to your community!
At STRONGLIFE Functional Medicine in Lithia, FL, Dr. Justin Scott can help you address any underlying issues, whether you realize they’re there or not, and improve your overall health.
“I hope that you found this as valuable as my patients have over the years. If you’re interested in a patient-centered process that takes into account all aspects that affect your health, then I would encourage to visit our website at www.stronglifefunctionalmedicine.com to see how we help our patients improve their health and to find if you are a good candidate for a Functional Medicine approach.