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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Living (long and happy) in the Blue Zones

Living (long and happy) in the Blue Zones

Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. 

What do Denmark, Singapore, northern Mexico and San Luis Obispo, CA have in common?

According to Dan Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way, some of the world's healthiest, happiest people live there. Not surprisingly, diet and exercise play a role in the well-being of these people, but these factors are only a fraction of the big picture. The way Buettner describes it, there's much more going on with people who remain healthy and active into the ninth and tenth decades of their life than their activity level and what they eat.

Thrive followed Buettner's first book, The Blue Zones, in which he detailed the things he had learned from people who live in the "blue zones" around the globe.

Even though the people of Denmark, Singapore, northern Mexico and coastal California are very different from each other, they all share a number of qualities that contribute to their health and longevity. They are briefly summarized in the pyramid below, but over the next few weeks I thought it might be fun to spend a little more time on each of the "Power Nine Principles."

According to Buettner, the diets of the healthiest people in the world share these characteristics in common:

1) They're plant-based. Most of the people do eat some meat, but the amount they eat is much less than most Americans. Meat is considered more as a seasoning or favor ingredient rather than a staple to every meal.

2) The healthiest people stop eating when they are no longer hungry, rather than when they're "full." If we want to live longer, we simply must stop eating sooner.

3) Many of the healthiest people drink one to two glasses of red wine a day (the best wines are made locally without contamination (like pesticides, heavy metals, or phthalates). This doesn't mean one needs to drink wine to be healthy, but many of the longest living people drink a little wine on a regular basis. It goes without saying that drinking too much can also be very problematic.

What about Exercise?
We hear a lot about exercise, but Buettner found that few of the healthiest, happiest people have a gym membership. Rather, they live in environments that encourage them to be active, e.g., they walk or bike to work, to the store, or regularly for recreation. Too many Americans get most of their activity moving from one sedentary position to another--from bed to table to car to desk at the beginning of the day. At day's end they move from desk to car to table to recliner to bed again. Buettner suggests that we begin to inconvenience ourselves more often in order to include regular activity into our daily schedules.

Beyond Diet and Exercise
It seems to me that nearly every American has heard about the importance of diet and exercise, so if Buettner's book had included only these four factors I wouldn't have found it that compelling. Lots of people talk about that. What made Buettner's book so compelling were the other five factors--the ones that have little to do with food and activity. In the weeks to come I'll spend more time talking about the following:

1) Power of purpose
2) Managing stress
3) Significance of family
4) Importance of friendships
5) Influence of connections


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