the secret to health and longevity is in our very DNA but has been “forgotten” with the very rapid growth of a technological and time-dependent, stressful world.
In his book The Blue Zones, author Dan Buettner discussed areas of the world where extreme longevity is more common, and where they experience significantly less disease, than the rest of the world. They include Okinawa, Sardinia, Costa Rica and Greece. Their secrets to greater health and longevity are actually very simple.
The Blue Zone Secrets
Those living in the Blue Zone have six core characteristics associated with longevity and a greater overall satisfaction with life. These characteristics include:
- Focus on Family – Family is put ahead of other concerns.
- Intergenerational Connectedness – People of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities.
- A Plant-Based Diet – They eat a large amount of fruits, vegetables and legumes and only a small amount of meat.
- Constant Moderate Activity – Beyond scheduled exercise (such as an hour at the gym), these communities move regularly throughout the day.
- Low Chronic Stress –Stress, literally, rots us from within.
- Social Engagement – Isolation is minimal, and families typically eat together regularly.
- No Smoking – Smoking is a large contributor in cases of heart disease, cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
These observations should come as no surprise for two reasons. First, they are completely consistent with the seminal research on aging and, more important, with the lifestyle lived by our human species for 99% of the time we have walked the earth.
The MacArthur Study on Aging
The Blue Zone research validates the seminal MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging, which found that 70% of physical aging and approximately 50% of mental aging is determined by the lifestyle choices that we make every day. It is now an accepted view that older adulthood can be a time of growth if we maintain our physical and mental skills, reduce our risk for disease and injury, and stay productive and engaged with others.
According to the MacArthur study, to age well we need:
- Physical and Mental Activity – Our brains continue to develop across a lifetime if we exercise them. Additionally, physical activity reduces our risk of disease and promotes brain health.
- Social Connection – We need human interaction to thrive and to build resilience.
- Purpose – This involves finding activities that bring meaning to our lives.
- Control of Risks – By knowing our health risks and working with our doctor to lower them, we can function at very high levels for decades.
Our Hunter-Gatherer Legacy
We only have to look back at our roots as a species, to recognize that these common characteristics have been in place for as long as we have lived on Earth. These hunter-gatherer characteristics include:
- High Physical Activity
- Strong Social Connection
- Strong Sense of Place and Purpose
- A “Mediterranean” Diet – This is a diet based on plants, fruits, nuts, fish, occasional meat and limited overall calories.
- Little Chronic Stress
What these studies teach us is that the secret to health and longevity is in our very DNA but has been “forgotten” with the very rapid growth of a technological and time-dependent, stressful world. We cannot, of course, return to a hunter-gather society, and most of us cannot move to a Blue Zone, but we can still learn from both. We can learn and creatively incorporate more movement, social engagement, purpose, and our inherited core diet into our lives in order to age with vitality and high function. Most important, we must find ways to regularly shut off our chattering, time-dominated mind in favor of a more mindful, “in-the-moment” celebration of living.
We can age in a better way. We can remain vital until our time on Earth is done. We need only create our own blue zone to be the best we can be.