Aging Healthy

Aging can be fun if you lay back and enjoy it - Clint Eastwood

Aging Healthy

image by: Vee
     

So, you’ve turned the big 50.  You have a job, a house, a few kids, a couple of divorces under your belt, and you eat kale.  50 isn’t that bad.  Isn’t it supposed to be the new 30?  After all, for a middle-aged person you’re pretty happy with the way you look and feel.  However, and I really hate to break it to you, you are not middle-aged.  Do you really think you’ll live to be 100?  Probably not, especially when you realize that the average American life expectancy is 78.88.  So, you know what that means?  It means that you my friend, are well over middle-age. You are closer to senior citizen.  Sorry.

But what if I told you that living to be 100 isn’t impossible?  In fact, it is very possible and getting more possible by the moment.  Right now there are more than 53,000 centenarians alive and kicking in the U.S. and by 2050 that number could be as high as 600,000.  I know, living that long creates all sorts of issues.  No one wants to outlive everyone they know.  Or, live in a nursing home and be relegated to a corner where you just sit and drool all day.  Or, be so out of it that you don’t even know you're alive.  That would be awful.   

But what if I told you that there are 5 areas in the world where the majority of people live to be 100 or more?   And, these people aren’t bumbling, forgetful, old codgers either.  In fact, it is quite the opposite, these amazing people are still working, riding bikes, socializing, having sex(!) and enjoying life.  They are vital, active people who contribute to their communities.  In a 2014 poll of people over 100 who are living in these 5 areas found that not a single one felt sad, or that they were a burden, or that they were even old. On average, they said, they felt more like kids of 83.  I guess feeling old is a relative thing...

So, where are these 5 magical areas where people live to be 100 or more? These longevity hotspots or “Blue Zones” are Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece;  Sardinia, Italy;  Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya, Costa Rica.  What is their secret?

People who live in a Blue Zone didn’t win the gene pool lottery and they didn’t find the fountain of youth.  However, researchers discovered that all these people have a few things in common. They get a lot of physical activity.  They have social circles that reinforce healthy behaviors and lifestyles. They don’t dwell on stressful situations. They're active participants in their communities and churches. They have close family relationships.  Perhaps most important though, it’s the type of foods they eat and how much.

Why is the food so important?  For one thing, the Blue Zone diet is an old school, simple diet that is similar to what the American diet used to be before it was ruined by greasy fast food, sugar, artificial sweeteners, pesticides and GMO’s.  Another reason to pay attention to this diet is because these communities have unusually low rates of heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes. Clearly they're doing something right. 

So, if living to 100 intrigues you, as it does me, here are a few Blue Zone secrets:

  • Eat a carbohydrate heavy diet high in whole grains.
  • Eat mostly plant-based foods along with small amounts of meat four or five times a month.
  • Eat at least one cup of beans per day.
  • Eat small quantities at meals. In other words, listen to your stomach and stop eating BEFORE you feel full.  
  • Eat your heaviest meals early in the day.  For example, breakfast and lunch should be the largest meals and dinner should be the smallest.
  • Alcohol is allowed!!! In fact, people in Blue Zones (Loma Linda excepted) drink one or two glasses of wine per day.  Every day!!!
  • Make mealtime communal.  Linger, laugh, and have conversations. You know what that means, put down your smart phone, turn off the TV, and get to know your family and friends again.
  • Keep busy. Maintaining a sense of belonging, purpose, and fulfillment is crucial.
  • Keep active.  People in these areas walk or rely on bikes for the majority of their transportation.
  • Reduce your stress levels. Finding a support network within the community can be a way to build friendships, increase your social activity, and reduce your stress.
  • Take a nap.  People in these areas often take a 30 minute nap in the afternoon.  And current research shows that those who regularly nap reduce their risk of dying from heart disease by 35%.
  • Eliminate bad habits. Smoking, fast food, stress, lack of exercise and too little sleep are harmful, especially over a long period of time. These habits cause you to age prematurely, and detract from your overall well-being.  But, you know this already.

The Blue Zone lifestyle doesn’t seem that difficult to me.  But, I know what you’re thinking. These people are lucky to live in a place where their culture and environment makes healthy choices easy to make.  However, just because you were born in an area with a lower life expectancy or one that has high rates of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, doesn’t mean you can’t start to reverse the damage.  Create your own Blue Zone.

Think about it, if your best friends, or your spouse and kids are obese there’s a 150% chance you’ll be obese, too.  This means you’re more likely to suffer from an assortment of preventable illnesses and die at a much younger age.  So get started.  Get involved in your community, find a healthy activity for you, your friends and family to do together, and have a plant-based potluck.  And, put down your phone.

Source: Stacy Matson, Want to live to 100? How about 120? Celebrity Health, HWN, July 30, 2015.

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Last Updated : Thursday, January 16, 2020