A Healthier Tomorrow
Imagine a Healthier Tomorrow – Spring Cleaning
By Alison H. Page
Spring isn’t just a time to clean out closets and organize your garage. Why not give your life a good spring cleaning while you are at it? Last month I talked about the characteristics of “Blue Zones,” places on our planet where people live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. Places like Costa Rica with its very high concentration of male centenarians, and Okinawa, Japan where females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world. We reviewed the nine hallmarks of the cultures of these special places.
While you “spring clean” your life, you can try to incorporate these concepts into your everyday living, creating your own “Blue Zone.” Here’s how you can get started in each of the nine areas of Blue Zone living:
- Move Naturally
The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
This spring, create an environment that encourages you to move. Walk or bike to your destinations. Hang your laundry outside. Do your own household chores and lawn work. Plant a garden. If you have physical restrictions, meet with a physical therapist and get some coaching on things you can do, even if your ability is limited.
Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
This spring, strive to find purpose in your life. Waking up each morning with a clear sense of what you want to do with the time you have here on earth is sometimes easier said than done. This spring, put some time and thought into finding your purpose. We all have gifts to give this world. What is yours? If you struggle, I would recommend a book by Peter McWilliams called Life 101: Everything We Wish We Had Learned About Life in School–But Didn’t.
- Down Shift
Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress.
This spring, find ways to relax and deal with stress every day. Take a pause to rest, to pray, to sort through your thoughts. There are many ways to do this. One that I have found helpful is to keep a notebook next to my bed. If I am worried about something, or my mind is busy with things I need to do, I just write them down along with a list of actions I can take to address each of the items. Sometimes I have many things I can do to accomplish or resolve items on the list. But, sometimes I find there is an item on my list of worries that, no matter how long I think about it, I cannot identify anything I can do to resolve it. When that happens, it is time to consciously let go of the issue. I choose to not spend time thinking about it any longer, but instead focus on items on the list that I can do something about.
- 80% Rule
People in the Blue Zones stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. They eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
This spring, adopt a new mantra, “Eat when you are hungry, eat good food, and stop eating when you are not hungry any more, not when you are full.”
- Plant Slant
Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone diets in Blue Zones.
This spring, make an effort to have most of the food you eat be plant based. Meat is fine in small portions. Clean out your cupboards and refrigerator and make sure the food you have on hand is healthy food. Stop buying food you know is bad for you. You will find if it is not in your house it is easier to not eat it. I realize that changing your eating habits is difficult. How can you get started? For example, let’s say you want to stop drinking soda. (Note: The jury is in on soda. It is, basically, poison). It is hard to just quit, cold turkey, so you might start by limiting your intake by only having one soda per day. Or you might start by not having soda at home and only when you eat out. After a while, you might limit you soda intake to weekends only and then to one day of the weekend. Eventually, you will find it easier to just quit.
- Wine @ 5
People in most Blue Zones drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. Wine is the best option.
In Wisconsin, we do not need to remind people to drink. We live in one of the heaviest drinking states in the country. This spring, if you drink, vow to limit your alcohol consumption. You may want to institute a “one and done” policy. From a health perspective, it is OK to have a drink. It is not OK to drink too much. Heavy alcohol consumption is responsible for premature death due to falls and motor vehicle accidents, and is the cause of many chronic health problems. Heavy drinking is also indicative of addiction or underlying emotional issues, like depression. If you drink excessively, quit rationalizing, quit making excuses, and make this year the year you get help. Your life, and the life of everyone you know, will be better for your action.
Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
This spring, join, or renew your participation in, a faith-based organization. If you are not drawn to a religious organization, join another group that blends activity with a purpose greater than yourself, and allows you to build a social network.
- Loved Ones First
In Blue Zones people put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home, committing to a life partner, and investing in their children with time and love.
This spring, identify three behaviors you can adopt that demonstrate to your family members that they come first. It can be as easy as cooking a meal every Sunday with your family, or calling your adult children once a week to hear what they have going on in their lives, thereby reminding them how much you care about them.
- Right Tribe
The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious.
This spring, take note of who is in your “tribe.” Ask yourself, “Are the people I hang out with representative of the person I want to be?” You can choose your friends.
So, welcome to spring, a time for new life!