July 16, 2067! Save the date. Why? Because I intend to dance on my 100th birthday, and it would be really cool if you could be there. That’s right, I want to be a centenarian, full of wisdom, spunk, and all my own teeth. And I’d like to get out on the dance floor with my orthopedic shoes and get jiggy with it, do the moonwalk and the butterfly, and even break out the Z-dub (my signature move). I have 56 more years to perfect it!
I got to thinking about this whole living-to-100 concept after one of my super-smart interns did a presentation on what are known as Blue Zones. There are evidently a handful of communities around the globe where folks are seven times more likely than the rest of us to see their 100th birthday. They are the healthiest, longest living people in the world and you can find them in one of four places: Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; or the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. Demographers, aging experts, and scientists have gone to great lengths to research these communities and interview their aged celebrities in order to discover what might explain this phenomenon.
What is so different about these people and these communities? Is it some rare berry or an ancient bathing ritual that is the secret to longevity? No. What the researchers discovered is pretty cool — not surprising or ground-breaking, but nonetheless cool. Despite the vast differences in geography and ethnicity, in wealth and choice of faith, there are nine lifestyle factors common to all. When added together, these behaviors seem to add up to many more years of healthy living.
The ”Power 9,” as they are dubbed in the book written on the subject, are described in detail here. It essentially comes down to some simple concepts — move more, have a positive outlook, eat wisely, and have strong interpersonal connections. Irrefutable, rock-solid ingredients to a long and healthy life. The first time I read through them, I felt as though I had stumbled upon something utterly familiar. This was ME! This was my life, or at least the one I strive for. Maybe I wasn’t so different from these unusually long-living folks after all?
I decided to see how I measured up, according to the 9. If this is the recipe for living to 100, I want to know if I’ve got all the ingredients. As it turns out, I fared quite well in some areas, and pitifully in others.
Are you curious how your lifestyle compares those in the Blue Zones? Check out the 9 below, give yourself a grade, and let me know if you have decided on any changes based on the results!
[adapted from www.bluezones.com]
1. Move Naturally — the Blue Zone folks get plenty of physical activity every day, just as a matter of course. Add movement to your everyday life, in the simplest of ways. Take the stairs, dance, do more chores. Pick things up and put them down. Use a push mower. Garden. Walk, walk, walk. Essentially, move more throughout the day in thoughtless ways that don’t require a gym membership, a helmet, or $150 sneakers.
Julie: [A+] I avoid elevators and commuter shuttles. I rely on my own two feet to get where I need to go as much as I can. I love walking my kids to school, racing them down the driveway, and teaching them to play the sport that I love (volleyball). I dabble in a bit of yoga to keep my muscles and joints happy. And, I just ran my first 5K last week and can honestly say that I almost enjoyed it. If I were any more active there would be an energy drink named after me.
2. Know Your Purpose — according to these researchers, people who know why they wake up in the morning live up to seven years longer than those who don’t. As they say quite eloquently, “Know your values, passions and talents — and how to share them on a regular basis.”
Julie: [A] I know that I am in the exact right job for me, in that it satisfies everything on my wish list — I work with enthusiastic, dedicated professionals (dietetic interns, managers, and dietitians), in an constantly evolving field full of opportunity (Nutrition and Dietetics), at a world-class teaching hospital (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center). The very best part is that I can have all that in a part-time position that allows me the time I need to fulfill an even greater purpose, which is raising my three fantastic kids.
3. Down Shift — find a way to de-stress everyday. Nap, meditate, pray, or enjoy a happy hour (really!). All of these long-living centenarians have built-in stress relievers, different for each group but equally important in an overall healthy outlook.
Julie: [B+] Can playing 20 games of Word With Friends be considered de-stressing? Probably not. I could certainly be better about finding a few moments every day to reflect, relax, or chill out. I do have something in my favor — a Siamese cat that crawls into my lap the second I sit down anywhere. There is something about having a purring cat in my lap that just lowers my blood pressure. I can feel it. So, maybe I will take a cue from Zena, and take a 20 minute lap-cat every day.
4. 80% rule – The ancient Confucian mantra “hara hachi bu” reminds Okinawans to stop eating when the stomach is 80% full. Do you eat until you are full, or simply until you are no longer hungry? That small distinction could be the difference between gaining weight or maintaining a healthy weight. Find ways to mildly cut back your calories. Evidence-based practices show eating a hearty breakfast, taking meals with your family, and removing the TV from the dining area are all ways to help moderate calorie intake. And, while snacks can be healthy, many people don’t need them if they are taking in three balanced meals a day. Is your daily snacking where the added calories are piling up? Consider retraining your hunger by taking the No Snack Challenge!
Julie: [A-] – Hearty breakfast? Check. Eating with the family? Chaotic check. Eating until satisfied, but not full? Check (most of the time) No indiscriminate snacking? Check. Don’t mess with success.
5. Plant Slant — “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Those now-famous words from Michael Pollen pretty well sum up the type of diets that seem to support a longer, healthier life. Eat plenty of beans, nuts, and plants-based foods. Meat should be considered more or a side dish, and consumed less often (i.e., twice per week).
Julie: [B+] — I am nuts about nuts. Crazy about cashews. Passionate for pistachios. I never met a salad I didn’t like. The only grain worth having is a whole grain, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I have a decent diet. Yet, there is room for improvement. While I get plenty of fruits and veggies most of the time, there is at least one day a week that is just so busy that poor planning results in poor eating. I’ll also be unlikely to cut my meat intake down to twice per week. I love chicken too much! So much so, that a friend jokingly accused me of heading up a Poultry Annihilation Campaign. Hmm. What to do? Given my abundant intake of plants and whole grains and nuts, as well as regular legume intake, I am going to cut myself some slack here. My portions of meat are smaller than average, for sure, and so I’m going to let that one slide.
6. Wine — there is strong research that indicates that drinkers outlive non-drinkers. Wine, especially red wine, contains plenty of artery-scrubbing properties and antioxidants providing protection against heart disease. If you enjoy a glass of wine on a regular basis, it turns out you may be doing your heart and yourself a favor! This is not to say that one who abstains from drinking alcohol should become a drinker — there are some compelling reasons why some folks should not drink. However, if you do enjoy the occasional cocktail, consider making it a glass of wine!
Julie [D]: Yep, this is going to bring my average WAY down. I have never been a wine drinker, or much of a drinker at all for that matter. In the distant past, I found that most alcohol was just too…yucky. One sip and I found myself grimacing uncontrollably, followed by the burn in my throat as I swallowed. I used to think that maybe I was a “super-taster;” someone with exceptionally sensitive taste buds. Perhaps it is simply age, or chronic exposure to my various chili recipes, but I find that my taste buds have changed, and alcohol no longer assaults my tongue. As such, I am willingly becoming a wine drinker. Not a professional, mind you — they are still just “red” and “white” to me and, no, I can not taste the oakey undertones in that wonderful Cabernet you just opened. But I do enjoy a nice, fruity sangria, a crisp Pinot grigio, and my most recent favorite, the red known as Cupcake Red Velvet. I will never be a daily drinker, but will gladly raise a glass to my own health on occasion and be glad for the health-boosting effects I am affording myself.
7. Family First — According to the Blue Zone folks, living in a thriving family is worth a half a dozen extra years of life expectancy. Investing time and connecting with your kids, spouse, and parents are all central to this concept. Eat meals together, plant a garden, do chores side by side, and be sure to enjoy down time together.
Julie: [A] – While I love my job, it is secondary to the joy I have in being with and doing for my family (keep the gagging noises to a minimum, please). I feel very lucky to be able to afford to work only part-time. And, while all 5 of us have various interests and activities that occupy our free time, we re-connect at meals and at bedtime every day. I could do better at connecting with my mom, who lives next door. You’d think we’d see each other every day! Not so. We chat by phone, there is the occasional email, as well as sporadic family dinners. We could do better. Mum, if you are reading this…how’d you like to make dinner for the 5 of us Saturday??
8. Belong — The Blue Zones project also shows the benefits of belonging to and participating in some kind of faith community. All but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some kind of faith community.
Julie [B+] – Our family joined my childhood church back in 2006. It is a warm and generous congregation with active outreach to the community. The boys and I play in the bell choir, and we all enjoy connecting with the many families who attend. It is like a small village unto itself, one where I am completely comfortable letting the kids roam. That is a good feeling.
9. Find the Right Tribe — It is true that friends are the family we choose. If you have friends you can count on to support you, then count yourself blessed. The longest-living people choose social circles that support their healthy behaviors.
Julie [A+] – I hit the jackpot here and thank my lucky stars every day for the fantastic people in my life. I really do have some great friends! They support, cajole, praise, and commiserate, and have stuck with me through the years. They’ve got staying power. That is important, since we’ve got another 56 years to go. Whaddya say, peeps? Are you with me??
Well, there you have it, my completely arbitrary but somewhat-based-in science report card for living to 100. Based on calculations I can not replicate, I’d say I scored around an A-minus overall. Woohoo! God willing, I’m on my way to 100.
Now, I am not delusional. I realize that I don’t have complete control over what the future holds. Regardless of that uncertainty, I am going live everyday as if I will live to 100. If good, clean living (as the old folks say) is what it takes, then I will continue on path. With some minor changes. I will also…
Commune with my cat every day.
Drink more wine.
Let my mother make me dinner.
How did YOU do?