Live better now and longer later.
Picture this: you’re blowing out 100 candles – all by yourself. You’re dancing, gardening, mentoring, traveling the world, and embracing new technologies like a pro. You live in your own house, play with your grandchildren and great grandchildren, and enjoy a vibrant social life. You’re a living testament to the potential of a life well-lived and an inspiration to rising generations. Welcome to the centenarian club, where the extraordinary is your new ordinary!
The recent launch of the Netflix documentary series “Live to 100: The Secrets of Blue Zones” has reignited society’s interest in living longer – and better. This intriguing series unveils the mysteries of Blue Zones—regions across the globe where people not only live remarkably longer but also savor healthier, more vibrant lives. These regions are Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Icaria in Greece, and the Seventh-day Adventists community in Loma Linda, California. These cultures are very different, but have some important things in common.
While genetics play a role in longevity, the lifestyle and diet of the folks living in these regions provide valuable insights into how we can live longer and high quality lives. I’m going to share with you some daily habits you can start doing today to help you live like a Blue-zoner right away. These will include eating, activity, and social life. (Don’t worry, I’m not going to take away your donuts and coffee and make you live on snails and kale.)
Intrigued? We certainly are!
But first, let’s address a concern you may have. What if you don’t want to live to be 100? Maybe the idea of living to 100 doesn’t sound so great to you. If the elderly people in your life have grown dependent on those around them and the last decade of their life looked more like their first year – eating pudding and wearing diapers – it makes sense that you’d rather check out before that happens. But the truth is, there are many factors that determine how your life will look during that last decade. What you do now, can make the difference between being able to travel the world and living in a nursing home drooling on yourself. Read on to learn what you can do today to start on your journey to a vibrant “2nd-act” in life.
Here are some of the common factors found in the Blue Zones:
- Plant-rich diet with whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruits
- Low consumption of processed foods
- Low alcohol consumption (the less the better)
- Physical activity and movement integrated into daily life
- Strong sense of community and social support
- Purpose and meaning in life
- Stress regulation and perception practices such as napping, prayer, or perspective
Making changes in all these areas can be daunting, so start with one or two that you feel ready to start now. Here’s how to do it
Creating Your Own Blue Zone
- Move Often and Naturally
We have been hearing this for years, we need to move every day. You’ve also probably heard that sitting is the new smoking. But if you live in the United States of America, it’s unavoidable. Sitting is built into our daily lives. We sit at a desk, sit in our cars, sit at home on the couch. I’m sitting here typing this blog! Our sedentary lifestyle is trying to turn us into the walking dead (minus the cool factor). With no intervention, our joints will slowly stiffen like a corpse and we will lose the ability to open jars, get off the floor, climb stairs, or stand up from a chair unassisted. I’m not talking about age 80. This can happen in our 40’s! Or even earlier.
As we move throughout each day in a limited range of motion and never let our knees go past 90 degrees, we lose enough mobility in our knees and hips to get off the floor – or at least it’s getting harder. So we start avoiding activities on the floor because it takes so much effort to get up. Our hips get weak and sooner or later, we end up needing a knee or hip replacement.
I know, it’s horrifying. But don’t panic. These surgeries can be avoided most of the time if we strengthen and work out our joints in their full range of motion.
And here’s a myth we need to debunk right now. Losing the ability to run, jump, climb,
and play is not due to age. It’s inactivity. In our modern world we need to replicate the movements our ancestors did while farming, hunting, and working. Running on the treadmill week after week is not going to get you the movement training to counteract our modern lifestyle. Below I’m going to share with you the ten essential human movements you need to relearn.
Ten Human Movements
Practice these ten foundational human movements: squat, hinge, push, pull, lunge, crawl, carry, hang, rotation (and anti-rotation), and gait (plus an honorable mention to grip strength. It’s not technically a movement, but we need it as we grow older to function.) We include all these movements every week in our workouts at Progressive Athletics. It’s a lot of movements, so a great place to start is the deep squat.
Become a Squat Master
Guess what? We were all squatting champs as toddlers. It’s an important functional movement for doing work or play on the floor, picking things up, and getting up off the floor. So we are born with the instinct to do it perfectly.
But then school happened, and we sat at desks for 8 hours a day. And by the time we were in our 20’s, many of us were forgetting how to squat. And by our 40’s, we can’t squat without making a whole production out of it. But there is hope! Time to reclaim that squat throne and become the squat legend once again!
Start by doing Box Squats. This is one of my favorite exercises because most people can do it, regardless of size, athletic ability, or injury. Stand in front of a chair or box and sit back onto the chair and stand up again. Do a set of 10, several times throughout the day at your desk or wherever you are. If you take long commutes, stop at least once an hour, get out of your car and do this at a rest stop. Don’t worry about getting funny looks. People know movement is important and you might inspire them to do the same.
After a couple weeks, find a slightly lower box or chair and squat a little deeper. Do that until it’s easier and go lower. Eventually you’ll be going all the way down to a deep Campfire Squat!
Step it Up
Taking the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator is not about burning a few extra calories. It’s about stimulating the muscles and joints in your ankles, knees, and hips. Use the stairs often as you can at the airport, office, the mall. Make the elevator the exception, like when you are pushing a cart full of paper.
This one combines the gait (walking or jogging) with time outside! Ever notice how walking outside feels like a nature-induced therapy session? There’s a reason for that. Multiple studies have shown that time outside reduces stress, eases eye-strain, helps you regulate emotions, think more clearly and helps you sleep better at night. Even 5 minutes outside can benefit you.
This may be a challenge for you if you work long hours inside. How many times have you sat at your desk to reply to a few emails and before you knew it, the sun was setting and it’s time to make dinner. It’s easy to get trapped into our manmade structures and miss out on vital time outside.
So here’s what you need to do:
Set an alarm on your phone for a time that you are most likely able to go outside. For most people, it’s while getting ready in the morning. Stepping outside on your deck or porch for a couple minutes is a great way to start the day and help set your circadian rhythm. Another popular time is during lunch.
Squatting, taking stairs, and walking outside are just three ways to get started moving. Remember, moving naturally isn’t about doing a hundred burpees while juggling flaming torches (unless that’s your thing). It’s about finding joy in movement, embracing your body’s ability to groove. In Blue Zones, movement tends to be built into daily activities, but in our modern setting, we need to learn it on purpose and practice it. And often we need a movement specialist to help us relearn what we lost over time. Look for a trainer or gym that values these ten movements.
- Smart Nutrition
Alright, let’s dive into the tasty world of smart nutrition, where you can give your body the VIP treatment it deserves without a fuss. It may seem overwhelming at first because there’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but don’t worry, a few simple principles can help you cut through the noise.
As you may have heard, protein is the most important nutrient. It helps maintain muscle mass, builds strong bones, hormones, powers chemical reactions in our body, builds our immune system, and more. Every tissue in our body is built with protein.
The issue is that as we grow older, our ability to absorb protein decreases, which means we need to consume more protein in order to meet our protein needs.
Find sources of protein-dominant foods that work for you and try to get a palm (20+ grams) with each meal and snack. Every time you eat, add a protein. Some favorites are Greek yogurt, chicken breast, tofu, eggs and fish. Protein shakes and bars are fine too. Even though they are processed, it’s better than not getting the protein.
Eat More Plants
Just like momma said, eat your veggies. Imagine your plate as a canvas, and those smart carbs and colorful veggies are the vibrant paint. Smart carbs are whole plants that are carb-dominant, such as potatoes and dry beans and grains, such as quinoa, lentils. And the colorful rainbow of veggies – they’re the rockstars of this show and bring a posse of essential nutrients to the party. If you don’t like veggies, there is still hope. Experiment with different prep and cooking techniques and try them out. Sauteed brussel sprouts taste completely different than the sad boiled version.
To get started on your plant-eating journey, choose your adventure: vegetables or smart carbs. For vegetables, take it one step at a time. You don’t have to turn into a vegetarian monk tomorrow – or ever. Start by adding just one fist (½ to 1 cup) of vegetables to what you are currently eating. This amount works for most people because it’s not too much and you’re just adding it to a meal or snack. Once that gets easy, try adding colors.
If you’d rather upgrade your carbs, here’s how to do it. Swap out one of your pastas or breads for a carb that is a little less processed. Trade that white Italian bread for a whole grain. Or swap out pasta for roasted potatoes or dry beans. Do that for a few weeks or months and then upgrade again to something less processed. You will feel less cravings, more satisfied, and your nutrition game will definitely be upgraded!
So, let’s get the party started and give your taste buds something to rave about!
This is a fun one to try! You know those avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive and avocado oil? Smooth, suave, and oh-so-good for your heart. Don’t be shy; let them make your meals a star-studded event.
Butter and other oils are okay sometimes, but try swapping them for a higher quality fat several times this week. Shoot for reducing the lower-quality fats to once or twice a week. If this is a big change for you, take it one step at a time.
- Know Your Why
Why do you get up in the morning?
In Blue Zones, people have this amazing concept called “ikigai” – it’s like their reason to jump out of bed every morning. Most of us have a lot of repetition in our lives and it can make life feel pointless, so it’s important to find purpose IN in your routine and OUT of your routine.
Finding Meaning IN the Mundane
Today, take a quiet moment to reflect. What’s the reason you get up and do all the things in your daily routine? When what you’re doing has a bigger purpose, it can change how that routine feels. If you go to work everyday to feed a family, put a picture of your family on your desk to remind you (if your boss isn’t Ebeneezer Scrooge).
Finding Purpose by going OUTSIDE of the Routine
Now that your routine has purpose, break it! What do you love doing, something that makes you forget time? If you’ve always wanted to learn how to salsa dance, sign up for a class. If taking class is not practical right now, there’s always the University of YouTube. Schedule a time for these things you love. It’s easy to push them aside for other people’s demands or activities that take less effort, such as TV. So use your 5 minutes of motivation to put a system in place to help you make this a priority: sign up for a class, schedule it, pay for supplies/classes, and recruit a friend. You’ll more likely to honor your commitment and follow through! You’ll be so happy you did!
There’s a place for spontaneity here. Of course, we need to fulfill our responsibilities but every once in a while surprise yourself with an afternoon at the movies or a walk around the lake. Bring someone along that you want to connect with. Which brings up the next Blue-zone quality. Connection. And I don’t mean 5G Wifi.
4. Connect and Belong
While Netflix can be a cozy blanket for your soul, real-life connections are like adding extra marshmallows to your hot cocoa. Research shows that strong social connections can boost your immune system, lower stress levels, and increase your overall happiness. A common obstacle is, of course, time. For many people, time with friends and family won’t happen unless you set aside time for it. A friend who is a life coach taught me one of the best ways to do this: schedule your free time first.
Take 5 minutes and schedule a date with your main squeeze or schedule an activity with your children or nieces and nephews. It doesn’t need to be expensive. Play board games, cook together, go for a walk, workout together.
Break Bread with Others
Did you know that sharing a meal with others can strengthen your bonds and create lasting memories? Many studies have proven many times over the benefits for children eating dinner as a family. But it’s not just as beneficial for adults, especially as you get older. If you live alone -or even if you don’t- invite a few friends or family over to eat. If possible, schedule a regular potluck night so it’s already in your calendar. This will help you make time for it.
Mix Young and Old
Studies show that living in multigenerational communities benefits the elderly and preschoolers. It gives the seniors a sense of purpose and the younger ones benefit from the elders guidance and problem-solving skills. Being around younger people tends to keep you younger.
This may be a challenge, especially if your job requires that you live in a certain place. So you may need to get creative. Seek out opportunities to spend time with people of various ages. An easy way to do this is to join a church or community that has mixed-ages. You can also volunteer with children or youth. Coach a team or volunteer at the library to do reading time.
By now a few ideas have probably popped into your head. “I need to that.” But how to make it happen? It’s very common in our society to make feeble promises and not keep them – to ourselves and others. Yeah, we’ve all been there. But here’s the deal: let’s all join the “No-Flake Club.” Commit to plans and show up, unless you’re trapped under something heavy (and even then, send a message!).
Take 5 minutes and decide which Blue-zone habit you want to try. Schedule into your calendar. Speak it aloud to someone or even better, invite them.
Let’s transform our lives from solo acts to an ensemble! Reach out, plan that hangout, and let your social butterfly wings stretch wide. The world is your playground, and friends are the playmates. Remember, you’re not just socializing, you’re investing in your well-being and creating a tapestry of beautiful memories.
Incorporating even some of these habits into your own life could help you live longer and healthier. Our comprehensive Healthy Habits program includes all these habits and more. Progressive Athletics is dedicated to helping Howard County residents live happier and healthier lives. If you live near Columbia, Maryland and want help getting stronger and healthier in the context of your busy life, click here to learn more about us.