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Leg Strength & Living to 100 More Safely
Blue Zones are where people live to 100 years old ten times at healthier rates and physiologies than is typical in the US. They reach their 90’s and 100’s without chronic degenerative diseases. We normally see huge chronic illnesses in aging Americans.
Alas, we now often also see chronic diseases even in younger and younger US kids. A lot depends on lifestyle. Yet, the next generations are not living like their grandparents, so these blue zones are fading out.
The Danish Twin Study
The Danish Twin Study established that:
20% of how long the average person lives is dictated by our “genes”,
whereas the other 80% is dictated by our lifestyle
Thus, it’s great to learn lifestyle lessons on longevity while we can.
The 5 'Blue Zones' where the world's healthiest people live:
Ogliastra Region, Sardinia.
Loma Linda, California.
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
It all began as a National Geographic expedition, led by Dan Buettner, to uncover the secrets of longevity. Dan and his team of demographers, scientists, and anthropologists were able to distill the evidence-based common denominators of these Blue Zones into 9 commonalities that they call the Power 9.
They have since taken these principles into communities across the United States working with policymakers, local businesses, schools, and individuals to shape the environments of the Blue Zones Project Communities.
What has been found is that putting the responsibility of curating a healthy environment on an individual does not work, but through policy and environmental changes (they have gone into some smaller American towns and created new Blue Zones) - the Blue Zones Project Communities have been able to increase life expectancy, reduce obesity and make the healthy choice the easy choice for millions of Americans.
Commonalities that Create Healthy Longevity:
The steeper the village, the less the furniture so there is more getting UP and DOWN, the more healthy centenarians. Use stairs, don’t use high toilets, convenience is not better, and lower leg strength matters. P.S. Vitamin D also helps maintain lower leg strength especially while we age.
Less animal protein, more plant food.
Eating 3-4 ounces of soy products daily (stop maligning soy, if you are “reactive” try fermented soy as it changes the protein structure so some allergic folks can now consume soy in this manner).
As well as The Power 9:
Move naturally. The world’s longest-lived people do not 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 do not have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
Purpose. The Okinawans call it Ikigai and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida; for both, it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to 7 years of extra life expectancy.
Downshift. Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that others do not are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap; and Sardinians do happy hour.
80% Rule. Hara hachi bu—the Okinawan 2500-year-old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then, they do not eat any more the rest of the day. I write about this in detail in my book on Amazon for the entire family and kid about teaching good nutrition habits called Retraining Your Tongue.
Plant slant. Beans, including fava, black, soy, and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only 5 times per month. Serving sizes are 3 to 4 oz, about the size of a deck of cards.
Wine @ 5. People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1 to 2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you cannot save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
Belong. All but 5 of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination does not seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services 4 times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy.
Loved ones first. Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (it lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love. (They’ll be more likely to care for aging parents when the time comes.)
Right tribe. The world’s longest-lived people chose—or were born into—social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created moais—groups of 5 friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies2 shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.
None of the Blue Zones have nursing homes. One of my agile-thinking colleagues feels that the nursing home industrial complex is right up in cahoots with the pharmaceutical industrial complex.
Life Radius! Research shows that individuals spend about 90% of their lives within 5 miles of their home, known as the Life Radius. (Boy, that’s not me with all my traveling for lecturing presently, ha!)
What Can You Do?
Research teams started by analyzing what individuals can do for themselves.
Individuals can engineer their kitchen so they eat about 100 fewer calories and engineer their home, and so they burn a couple of hundred extra calories through physical activity.
I live in Great Hills. I go up and down my steep 20 stairs many times a day, sometimes up to 25 and 30 times a day. I love these stairs I think they help keep me energetic.
Also, I made a habit of each time I literally run up these beloved stairs, I say to myself with each stair, “Thanks”. This is instructing my molecules about GRATITUDE!
What else? Small changes such as putting a bowl of fruit on the counter, serving food from the stove and not on the table, using hand tools for yard work, and many more.
At some point, we need our own Power 9 Retreat!
May the Healthy Centenarian Force be with YOU.
Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;10(5):318-321. doi: 10.1177/1559827616637066
The heritability of human longevity: a population-based study of 2,872 Danish twin pairs born 1870-1900. Hum Genet. 1996;96:319-323
The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:370-379.
The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society; 2015.