Be sure to watch our continuing video blog on this topic here: https://youtu.be/BLFxnUbKumQ
Most of us have grown up with the standard American diet and lifestyle. It is probably not news, but this lifestyle is not the best for good health. It may seem overwhelming to think about changing. Fortunately, Dan Buettner understands this and ends his book, “The Blue Zones” with some interesting guidance.
The first recommendation is to start with the longevity test on the Blue Zones web site: https://www.bluezones.com/ This will give you an idea of your healthy life expectancy and offer some helpful suggestions that focus on the “Power 9” items listed in the previous blog.
Don’t try to change everything at once, start with one or two at a time. Any one change offers a chance to improve your long term health. Change is hard and changing habits takes 5 to 12 weeks, so give it time.
Most importantly, you can only change if you truly want to improve your health and the enjoyment you will get from your retirement years. There are no easy solutions. Most of the following, are simple hints on what you have to do. And with all of the 9 below we will be digging deeper into each in future blogs and discussions.
Here are some tips on how to get started on the “Power 9:”
- Move naturally: you don’t have to run a marathon, but find ways to incorporate walking into your daily routine. Walking may be the best single thing you can do. Make a date with a friend or spouse; walk and not ride when you mow the lawn; plant a garden; walk to the store if it is close by. The key is to get 30 to 60 minutes a day, five days a week.
Check with your doctor before starting any exercise program.
- Cut calories: practice hara hachi bu, this is the Japanese phrase that means stop eating when you are 80% full. None of the Blue Zones centenarians were ever on a diet or obese. So try to remind yourself to eat until 80% full before each meal; fill your plate and put away the leftovers before eating; eat slower; eat sitting down and focus on eating – distractions can lead to overeating; make snacking difficult; and eat most of your calories earlier in the day. Do what the Japanese do and simply recite hara hachi bu to yourself before you start eating.
Eating to 80% full is a form of calorie restriction that may lead to longevity.
- Avoid meat and processed food: beans, whole grains and garden vegetables are the staple of all the Blue Zone diets. Nuts are also an important part of the diet. The recommendation is to strive for 4 to 6 servings of vegetables per day; limit meat to a couple times a week; incorporate beans into your meals (chi chi beans on a salad are an easy way to add beans); eliminate processed foods; keep fruits and nuts readily available – all nuts are good, but high in calories.
There will be more detailed discussions of healthy foods in future blogs.
- Drink red wine in moderation: this may be the easiest to incorporate! Buy yourself some quality red wines and have a glass with dinner. Red wine reduces stress and inflammation, as well as give you polyphenols that may help with heart disease.
- Have a purpose: the Okinawan phrase “ikigai” and the Costa Ricans phrase “plan de vida” both mean “why I get up in the morning.” This can be watching grandchildren, having a hobby, volunteering, working a part time job that you enjoy, meeting your friends on a regular basis for coffee. Start by answering the questions “Why do I get up in the morning?” “What do I really love to do?” “What do I value?” “What am I good at?”
Here is a good CNBC article on ikigai
Also, try to add some mental activity to your daily life. Staying mentally active is critical in reducing the chance of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Reduce stress: try to find quiet time. This can be done by scheduling it into your day by meditating. We will explore how easy and powerful this practice can be in future blogs. Remove electronic distractions by limiting TV, radio and internet time. Do other things like always plan on arriving 15 minutes early to events and appointments – this can reduce stress from unexpected traffic and delays.
- Participate in a spiritual community: if you already belong, get more involved. Research various practices and see if one may appeal to you.
- Loved ones first: make family a priority by starting a weekly ritual of dinner or visitation with family members; take family vacations. Many of the centenarians in the Blue Zones live with their children and grandchildren – the ones that do eat better, have less stress and stay sharper longer. So tell your adult children you will be moving in with them!
- The right tribe: this may be the most important because it can reinforce all the other healthy habits. This means you will have to selectively choose your friends and then schedule regular time with them.