More Lessons from the Blue Zones
Relationships, Purpose and Stress Relief
In this last section of our article on creating your own personal Blue Zone (click link for part 1), we cover the things that make life worth living. These are your family, your relationship with your faith, and your social connections. Also, the lessons include how to relieve stress, why you get up in the morning, and why both of these are important too.
In a National Institutes of Health funded study over 11 years looking at how having a purpose affected longevity, scientists concluded that “individuals who expressed a clear goal in life lived longer and were sharper than those who did not.”
One suggestion Buettner adds at the end of this lesson for incorporating it into our lives is to learn something new, preferably a new language or new musical instrument. This not only gives you a purpose but it helps to keep the mind sharp and decrease the rate of Alzheimer’s disease develops if you are susceptible to it.
All of the Blue Zones had ways of down shifting from whatever stress they got through the day. In Sardinia, they “pour into the streets at 5 p.m.” where they meet with and talk to friends and drink wine. The Nicoyans take a siesta or rest in the afternoon as well as socializing with friends. Remember the couple that walked for two hours just to go socialize with neighbors?
The Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda hold the Sabbath as a day of rest. No work, no homework, and no organized sports. They take nature hikes and spend time with family and God.
Why is it important to provide some way to down shift? Stress causes inflammation and reducing your stress will help keep that inflammation at bay.
One of Buettner’s suggestions is meditation whether you use a Zen method, praying daily or some other method such as focused breathing. Establish a daily place and time to do so and reduce your stress.
What this means is to belong to a faith. Even attending so little as one religious service a month can increase how long you live, or at least reduce your risk of death, according to studies. Perhaps this is due to being forced to sit still and have quiet time in which to hear a lesson and reflect upon it. Doesn’t hurt that you will be in the company of those with like beliefs.
Buettner suggest that if you attend services in your faith now that you become more involved with the various functions of your church such as joining the choir. His suggestion is based on the idea that maybe it is how you attend, not simply that you go.
Loved Ones First
“The most successful centenarians we met in the Blue Zones put their families first.” I’m not sure how much more than that statement is needed.
Part of the success of this lesson is that family rituals help tie a family together. The rituals are ways to pass on lessons learned about diet and the way to live.
Furthermore, a strong focus on family when the kids are young and taking care of them in three of the four Blue Zones means that the kids take care of their parents as they got older. Living with and being taken care of by their kids give these seniors better care than they would get in a nursing home and kept them healthier and their minds sharper.
Unfortunately, in the U.S., we have moved away from this in our industrialized society. Does this mean the further away a society gets from agricultural roots, the less likely we are to keep a cohesive family structure? I did read recently that only 48% of households in America have two parents. Not exactly the way to foster putting family first.
Essentially this boils down to associating with people who share your Blue Zones ways of living. You are going to be like the people you associate with so associate with people who hold the ideals that you aspire to.
The more people you are connected to socially the longer you will live or so the studies show. It doesn’t even matter what kind of connection there is as long as there is social connectedness.
To do this and to especially follow the Blue Zones lessons, Buettner suggests creating your own inner circle of friends from the people you know. And then get together with them on a regular basis.
Remember the moais of Okinawa? These started out as financial support groups that became social support groups. They met daily in the afternoon to chat and gossip and go over problems. Create your own support group.
There you have it. The distillation of all that Buettner learned from the Blue Zones in Sardinia, Costa Rica, Okinawa, and Loma Linda and a few ways to put them into practice.
Of course, the best way to learn more about these areas with so many people over 100 is to read Dan Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones. You can read about his interviews with the different centenarians and his search for how the people really lived in the old days now that western lifestyles are encroaching. Also learn more about the ways you can put each of these lessons into work in your own life with his final chapter on creating your own personal Blue Zone.