I recently watched a Netflix mini documentary series Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones. It was an inspiring watch and I highly recommend checking it out. It got me thinking about ways in which I want to cultivate a long and healthy life because let’s be honest, most of us don’t just want to live to be 100-we want to thrive, move, play and enjoy life for as long as possible! So today I want to share a few of my takeaways from this series with you. While each of the blue zones in the show were quite different geographically and culturally speaking, there were a few common factors among all of the blue zones visited in this show.
1. Eat whole foods that are local and seasonal
Some blue zones ate lots of carbohydrates including things like bread, pasta and potatoes. Some ate vegetarian. Most ate a highly plant based diet but some included small portions of meat in their diets as well. The most important part was eating whole foods instead of processed foods. In many of these remote areas, processed foods weren’t really an option. They ate what grew in their region and what was in season. For us, processed foods are everywhere so it’s important to limit the boxed and pre-packaged meals as often as possible. Try hitting up your local farmers market to get a true picture of what’s in season in your area.
2. Move every day
but don’t limit it to a 30-60 minute intense workout. Instead movement that is naturally built into your life like gardening, walking up and down steps, dancing with your kids or walking to the grocery store/restaurant/coffee shop/etc. may be even more beneficial to longevity.
3. Find your purpose
In Okinawa the name for this was Ikigai. Not every blue zone has a specific word to describe life purpose but in every one of these areas, a purpose in life, even late in life (aka after retirement) was a common theme. Whether it was caring for an elder, volunteering, taking care of our earth or healing others in the community, doing something meaningful in life was a common theme among all of the blue zones.
4. Community is key
According to some studies, it’s been estimated that loneliness may shorten life expectancy by up to15 years! Finding a community (large or small) that you can be a part of and contribute to is so important especially after retirement. The good news is that just experiencing daily interactions like saying hello to your local barista or chatting with your neighbor can be incredibly uplifting and beneficial to our overall health. I think the key is knowing that you’re important to others and finding things that continue to bring you joy especially when you can share that joy with others.
5. There was almost always a proximity to nature
Though this wasn’t mentioned directly in the movie, there was almost always a proximity to nature. Many blue zones are either close to the ocean or in a remote area in the mountains or near forests where nature is naturally nearby. Finding ways to be closer to nature is a constant in my life and I admit it’s not always easy when life gets busy. That said, I have found that just watching a hummingbird in my back yard can bring a sudden feeling of peace so I don’t think you always have to go that far to experience the joys of nature. We just have to look a little harder sometimes and I think we all should.
Small changes can go a long way over time
I understand all too well that in our busy modern lives that it’s not always easy to fit each of these pieces into the puzzle. But I also know that making small changes can go a long way over time. I invite you to think about the little ways that you can bring more of these things into your life. To start it off I’ll share with you the small changes that I’m currently focusing on.
I already avoid boxed and pre-packaged meals but I’m focusing on eating less processed meat-no more pre-cooked breakfast sausages (even the “healthy” chicken ones) for me and I’m limiting my favorite processed meat, bacon to once or twice a month (because I refuse to give it up completely.)
I’m intentionally working on building a community, not only for me but for my daughter. We don’t have family nearby and she’s an only child so this one is important to us for multiple reasons. I’m volunteering for school activities, making lots of play dates and slowly becoming part of the local parent community. That comes pretty naturally when you have young children but it’s not always easy for an introvert like me! Next on my list is to re-enter the local yoga community that I’ve missed since the pandemic drove us all indoors-yes, it’s been way too long since I’ve been to an actual yoga class!
I actually love exercise. I truly love the way my body feels after a good workout. That said, I’m not so great at continual movement throughout the day so I’m also trying to incorporate more natural movement into my life. I’m standing up more when doing computer work and taking house cleaning/stretching breaks to get my body moving more often. I’ve been incorporating more walking into my life naturally since moving back to California but my new goal is to get at least one walk in every day.
Feel free to share your thoughts and ways that you’re incorporating these things into your life. I’d love to hear from you!