Facing our mortality is one of the scariest parts of being alive. And not only do most of us want to live a long time, but we all want to do it without years of being debilitated or crippled in our old age.
The mystery of how to live a long life is something humans have been trying to solve for centuries, just think about the old stories about the quest for the fountain of youth. Over the last century we have enjoyed longer lives moving from a life expectancy of 47 years old in 1900 up to 79 years old in 2023.
However, if you are like most people, living longer isn’t just about adding more years to your life. It is about ensuring that those years are good, active years absent from the chronic disease that impacts many people as they age. Heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and cognitive declines can make the end of life feel more like suffering vs. living.
As a doctor, I see lots of exciting new research related to living a longer life and reducing the risk of suffering from chronic diseases that can make the tail end our lives miserable. Some of these breakthroughs are very promising and exciting, but the problem is that none of them have been proven in human studies. In the age of information overload, we are constantly bombarded with the latest trends and ideas of how to live longer, healthier lives.
So where do we turn if we want to really know how to live a long and healthy life? How about to the people who are living to be 100…..and healthy the entire time! Enter the Blue Zones.
The Blue Zones is a book by National Geographic correspondent Dan Buettner who spent over 20 years finding and studying areas in the world that have very high numbers of centenarians (people who live to be 100). In these areas, not only do you find a high percentage of people that live to 100, but the people in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s often look and act like they are 20 years younger than their age. There are very low rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia amongst these people, which is in stark contrast to what is seen in the average aging population of the US.
One of my patients, Cheri came to me for help recently. At 52 years old she was frustrated with her body because she couldn’t lose weight, was having aches and pains and was feeling run down all the time. In addition, she was concerned about recent changes in her bloodwork related to increasing cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. She knew these risk factors meant her risk of diabetes and heart disease/stroke were starting to increase. However, she had a lot more plans for her active life, and getting sick or dying early was not part of it. Like most people, social media had been feeding her all the newest and best ideas about what to eat, what supplements to take, and how to exercise to make sure she looked and felt like she was 30 again. Unfortunately, none of it was working. She was doing everything she was supposed to be doing according to all the talking heads on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook and despite this her body was still not responding how she wanted, and her lab results were showing things were still getting worse. After only 8 weeks of working with our clinic and implementing the right nutrition and natural treatment plan, not only was she feeling better, but her cholesterol completely normalized, she began to lose weight, her blood sugar levels came down into the ideal range, and her inflammation markers regulated. Utilizing some Blue Zone principles along with individualized care her body reversed key markers associated with chronic disease, death and aging and she started to feel good again. Her energy came back, she started losing weight, her body no longer ached and she had a renewed excitement about life again.
I find it interesting how closely paralleled Naturopathic Medicine is aligned with the principles shared in the Blue Zone book. As a Naturopathic Doctor I follow the following five key strategies to help patients enjoy a long healthy life:)
- Move- The vast majority of centenarians studied in the Blue Zones never stepped foot in a gym. However, they all moved a lot every day. Walking, gardening, herding sheep and being active were daily practices in every region. For example, in Okinawa Japan centenarians live in a traditional fashion with virtually no furniture. They sit on mats on the floor requiring them to stand up from the floor more than 20x per day. This builds leg strength, core strength and supports balance. Are you moving enough every day?
- Eat more Plants- While only one Blue Zone was technically a vegetarian/vegan area, every Blue Zone had one thing in common when it came to plants….they ate a lot of them. Beans, greens and grains were primary staples in every Blue Zone, with very little consumption of meat. Most centenarians only ate meat 2-4x per month or less throughout their entire life. One of the key factors I look at with every patient is their diet and nutrition. Are you eating enough greens?
- Build Community- Every Blue Zone studied had a strong grounding in community. People took care of each other and looked out for each other and every centenarian had a significant amount of social interaction with friends and/or family on a daily basis. Having a community or team of caring health professionals who can support you on your journey is so important.
- Connect to a higher power- A strong sense of spiritual connection was evident in every Blue Zone studied. This ranged from being part of an organized church to connecting with the ancestors of past. Regardless of the method, giving over the stresses of daily life to a higher power was a theme in every Blue Zone. Are you doing anything to nurture your spiritual health?
- Always have a purpose- Many people lose a sense of purpose after retirement and this loss often continues to build as we age. Having a sense of purpose was a key theme seen in all Blue Zones. Whether it was related to work, being around for family, or serving the community, having a purpose promotes longevity. Are you clear on your purpose?
While we have yet to discover the mythical fountain of youth, living healthier, longer lives is something we can all achieve with the proper guidance and focus. If you are interested in learning more about the biggest risk factors you face and how to apply key principles to promote a healthy, long, active life call the office at 410-266-9110 to schedule a complimentary discovery call.