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The Years in Your Life

We live in a culture obsessed with the fountain of youth. Botox anyone?

I only hope to age as gracefully as my parents and not fret about the laugh lines around my mouth, or the deep lines in my forehead that are already settling in since I tend to frown when I read.

A woman in Paris once approached me in a café and said “It’s my birthday so I’m telling people what I think. You shouldn’t frown you read like that, you will get terrible wrinkles when you’re older”. I was impressed with her honesty. I still make an effort not to.

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Appearances aside our quality of life is the most important.  It’s the life in your years, not the years in your life.

So what does it take to live a long, healthy, happy life?

I read this article recently about a study done on the longest-lived people. They looked into their lifestyles and environment to see what is keeping them alive so long. What I love about the facts in the article is the rich life they portray.

They found five places where pockets of people around the world have the highest life expectancy, or with the highest proportions of people who reach age 100.

Barbagia region of Sardinia – Mountainous highlands of inner Sardinia with the world’s highest concentration of male centenarians. •Ikaria, Greece – Aegean Island with one of the world’s lowest rate of middle age mortality and the lowest rates of dementia. •Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – World’s lowest rates of middle age mortality, second highest concentration of male centenarians. •Seventh Day Adventists – Highest concentration is around Loma Linda, California. They live 10 years longer than their North American counterparts. •Okinawa, Japan – Females over 70 are the longest-lived population in the world.

They then assembled a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to search for evidence-based common denominators among all places.

These nine stood out:

1.  Move Naturally.  
The world’s longest-lived people don’t 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 don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work. 2.  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 seven years of extra life expectancy. 3.  Down Shift.
  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 we don’t 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. 4.  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 percent 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 don’t eat any more the rest of the day. 5.  Plant Slant
 Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of deck or cards. 6.  Wine @ 5. 
 People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday. 7.  Belong. 
 All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy. 8.  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 you when the time comes). 9.  Right Tribe.  
The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So long-lived people’s health behaviors have been favorable shaped by their social networks.

What I love about this list is that they’re all things that actually make life more enjoyable.

Sometimes when I find myself going through a health nut phase, or a detox like right now, I cut off a lot of my social life and pleasure.

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All of these guidelines encourage a full life of getting outside, having a purpose, reducing stress, eating more plants, enjoying happy hour, being a part of a community, keeping family close and having a strong social circle.

These are all things I would like to incorporate more in my life and always experience when I’m home in Europe. When I’m in our small village France I take long walks in nature, drink wine every night, spend time with friends I’ve known forever and have a very strong sense of community. I always feel healthier and more like myself than when I’m back in North America reading about the latest diet and spending time at the gym alone.

I often laugh at how many people drive to the gym here to walk on a treadmill. We could learn a few things from other cultures.

I intend to travel as much as possible in my one precious life to remind me of these things. In the meantime I will hold my friends and family close, get outside when I can, eat locally and intuitively, and when this detox is done reinforce a balanced happy hour.

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