When we’re young, we believe we can live forever. As we age, we understand that certain choices impact our health. In certain corners of the globe, known as “blue zones,” people tend to practice healthier choices, leading to longer and happier lives. A recent CNN article highlighted the way of life of octogenarians in the blue zone of Ikaria, an island off the coast of Greece where citizens live up to eight years longer than Americans on average and experience less disease. While none of these methods are guaranteed to produce a longer life, these life changes that follow their examples may help you to live happily and healthfully.
Lower stress levels
High stress levels are known to lead to an increased risk of disease. A study published in summer 2015 by the University of California in San Francisco found that women who experience chronic stress have lower levels of klotho, a protein that regulates aging and enhances cognition. The women in the study with clinically significant depressive symptoms had even lower levels of klotho in their blood versus those women who were stressed but didn’t experience as much depression.
Warding off these high stress levels is important for increasing klotho levels and maintaining a happier, healthier life. To live stress-free can be difficult, if not impossible, but practicing mindfulness and putting yourself at ease can help. Simple techniques can include yoga, meditation, or even just taking a brisk walk every day. The people of Ikaria practice mindfulness through seemingly mindless activities. The oldest citizens on the island exercised with simple daily activities such as gardening, walking around the neighborhood, or tending to the yard. Taking time for yourself can help decrease stress.
People in Sardinia, Italy, another blue zone, stay healthy by moving naturally, napping regularly, and consuming loads of antioxidants through whole grains and plants. Their traditional Mediterranean diet, which is plant-based and filled with whole grains, certain cheeses, and oils rich in omega-3 fatty acids, can partly explain why Sardinia has nearly 10 times more centenarians per capita than the U.S.
Whole grains such as wheat, barley, and rye contain polyphenols, a nutrient known to protect health and lower risks of chronic and debilitating conditions with their antioxidant properties. Choosing whole grains over refined, white grains—which lack the essential polyphenols and complex carbs for healthier living—help boost your nutrient intake by providing the vitamins and minerals that protect against life threatening disease. Polyphenols are also found in foods usually rich in color such as berries, spices, vegetables, and legumes.
A sense of belonging
In a small Costa Rican peninsula, the blue zone of Nicoya, faith, family and plan de vida (reason to live), help their elders maintain active and positive lifestyles that lead to longer lives. The sense of belonging to a community and feeling that you are connected to others can contribute to extending your lifespan through what’s called “eudemonic wellbeing,” which relates to a sense of control and feeling that what you do is worthwhile.
Researchers at the University College of London investigated the lives of more than 9,000 English people over the age of 65. They found that those with the greatest sense of eudemonic wellbeing were 30% less likely to die in the next eight and a half years than those with a less sense of wellbeing. Simple changes such as spending more time with family and close friends, volunteering, adopting an animal, or starting a new project can all help contribute to making you feel like you have a greater purpose.
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