The 6R Solution to a Longer, Happier, and Healthier Life
Have you ever heard of the Blue Zones?
These are five areas of the world where researchers have found an extremely high percentage of individuals living into their 80’s, 90’s, and 100’s. And these aren’t individuals living in assisted living facilities. They’re active in ways that would exhaust many who are decades younger. They fully participate in the lives of their families and communities. They live their lives with action and purpose – and see their age as an asset rather than a liability. www.bluezones.com
What’s their secret? Well, there’s no Blue Zone diet. Nor is there a special longevity gene. Forget about the quick fix – or the one-size-fits-all solution. The residents of the Blue Zones live their lives in many different ways. When it comes to diet, some eat meat – others don’t. Some swear off alcohol. Others think that drinking is the secret to their longevity.
These are ordinary individuals who are doing what comes naturally. Their environment and their ways of living create conditions for longevity.
Our world is not the same as theirs. But we can CREATE our own personalized Blue Zones. The keys are found in the 6 R:
Reason for Being
You’ve heard of the 3 R: the fundamentals of elementary education. Here are the 6 R: the fundamentals for achieving a longer, happier, and healthier life. The 6 R are my synthesis of the lessons learned from the centenarians who are living and thriving in the Blue Zones.
Food is a great place to start because eating is something we’re already doing and eating a healthy diet provides the fuel we need to make other changes.
Forget about paleo vs.vegan vs.Atkins vs.[whatever] diet. Civilizations have thrived on all variety of food. Asian cultures have done quite well on a high carb diet with large quantities of white rice, while Eskimos survived on a high animal fat diet with rarely a fruit or vegetable in sight.
As adaptable as it is, the human body has not been able to adapt to the changes that have been made to our food supply in the last 50 years:
Massive quantities of sugar, salt, and fat that were never found in nature
Chemicals that no human being ever ate before 1950 – with new ones being introduced every year
Produce and meat from factory farms
When we reduce the daily assault on our health that comes from eating this chemical-laden processed food diet, we find the human body has a remarkable ability to repair itself. To help our bodies restore equilibrium, we CREATE the mindset and environment to eat in a different and more thoughtful way.
I generally follow the precepts of author Michael Pollan: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. By “food” Pollan refers to what I call “real food.” This is what your great-grandmother would have recognized as food – not what most of us eat today! www.michaelpollan.com
It won’t come as much of a surprise that food and exercise go together. Individuals who start doing some exercise feel a need to be more careful about what they eat so as not to destroy all the benefits that exercise provides. And eating foods that supply the body with energy rather than tear it down allows you to perform better.
For some, recreation means running marathons or pumping iron – to which I say, more power to you! But most of us have no desire to spend hours in the gym or on a training field.
When we look at those longevity-loaded Blue Zones, you don’t find the individuals living to be 100 spending long hours in the gym or in training for triathlons. Instead, they are active doing what comes naturally. As part of their daily routine, they engage in gentle, regular, low-intensity physical activity. Generally, that means they walk a lot.
But walking up hills and walking miles to see friends is not how those of us in industrialized countries live on a daily basis. Instead, we can CREATE new routines – doing what we love – as long as it keeps us moving. Salsa anyone? Or how about a bike ride on a warm spring day?
You expect a health coach to discuss food and exercise, but reflection?
“Reflection” covers a lot of territory. For many in the Blue Zones, it points to a faith tradition. For me though it means meditation. A daily practice of mindfulness meditation has helped to permanently lower my blood pressure and free me from a regimen of prescription and over-counter meds.
Meditation doesn’t have to mean sitting cross-legged on a Tibetan mountaintop until you reach Nirvana. For me that could take a long time!
Instead, we can start by remembering to take time during the rush of the day to put down the smartphone and clear our minds of the constant barrage of modern-day noise and chatter. There’s great value in taking the time to pause – however briefly – and pulling ourselves out of the autopilot mode.
If meditation isn’t for you, you may be more comfortable with other means to slow down and reflect, such as prayer, yoga, reading, or listening to music. Whatever works to temporarily break the cycle and allow you to mindfully reflect is a step on the journey to a longer, happier, and healthier life.
In the Blue Zones, people who lived long vibrant lives maintained strong ties to their family, friends, and community. Outside of the Blue Zones, there have been numerous studies that link strong social and emotional support with a longer life.
Dean Ornish M.D., founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, has described his review of the scientific literature and being amazed by the powerful difference that strong interpersonal relationships make on the incidence of disease and premature death:
“I am not aware of any other factor in medicine – not diet, not smoking, not exercise, not stress, not genetics, not drugs, not surgery – that has a greater impact on our quality of life, incidence of illness, and premature death from all causes than does love and intimacy.”
Think about those you care about. You already know that nurturing those relationships leads to greater happiness. Is it really that surprising to learn that spending the time to create and sustain those important relationships also lead to the creation of a healthier and longer life?
If healthy living starts to look like a full-time job, it may be time to pause and gain some perspective. Most of the Blue Zone centenarians go to bed shortly after sunset and wake up with the sun. Many also take naps.
Following these practices may be impossible (and even undesirable) in our modern society. But that doesn’t mean we can ignore the importance of getting a good night’s sleep and giving ourselves time to relax during the day. Research has shown repeatedly that proper rest is necessary for optimal health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep increases one’s risk of developing chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
Give your body, mind, and spirit time to relax and rejuvenate. Your reward will be a longer, healthier and happier life.
Reason for Being
Two of the Blue Zone cultures have words for it: Okinawans call it “ikigai”, while inhabitants of the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica call it “plan de vida”. These terms mean the same thing: a reason for getting up in the morning.
Research has demonstrated that people who expressed a sense of purpose lived longer and lived better than those who did not. Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl argued in Man’s Search for Meaningthat human beings are not hardwired simply to seek pleasure and avoid pain – rather they need meaning in their lives. According to Frankl, those who have a “why” to live can deal with any “how.”
Being able to reflect on and express our own “plan de vida” allows us to connect the small actions we take every day as we move toward our larger “why” and CREATE our longer, happier, and healthier life.