Cozy Book Chat: Blue Zones
Late fall and winter are a time to either engage or isolate. When it’s super cold outside, most of us find a spot on the couch, grab our favorite book, and enjoy alone time. If after a long day with family and friends - DO it. But if this is your rhythm every SINGLE day in the winter and this routine also includes skipping trips to the store, declining face-to-face meet-ups, and/or lacking daily movement - RETHINK your winter hibernation flow.
To understand much of this website, there are a few texts that are imperative for me to review. One of those texts is Blue Zones. Blue Zones are regions around the world that host the highest number of Centenarians. The term first appeared in a 2005 National Geographic magazine cover story, "The Secrets of a Long Life." Dan Buettner, the author of the story and the creator of Blue Zones (a term he trademarked), identified the five regions as: Okinawa (Japan); Sardinia (Italy); Nicoya (Costa Rica); Icaria (Greece); and among the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California.
Currently, the longest living person in the United States is a black woman, 114-year-old Alelia Murphy.* If she lives for another year or more, she will join four other black women, an Italian woman, and four white women in the top 10 longest living people in the US. She will, however, drive the only man (Danish) in the top 10 down to the 11th spot.
*(Update: 8.17.2020 Alelia passed away, but now the oldest American is a black woman named Hester Ford (115).)
I can nail down the Blue Zones philosophy with the lifestyle choices and quote from one of my favorite supercentenarians, the late Agnes Fenton (110). She said that every day since the age of 100 she thanked God for living, and for 70 years (until the age of 105) she drank three Miller High Life’s and a shot of Johnnie Walker Blue Label scotch. About her life she explained, “He gave me a long life and a good life, and I have nothing to complain about. You’ve got to have God in your life. Without God, you’ve got nothing.” Her favorite foods were sweet potatoes, green beans, and fried chicken.
Funny story: My great-grandmother (below) lived until 103, and every evening she had a special vodka concoction that she called her "Sender" because it "sent" her to sleep swiftly.
Blue Zones and Winter
In Blue Zones, Buettner ties together the nine characteristics of folks that live long lives:
Move naturally - Most of the centenarians didn’t go to the gym or lift heavy weights, but their lifestyle promoted consistent movement.
Eat plant-based meals - This is not vegan, vegetarian (except for the Seventh Day Adventist), keto, pescatarian, gluten-free, etc. It’s merely making sure the majority of your daily meals are plant-based (veggies, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, beans).
Have a Plan de Vida or Ikigai - Loosely translated as "a reason for being." Know your purpose and live by it.
Practice stress-relieving techniques - When you feel yourself going internally bonkers, create a calming practice.
Remember Hara Hachi bu - Don’t eat until you are hungry and stop eating when you are 80% full - that includes no late-night snacks.
Here's to you (with eye contact!) Moderate drinking - 1 or 2 4oz glasses of wine with a meal daily ensures you live longer than nondrinkers. That said, saving all the "weekly" alcohol until the weekend (10+ drinks) is binge drinking. It's no surprise that research shows it's healthier to be a nondrinker than one who over-consumes alcohol.
Go worship - Directly from the Blue Zones site, “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.”
Live a communal life - We are meant to fellowship and are social beings. Find your people, your village, and then hang out with them. Loneliness is known to take off eight years (at least) of one’s life.
Keep family first - When in a "healthy" family dynamic, family over everything is real (it’s cultural, biblical, and scientific). Directly from the site, “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).”
*Based on outside research, it looks like this stat is for men. Married men live longer than single men, while married women live shorter lives than single women without kids.
The nine Blue Zone characteristics are not based on warm or relatively chilly weather which is why this is a winter piece. They are steps to implement in your daily life in every season. We must avoid being bears and hibernating in the winter. The seasons may change your outdoor discipline and the length of time you engage with nature, but COLD cannot equate to frozen meals that lack nutritional value, an anti-social lifestyle, work/home/sleep cycle, and desk chair/couch/bed rotation. We have to be mindful of maintaining a lifestyle based on longevity throughout the year.
WINTER POLE POLE BLUE ZONE LIVING
“And don't think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It's quiet, but the roots are down there riotous.” -Rumi
Getting outside and moving year-round is not only critical for our health, but it’s also a key component to happiness. Although there is more to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) than only going outside, studies show that enjoying the outdoors and soaking up vitamin D in the winter (increasing serotonin) can reduce the effects of SAD.
Time moves slower in the winter, which is perfect for hygge-filled evenings and even a Blue Zones lifestyle: “In the original blue zones regions, life unfolds more slowly, more quietly, and with less urgency. People’s lives aren’t laced with worry, hurry, and the constant need to be elsewhere. Not coincidentally, perhaps, they live longer lives.” But winter is also an excellent time for blocking off at least 30 minutes during the day (before work, at lunch, or late afternoon), bundling up, and taking a walk (preferably with a thermos filled with something hot!) with a friend. On the weather app or Google, you can always check when the sun is rising and setting.
If in the morning - time your walk or morning pre-walk coffee to begin when the sun is rising.
If in the early evening - make sure most of your “distance” or “time” outdoors is during light hours, leaving the last moments for witnessing the sunset.
The winter and late fall are only three to four months out of the year, but creating a mindset and habits that limit being outside (unless the weather is behaving perfectly) can reduce longevity and quality of life. When thinking about the moment, it's easy to choose hair, comfort, or feeling "good." But when aiming to live abundantly at 80 (90,100, 115, 120), there are daily rhythms (eating healthily, enjoying the outdoors, socializing, and moving naturally) that are proven to work if practiced consistently.
Shalom & blessings my friends. Bundle up!