What is Health? (Part 2)
In my last email I gave you two frameworks through which you could take a more holistic view of what it means to be healthy. Both of those frameworks included happiness as a major component of health and showed that diet and exercise are just a small components to leading a healthy life.
In this email I want to explore one more exciting blueprint for I came across in my research: the Blue Zones.
The Blue Zones is a reference to demographic work done in regions where people live much longer than average. The Blue Zones are five regions of longevity hotspots (the demographers circled these regions in blue on their map) and include:
Loma Linda, California
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
According to one of the demographers, “residents of these places produce a high rate of centenarians, suffer a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people in other parts of the developed world, and enjoy more years of good health.”
By studying these regions, the demographers were able to come up with 9 common lifestyle characteristics share between the regions. They distilled it down to these lessons:
Move naturally. Instead of doing high-intensity exercise, people in these regions tend to move as part of a lifestyle habit that happens effortlessly, everyday, without having to “make time” for it. They do things like gardening, walking or household work without the help of mechanical conveniences. They have a lifestyle that sets them up for success when it comes to moving every, single, day.
Have a sense of purpose. Having a reason to wake up each day and know and feel your contribution (to your family, to society, to your community, etc) is extremely important to both health and happiness.
Destress Daily. People in these regions find their own way to down shift every single day, whether that means prayer, naps, a glass of wine with friends, or something else.
Eat less. People in these regions tend to eat until they are 80% full and no more. They taper off their meals so that their smallest meal happens well before bedtime.
Eat Plant-based. People in these regions eat plenty of plants, consuming meat infrequently and in small portions, if at all.
Drink moderately and regularly. In most of these regions (but not all), the residents drink 1-2 servings of alcohol, daily. They do not binge on the weekends. The researchers recommend wines that are high in polyphenols.
Get Spiritual. Almost all the centenarias studied belong to a faith-based community – though the type of faith doesn’t seemed to matter.
Family First. The centenarians studied keep family close, investing time and love into their parents, children and life partners.
Choose Your Friends Wisely. The people studied have an active social life and surround themselves with people who share and support their other healthy lifestyle habits.
The more I read about the Blue Zones, the more interesting I find these studies. While the lessons serve as guidelines, there is plenty of variety between each place. And yet those commonalities speak to how health is impacted by lifestyle and happiness.
If you’re curious about how your current lifestyle stacks up against the Blue Zones framework, they’ve provided a really quick online quiz you can take. At the end, it gives you a predicted life expectancy based on how you measure up to these guidelines. You can take the quiz here: https://apps.bluezones.com/en/vitality
Like any test or framework like this, you can obviously take it with a huge grain of salt. But I found the quiz asked some interesting questions that I should probably be asking myself more. It was a great tool for self-reflection.
I hope you found all this info as interesting and useful as I have. I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing to achieve a long, healthy or happy life. But I know that if we don’t give a second thought to what we want to achieve in terms of our health and well being, time will just pass by and we’ll end up just triaging problems.
Instead, I hope I’ve inspired you to take a moment of pause and think about what you want and how you can make some simple and manageable changes to work towards your goals.