Live, love, leap: Nine steps to longevity

By Ryan Howes | Dec 13, 2017

I have strong, Maine-Franco roots from Augusta, and a well biased perspective on living the simple life. You know what I’m talking about: “Princes of Maine, Kings of New England.” Your fantastic, simple-life values weave Maine’s moral fabric. Your authentic, The-Way-Life-Should-Be trademark is both our legacy and timeless lifestyle. I’m a champion for this beautiful land and people. Having recently learned about Blue Zones, my awe for the Maine Way has increased, yet I am concerned about the overall health of our citizens. There is no doubt that “Dirigo,” meaning “I lead,” could be our present-day motto for strengthening our region’s longevity if we take the time to learn from those who do it best.

Loma Linda, Calif.; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; and the oldest living world population of Okinawa, Japan, are separated by thousands of miles, yet share some intriguingly simple common practices that make them the longest-living world populations, with an average life expectancy of 98 years. Mainers, these are the Blue Zones, and we could benefit from blending their nine simple lifestyle concepts with our own.

My French mémère lived to be 99 years old. I was amazed by her health and happiness. She lived with the vitality of someone 20 or 30 years her junior. When her time came to pass, she died peacefully, without pain or suffering. This beautiful end-of-life story is consistent with Blue Zones. Let’s explore the nine Blue Zone concepts to see if mémère’s lifestyle was her very own Augusta, Maine, Blue Zone.

1. Daily natural movement -- their lifestyle involves low- to medium-impact, utilitarian movement. Not specifically exercise, rather, functional movements like chopping and carrying firewood, kneading dough and walking with friends and family. (Mémère was queen of the kitchen and walking.)

2. Prayer, meditation and napping -- taking time during the day to lessen stress on the mind and body helps to reduce cortisol levels; this is a practice of intra-personal connection to a higher power and conscious awareness. (Mémère went to church every week and got plenty of rest.)

3. Sense of purpose -- everyone has meaning in life, even grandma, who spends her days loving and taking care of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren  -- she gets that distinction because she still thrives at 98 years old. She continues to work in the garden, growing food for her community. (Mémère lived in her home until the day she passed, which lent itself to being the center of family gatherings.)

4. Daily wine -- a high-quality wine or saki in moderation, with its beneficial polyphenols, is said to unclog arterial plumbing to support healthy heart function. (I was too young to remember.)

5. Plant-based diet -- no, not vegetarians or vegan, however they primarily consume vegetables and fruits, complemented by healthy fats, whole grains, protein (maybe five servings/month animal protein), nuts, seeds, legumes and plenty of water. (Mémère ate very well and had a short and lean build.)

6. Food tapering -- a big breakfast for energy and decreased food consumption throughout the day to aid in quality sleep. (Unsure of her eating habits.)

7. Family first -- no child left behind takes on a different philosophy in Blue Zones. Positivity, support and love are some words to describe their deep bonds with one another. (Mémère loved all of us probably more than I know.)

8. Faith -- no matter what is the regional belief or value system, each Blue Zone group has a strong moral code built on relationships and service. The Seventh-Day Adventists of Loma Linda, Calif., follow the Bible's nutrition plan, which is the only Blue Zone group that does not consume alcohol. God wants us to eat whole food. (Mémère’s faith in God was 100 percent.)

9. Social networks -- children in Sardinia grow up playing with the same friends they go to school with, work with and grow old with. Lasting, positive relationships feed the soul. (Mémère went to typical Franco social events on a weekly basis, e.g.,. Calumet Club in Augusta)

From an early age I played outdoors with friends and family, grew a garden, dug into compost, ate healthy whole food, got plenty of exercise, played with my dog, Hudson, and celebrated life and spirituality with those I loved. Not much has changed, except for the fact that I traded an hour of youthful television viewing for hours of computer and smart phone screens as an adult. This common childhood storyline is one that tends to dissipate, as careers and family life become a priority.

What can be learned from Blue Zones? Take a moment to reflect on your lifestyle in relationship to these nine concepts. Rate your overall satisfaction using a 1-to-10 scale, 1=low and 10=high. How could you enrich your life by balancing out one or two concepts that are lower than the others? Establishing balance with these longevity factors will nourish you and your family, while improving your quality of life, health, happiness and, you guested it – longevity!

In America, life expectancy is mid- to late 70s for men and women, which is 20 years younger than Blue Zones. One important thing to recognize, my Maine men and women, is that Americans who live this long have a morbidity period that typically lasts three to six years. This is the suffering factor from the built-up stress of poor nutrition and relationships, lack of movement and social milieu. And it’s not pretty. Our society is ravaged by lifestyle-induced, chronic disease.

Blue Zones typically do not experience morbidity before death, nor do they suffer from disease. Studies show that these nine concepts for longevity are the reason why Blue Zones live well past 90 years old with full movement and vigor, which is why I encourage you to be one with my Mémère.

Want to learn more about Blue Zones? Go to bluezones.com for more information.

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