[ Stories from Dr. Yukari ]
Journalist and New York Times best-selling author, Dan Buettner along with the demographic research team studied villages all over the world to discover the secret to longevity. The team specifically looked for the secrets among centenarians (a person who is a 100-years or older). They studied their higher quality of life that is without diseases including heart failure, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
The research found five hot spots named Blue Zones which have the highest concentration of centenarians. They not only live longer but appear to live a happier and healthier life than other parts of the world including Sardinia Island, Italy, Ikaria Island, Greece, Nicoya peninsula, Costa Rica, Roma Linda, California/USA and Okinawa, Japan. The healthy and active centenarians all shared a similar diet and way of life.
They consumed less processed foods and lived on a diet of locally grown vegetables, fermented foods, beans, nuts, and lots of dishes rich with plant fibers. Interestingly, they are not usually vegetarians and vegans. Most of their proteins come from fish, eggs, and they even occasionally indulge in alcoholic beverages. On the other hand, they do not smoke any tobacco products and they only eat around 80% of their stomach capacity. Sometimes, they practice mini-fasting. They don’t specifically “exercise” but engage in moderate physical activities including walking up hills, stairs, carrying items, gardening or doing other outdoor work.
The most important characteristic of these happy super seniorsshare is having a strong sense of belonging. Whether it is the community, village, region, religion, or being blessed with warm and secure relationships in their lives. Inter-generational connections with family, friends, and neighbors is also a key part of their day-to-day life. They usually know around 6 people whom they can depend on in case of an emergency. These are some of the precious gifts that the happy and active seniors hold close. The number of healthy centenaries in Sardinia Island for example, was six times higher than the average numbers in Italy.
It is estimated that 42.5 million Americans over the age of 45 are suffering from chronological loneliness. More than 10% of the older people do not have the opportunity of seeing their loved ones once a month. The closest thing they would have to a best friend could be their TV and many Americans don’t even know who their next-door neighbors. Only one out of 5,000 Americans live over the age of 100. While we are not sure of the exact reasons why this is the case, we suspect that many are suffering from a lack of purpose or human connection in life.
Scientists have said that only about 10%-21% of our genes determine our life span. The rest depends on our life style and meaningful human connections. A data analysis conducted with 300,000 people taught us that the risk of death increases by 50% if one does not have meaningful human connections. The risk rate is equivalent to alcohol abusers and smokers who smoke roughly 15 cigarettes a day.
While you may have a few decades before reaching a centenarian age, simple changes can be made to improve your human connections starting TODAY. You can start by calling your older family members, set up a lunch date with a distant relative, reconnect with friends, former colleague, or neighbor so that you can hear and share stories about their lives. If and when you met someone new, do not wait to get to know the person and try taking the first step to connect with them.
Even during the on-going pandemic, and especially during the lock down, loneliness can transform itself into a source of illness. Connecting with others isn’t just for your benefit but also for others as well. It holds the power to contribute to the community. The Blue Zone Project has become a community project to improve well-being, share stories, and find different purposes in life. Various communities at workplace, hospitals, schools and even some supermarkets and restaurants have started participating in this project.
Blue Zone Project in Hawaii: https://info.bluezonesproject.com/bzphawaii