Implementing Lessons from the Blue Zones, Inconveniencing Myself, and Other Things I’m Focusing On In 2017

So-called “Blue Zones” are areas of the world in which people have significantly longer, healthier lives than the world-wide average. Blue Zones have been researched and written about pretty extensively and in a popular book about them, Dan Buettner extrapolated these basic themes:

  • Moderate, regular physical activity.
  • Life purpose.
  • Stress reduction.
  • Moderate calories intake.
  • Plant-based diet.
  • Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  • Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  • Engagement in family life.
  • Engagement in social life.

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Since I read Blue Zones, I’ve been obsessed with implementing these ideas in my life. Here’s some things this urban, desk bound, lawyer is doing this year to be healthier:

More plants. I’ve recommitted to the vegan till six thing, though more as a guideline than a rule. I’m already seeing results in my waist line. I was, for many years, a vegan/vegetarian, but I don’t think I’ll ever go back to that restrictive a diet. But study after study says, more plants is better. Meat once or twice a week is where we’re at right now and where I’d like to stay.

Take the stairs, carry the kids, wash the dishes. Constantly, we are presented with the choice between the easy and the hard road. In a world of physical convenience, it’s often best to take the hard road. One thing blue zone communities have in common is regular, low level exercise. Another thing most have in common is they’re semi-rural. Brooklyn is not semi rural. I do not chop wood. I do not garden. But my home and office have stairs. My kids can be carried instead of put in the stroller. I can do the dishes by hand.

I try to ask myself  if there’s a way to inconvenience a task without drastically increasing its time.  If I can make it just a bit harder, without sacrificing too much expediency, I’ll do it. It helps.

 

Meditate. When E and A were in the hospital, I meditated everyday. It helped. Since then, I’ve fallen off, but am eager to get after it. Meditation, per se, isn’t one of the factors that Buettner calls out, but a regular spiritual practice is. I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but when I am engaging in a regular meditation practice, I see benefits throughout my life. In my focus, in my mood, and in my sleep. Ten minutes a day isn’t too much to give to being quiet.

Unplug, hang out. I, like many, spent too much of 2016 refreshing twitter. I’m trying to do less of that this year. So far, it’s been harder than I thought. Getting into bed and checking my phone one last time is so ingrained in me, it’s muscle memory. It’ll take time, and probably some more hard and fast rules, to break the habit.

But I want to focus less on what the orange monster is saying and more on casual time with the family and friends. The other night, for instance, I was casually invited to a neighbor’s house to play a board game. I was hesitant to go at first, my uptight Yankee coming through. But I went, and it was fun.  More of that, 2017.

In fact, more of all of this.

More time invested in our synagogue, more time doing art projects with our kids, more time exploring the park, more time drinking wine with friends.

Less of that other shit. 

Less time on swiping at the goddamn phone. Less time in pointless meetings, less time fretting over the things I cannot control. More time working on the things I can.

*The concept of “Blue Zones” has been ceaselessly merchandised with books, websites and more. For people like me, that level of commodification can seem distasteful. Ok, fine. But that doesn’t mean the research isn’t valid and compelling.

Review: Buettner’s Blue Zones

The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest
Dan Buettner

The first book in the Blue Zone empire. Though it is at times silly, this is a must read for anyone interested in longevity.

If you’ve been living under a rock, let me briefly explain the conceit of this book. “Blue Zones” are areas of the world which have abnormally high levels of centenarians. In the book, Buettner and his team go to five of these zone (Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California,
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica and Icaria, Greece) and attempt to discover why it is that people in these communities live so long.

A lot of anecdotal evidence is collected, some of it more scientific than others, but all of it fascinating. Buettner takes this information and develops a set of nine guiding principles for a long, healthy life. These include:
1. Moderate, regular physical activity.
2. Life purpose.
3. Stress reduction.
4. Moderate calories intake.
5. Plant-based diet.
6. Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
7. Engagement in spirituality or religion.
8. Engagement in family life.
9. Engagement in social life.

In other areas of this website, I write quite a bit about these principles. Here I’ll just say that while the subject matter of this book is fascinating, the presentation can be a bit annoying. As what is basically a popular health and wellness book, it has all those annoying side bar anecdote things plus silly cute stories of old people, and maudlin reflections on how fucked up the modern world is. I found it often annoying, but also essential. Hold your nose, and get through the corniness. There’s a lot of very important information here.

Recommended.