I’m pretty obsessed with The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. There are these pockets of really long lived people, like well over 100 years old, in Japan, Italy, California, Greece and Costa Rica.
They all seem to do different things – some drink lots of wine, some don’t drink at all. Some are vegetarians, some eat meat. There’s no set formula for longevity, but the common denominators are they all eat simple, unprocessed, mainly plant based diets, are very physically active and have strong social and familial bonds.
Okay, the food thing: eating a simple, totally unprocessed diet. Yes! All of the zones bring different cuisine to the table but it’s all real food, nothing that comes in a package – mostly plant based with meat reserved for special occasions. This is exactly how I strive to eat. Of course I don’t always get there as I have pulled into a McDonald’s or Taco Bell Drive-Thru a few times. But I strive to get my fruits and veggies from farmer’s markets and cook everything from scratch.
I know I’m a Pilates teacher but I believe it’s more important to lead an active lifestyle than participate in organized exercise. One 105 year old lady in Okinawa gardens everyday which keeps her active and gives her a sense of accomplishment and purpose since it’s where she gets a lot of her food. And since her traditional Japanese home has little furniture she sits on the floor and has to get up and down off the tatami mat 30 times a day! That will keep her lower body strong and I bet she’s never seen the inside of a Pilates studio. A Sardinian 75 year old ends up walking up to six miles a day of hilly terrain tending his sheep. Great exercise and purpose.
It’s the little changes that make a big difference over a lifetime like walking or biking instead of driving. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator. Playing with your kids or walking to the grocery store and carrying the bags home. Here in L.A. it’s so easy to stuff your cart full and wheel it out to your car and drive but I think every bit of weight training adds up. We’ll see, I guess.
The last piece of the puzzle is the social aspect. All these old folks have something to live for. They all have a community that they care deeply about, a big family they may still live with including grand kids and great grand kids. My favorite is the Okinawan ladies who hang out everyday around 4 o’clock with a group of women friends called a moia. They gossip, get advise, drink sake, and just connect. I’ve always suspected that this is important. People die sooner when they no longer feel needed or part of something.
My best friend, Suzy and I talk often about how important our connections with our girlfriends are. She may get mad at me for sharing but in about 35 years we plan to have an exclusive retirement home similar to the Okinawan moia. If we can’t live on our own anymore we thought it would be awesome to live together maybe in one of our homes, maybe a new space.
It’ll be decked out with a pool and a Pilates studio for exercise. I will probably still be teaching a little but if not, a hot instructor will come by to give sessions. It’ll have an active vegetable garden and a great kitchen. Hopefully I will still be cooking up a storm, all from scratch, but just in case we’ll have a chef who helps out. It’s going to be a fun place with friends and family stopping over for our nightly happy hour. We’ll screen movies, both current and our old favorites. I’m sure we’ll still be having Book Club with the girls and maybe we’ll add game night. Poker, perhaps? It’s going to be great. Not accepting applications yet, but stayed tuned…
Genes play a part, of course, in how long we live but I’m taking these seemingly simple steps for a shot at longevity. Healthy food, physical activity and a supportive community, Join me!