By Maggie Q
Everywhere you turn these days, more people than ever are concerned with looking and staying younger. As a woman who is getting older herself, I can completely understand the panic, shock, and frustration at changes that seem to happen overnight! What I don’t understand are the lengths some people go, trying to freeze time by freezing their faces.
We can’t stop time and the sooner we accept this, the quicker we can explore what truly matters…
Longevity. A life lived in good health, surrounded by community, for as long as possible in this bountiful and perfect place we call home.
Healthy aging is not something we celebrate in the West. Far from it. Most people fight to look younger and it can be a long, painful—and usually, losing—battle. When someone’s only goal is to look younger, not live better, there’s always something missing. That glow, that shine, a happiness that comes when you aren’t chasing the unattainable.
So how do we transition from desiring the external while not abandoning the internal? Where can we influence healthy aging into our lives and understand the factors that contribute to it so we can actually combat aging from the inside out?
There are several things we need to understand before attempting to find balance. Genetic makeup obviously affects an individual, but there are so many other factors that don’t chain us to our genetics. Cellular biology, lifestyle behaviors, personal perspectives on aging (this is a BIG one!), social and spiritual engagement, and of course, our environment.
Dan Buettner, a journalist who’s been mapping what has been coined the “Blue Zones” for the past twenty years, has been searching for the people who live the longest in our world. These Blue Zone inhabitants reach the age of 100 at a rate that’s 10x greater than in the United States. They not only live the longest, they also have the lowest rates of disease, stress, and mortality, as well as the highest rates of emotional balance in their communities. Buettner has discovered the five areas in the world where they reside and why their approach allows for such long and vital lives.
One of the biggest factors is a strong family unit. Also: no smoking, plant-heavy diets and constant moderate physical activity. They have high social engagement and they eat a lot of legumes. There is sunshine, gardening and empowered women.
In Ikaria, Greece, they have some of the world’s lowest rates of mid-age mortality and dementia. They subside on a Mediterranean diet that’s high in vegetables and healthy fats and low in dairy and meat.
Okinawa, Japan (known as the Land of the Immortals) is home to the world’s largest concentration of centenarians, especially women. Their staples include Okinawan sweet potato, soybeans, mugwort, turmeric and bitter melon.
Sardinia has the highest concentration of centenarian men in the world. Usually the ratio of centenarian men to women in the West is 1-to-4; in Sardinia, it’s 1-to-1. Their low-protein diets equate with extremely low rates of diabetes, cancer, and death under 65.
Loma Linda, California is home to the highest concentration of 7th Day Adventists, who live on whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. They are strict vegetarians who consume no alcohol and put family, religion, and community above all else. They generally live ten more healthy years than the average American.
The Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica is home to the lowest rate of middle-age mortality and the second-highest concentration of male centenarians. Their longevity lies in their deep social and faith networks and regular, low-intensity physical activity.
The more I learn about healthy aging from other cultures and the seemingly effortless ways it’s integrated into their lives, the more I seek to inspire change in the western ideal of youth vs. longevity. I know it’s hard to accept getting older as part of the human experience, but learning about the value of what surrounds us is also a blessing.
Cultures that have quality lives for the longest amount of time are rich in social contact, healthy foods, and family connection.
The key to healthy aging can’t be found in the nearest vitamin store or the doctor’s office; rather, it is measured in the amount of happiness in our days. We need to move, breathe, see the sun, socialize, and care for our surroundings and one another. We need to stress less, eat more vegetables, pray, and have joy. In this way, we may not hold onto our youth, but we will have earned our smile lines.