Information for Ukrainian refugees / Інформація для українських біженців (click here)
Information for Ukrainian refugees / Інформація для українських біженців (click here)

How to live to be a centurion…but not to feel it!

The Blue Zones are the areas of the world that are known to have the longest living and healthiest populations around the world. Sardinia features on this list, and while many will be familiar with the benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle, the other areas are Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece), and Loma Linda (California). If it isn’t the Mediterranean sun, what is their secret? They have been boiled down to nine attributes; the Power Nine. The beauty of these nine attributes is that they don’t say anything about a 5km radius, 2-meter distance, or wearing face masks! Perhaps Blackrock will be a Blue Zone of the future? See below to see if you can implement one, some, or all of these attributes in your life. We shall start off with an easy one.

Wine at 5!

Blue Zones author Dan Buettner observed that the various Blue Zone populations consumed a small amount of alcohol most days, typically one small tumbler of wine, and crucially in an engaging setting i.e., with friends or food. The key, of course, is to be mindful and to stay within the safe limits of 17 units per week for men and 11 units per week for women.

Stay physically active

The key here was that staying active was always the easy choice, not a daily chore. So for example, by using the stairs instead of a lift, by choosing to cycle to the town or village, by organising an evening walk with a friend etc the steps add up all on their own. 10,000 daily steps isn’t so much of a magical number for health and longevity, but if it gets you moving more your heart, waistline and your mood will thank you for it. A dog is an excellent way of making sure you get moving even when the weather isn’t accommodating.

 Stress Management

Stress is part and parcel of life, and especially for single parents, small business owners and those with elderly relatives at this time. However what is always in our control is how we perceive our stress. If we allow ourselves to catastrophise, then sometimes we deal with the emotional pain that may not actually come to pass. On the contrary, stress can make us stronger. Once we deal with our hardships we are better prepared for next time and crucially we can pay it down by helping out our friends and family when they are finding it difficult to navigate their own stressful times. Stress management techniques include breathing techniques, exercise, cooking, music, writing or simply calling on a friend or loved one.

Live with purpose

There is a relationship between purpose and happiness, most likely due to the way our brain functions and the circuitry it uses. There are a multitude of studies that have explored this relationship and the good news is that it seems to be independent of sex, age, education or race. Finding out what your purpose is should be an individual and lifelong story that is an adventure in itself.

Eat until 80 % full

Just as you might notice the average clothes size has increased since our parents and grandparents generation, so too has the average portion size. Perhaps as a hangover from our more frugal past, we often see it as bad manners or as wasteful to leave food left over. We tend to equate food with love, and portions with generosity. One option might be to simply buy smaller plates and bowls. However the Blue Zones population stend to stop eating when they were mostly full, known in Okinawa as “Hara Hachi Bu”. This allows time for our stomach stretch receptors to signal to our brain that we have eaten enough and to prevent us from overeating. Try it and see!

Try a plant-slant diet

Whilst the papers and online media are continually advising us what-not-to-eat, the Blue Zones diet is notable for what they do eat; a wide variety of plants! These populations are not vegan or vegetarian, but their diet is very different from our own. The packaged and ready-made products that now make up 50% of the Irish diet are completely foreign to them. And while most of us would feel that we are good at eating our veg, we aren’t so good at recalling there is more to plants than vegetables. Nuts, seeds, berries, beans, wholegrains, greens and legumes (chickpeas, lentils etc) are all full of fibre, micronutrients and phytochemicals that work in concert with the trillion odd bacteria in our gut to keep us healthy and happy. So rather than deny yourself by engaging in a “can’t have” diet, why not try a “will add” diet by adding a handful of the above to your existing meals.

Living in your community

While this is much harder to measure, living in community has been shown to improve health and happiness metrics. An Irish study (TILDA) that has looked at health and aging has shown that social isolation can be as detrimental to your health as smoking. Conversely Ireland’s sense of community is in fact one of our selling points, something often remarked upon by visitors and tourists. One of the most impressive has to be the country wide network that is the GAA, with benefits far beyond producing county footballers and hurlers. We are still waiting on the studies to show us the health benefits Netflix boxsets or soap operas, and I suspect we may be waiting sometime.

 

 

 

Loved ones first

In the Blue Zones, families tend to be close both geographically and emotionally. There is a pay it down attitude where younger generations help care for older relatives. These are attributes we see day in and day out in Ireland. Without the selflessness of carers, the wheels would surely come off our healthcare system; carers are truly the unsung heroes of our communities. Our elders have seen it all before and are invaluable in guiding us forward. Making time for our loved ones sounds like it ought to be easy, but modern life distractions tend to pull us every which way but together. A simple rule such as committing to a daily meal together without phones, TV or other media may be enough to feed this all important relationship.

Keeping your tribe

The Blue Zones areas not only engage in supportive families and communities, they actively participate in them. For some areas this may be seen as participating in certain faiths, but it seems as though the community participation is more important than the creed. Ireland has a proud history of paying it down to others, with an exceptional rate of volunteerism. Whether this is through your local church, GAA team or any other voluntary agency, the benefits do translate into better physical and mental health for individuals and the community.

 

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