I just returned from keynoting at the Arizona Leading Age conference for people who work in the elder care space. These dedicated experts have such an abundance of compassion for the seniors in their care, I was inspired to share this information from my new book, The Hope-Driven Leader: Harness the Power of Positivity at Work.
Having coached leaders in elder services, I’ve observed that (acute illness aside) some seniors maintain incredible enthusiasm well into their later years, while others seem to fade prematurely. My mother Barbara has been a bundle of energy her entire life, learning to fly a plane in her twenties, play golf in her thirties, and race sailboats in her sixties, all while working in healthcare. Now 97 years old, she still takes a daily walk, is a voracious reader, and occasionally contemplates writing a book about what 90-year-olds could be doing with their remaining time.
Curious about longevity around the globe, as well as my own life expectancy, I consulted the Blue Zones project for my book. Founded by explorer, author, and educator Dan Buettner, he teamed up with National Geographic demographers to locate the world’s longest-living people and figure out what gave them not only their longevity but their youthful spirit. They identified five geographical locations with the greatest proportions of people who lived to age 100 or more: the highlands of inner Sardinia; the Aegean Island of Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California (home to a large group of Seventh Day Adventists); and Okinawa, Japan.
I learned that the average life expectancy in the US for someone born today is 78.2 years. When I took the Blue Zones Test, I discovered that my healthy life expectancy is 88.2 years, my actual life expectancy is 95.5, and my potential life expectancy – if I make a few changes – is 97.8 years. Here’s what Blue Zones, and other experts, say are critical to maintaining a positive spirit.
1. Move naturally. Forget the gym and throw out your weed-whacker. Do house and garden work under your own steam and reap the physical rewards.
2. Purpose. As I discuss in my this book, having a deep sense of purpose gives you something to live for, potentially adding seven years to your life.
3. De-stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation and other age-related diseases. Find routines and rituals like the Blue Zone folks, from prayer to naps to happy hour.
4. Stop eating when you’re 80% full. Okinawans recite a Confucian saying before meals to remind them to stop eating when they are 80% full. Blue Zone seniors eat their biggest meal in the morning and their smallest in the early evening, eating nothing after that.
5. Be plant-centric. Beans, including fava, lentils, black, and soy, are the number one choice among centenarians. They favor vegetables in general, typically eating only five portions of meat per month. That’s less than many of us eat in a week.
6. Wine. Here’s some good news. People in Blue Zones drink moderately, but regularly. One or two glasses of wine per day maximum is suggested, preferably taken with meals and friends.
7. Practice your faith. Almost all of the centenarians belong to a faith-based community of some sort. You can add 4-14 years to your life by attending a weekly service. It doesn’t much matter, apparently, what the denomination is.
8. Family first. Living with or near loved ones and relatives can add years to your life. Interestingly, having elders living with you also reduces disease and mortality rates for kids in the home, too. Commit to a life partner and you can add three years to your expectancy.
9. Choose your tribe carefully. Supportive social groups, whether friends or family, that reinforce healthy habits can also add years to your life. Research, such as the Framingham Study, has shown that both healthy and unhealthy behaviors are contagious, so choose carefully. The Okinawans select groups of five friends, called “moais,” that commit to support each other for life. How’s that for an accountability group?