Self-Care for Rejuvenation and Longevity

This July, I have been enjoying a summer break, recharging my batteries with family and friends in Greece. After a busy spring and summer of conferences, talks, and collaborations, the relaxed pace of Parikia has been just what I needed to reset and prepare for the busy fall ahead.

As I’ve spent time here in the Fertile Crescent, I’ve been able to reflect on some of the ways the people here treat their bodies and consider their health. In this part of the world, where many people live beyond their hundredth (!) birthday, living a healthy life is about so much more than dieting to lose a few pounds and visiting the gym every day. The people here do enjoy a healthy diet, but that is just one small part of the secret to health and longevity. The great news is that we are all capable of living what has come to be known as The Blue Zones Lifestyle. And I think you’ll be pleased to find that making many of these healthy lifestyle changes can be much more of a pleasure than a pain.

In his book, “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest”, Dan Buettner, working with National Geographic and a team of researchers in the fields of anthropology, epidemiology, and demographics identified the nine common denominators of people who live to be 100 in regions around the world. He calls these The Power 9.

1. Move Naturally

During my time in Parikia, I’ve gotten to observe and join the community in walking from place to place. No one is speed walking or jogging, they just casually and naturally move among their friends and neighbors, often barefoot, really connecting to their community and the earth they share. They garden, fish, and enjoy the gorgeous beaches, all mostly without the mechanical aids most of us take for granted. Even the beaches themselves have healing, restorative properties! Negative ions found in high concentrations near the ocean’s edge can improve serotonin levels, neutralize free radicals, improve cell metabolism, balance the nervous system and enhance immune function.

2. Purpose

“The Okinawans call it ‘Ikagari’ and the Nicoyans calls it ‘plan de vida;’ for both it translates to ‘why I wake up in the morning.’” – Dan Buettner

Finding and living with a sense of purpose can be one of the most influential elements of enjoying a longer and happier life. Through his research, Dan found that people who can identify a specific purpose in their life could count on adding an average of seven years to their longevity. Whether it’s a career, volunteerism, or raising a family that gives your life purpose, take time to observe and appreciate the special moments when you know you’re following the life path that truly means the most to you.

3. Down Shift

Taking time to refresh and recharge is important for even the healthiest of people. Stress effects all of us, and knowing when it’s time to take a break, meditate, go on vacation, or just take part in your own personal religious rituals can keep us more centered, happy, and healthy than nutrition and physical activity alone.

4. 80% Rule

Listen to your body! Eating until you are only 80% full can be the difference between maintaining a healthy weight and experiencing unhealthy weight fluctuations.

5. Plant Slant

A Mediterranean diet rich in local meat, fish, butter and cheese, phytochemical dense foods such as red, orange, and green vegetables, beans, and herbs such as basil, garlic, thyme and oregano is perfect for longevity and prevention. While many Mediterranean diets include pasta and bread, the region’s population is more highly susceptible to Celiac Disease, the intolerance to gluten, and when we remove these foods, an even better result can be reached!

6. Wine at 5

A nice glass of red wine at a meal gathering with family and friends once a day is observed throughout the Mediterranean as a way to slow down and enjoy the company of a tight-knit community. This marriage of meals and socialization is yet another way to make the most of the small moments in life, enjoy life more, and increase longevity.

7. Belong

Belonging to a faith-based community or practice helps those who live the Blue Zones life to maintain balance and a sense of belonging. Whatever your religious and spiritual preferences, practicing regularly with a group of like-minded peers is important to living a long, healthy life. Do not take your spiritual life for granted. It is as important to you as the food you eat and the air that you breathe!

8. Loved Ones First

Dan also discovered that centenarians value family first and foremost throughout their lives.  Committing to a life partner, keeping elderly family members close and allowing growing children in the family to help with their care are all central to the lifestyles of those who live the longest and happiest lives.

9. Right Tribe

Lifestyle choices, both good and bad, are contagious! The people we spend the most time with affect the way we treat ourselves, the habits we form and even our moods and outlook on life. Consciously surrounding ourselves with people who encourage and inspire us and embody our values has a measurable impact on the choices we make in regard to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. And maintaining all of these as a priority for yourself and within your relationships is vital to achieving total health.

As I’ve enjoyed a restful period in Greece, I encourage you all to think about lifestyle changes you want to make to improve your health and longevity. It’s so important for us to care for every part of ourselves and taking time for rest and reflection is a powerful step in the right direction.