Life Lessons From Around the World


Growing old is an inevitable part of life. But nevertheless, there are numerous things you can do to significantly slow the aging process and increase your life expectancy, in addition to improving your quality of life and extending your health.

We know this primarily as a result of research on Blue Zones, areas of the world where a higher-than-average number of people live much longer than the average, in addition to the work of David Sinclair and his team at Harvard.

In essence, your life expectancy is not determined by genetics or biology; however, it is heavily influenced by how you live your life—your diet, lifestyle, and environment. The responsibility begins and ends with you.

🧬 Aging and Epigenetics 🧬

Epigenetics refers to how your diet, lifestyle, behaviors, and environment affect how your genes work (i.e., how they express themselves).

When you change these factors, the expression of genes can be altered, which in turn can affect DNA and overall health.

Research from the Sinclair Lab has demonstrated that aging is primarily due to the loss of epigenetic information. They've been trying to figure out which genes are important for aging, and they found that specific genes, like SIRT1, SIRT2, and so on, play a big part.

One thing they all have in common is that they all require nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a coenzyme that is essential for metabolism. It is required for DNA repair as well as mitochondrial health and function.

So, what is the significance of this study? It helps us understand a critical aspect of the aging process that Sinclair discovered.

The Main Pathway

When DNA is damaged, proteins that control gene expression, such as sirtuins, become activated to repair the damage, resulting in a brief change in gene expression. However, if the damage isn't too severe, these proteins can be reset and everything will work normally again.

Damage to these genes, for example, can result in long-term changes in gene expression and a loss of cell identity, which is a loss of epigenetic information and accelerates aging.

One important consequence of the damage is a decrease in mitochondrial NAD levels, which is frequently required to repair damaged DNA. Low levels can lead to cell death or impaired cell function.

So, what are the factors that cause these epigenetic changes and overall damage?

The Major Culprit

Aging, as previously stated, is defined as the loss of epigenetic information. This happens when genes are exposed to information from their surroundings that is radically different from what they are programmed to respond to on a regular basis.

And nowhere is this discrepancy between the interaction of genes and environment more evident than in modern life.

Chronic stress, processed foods, social isolation, an excess of technology, pollutants, and other modern-day stressors send messages that genes are not accustomed to processing.

These signals accelerate aging by interfering with the function of SIRT1 and other age-related genes, causing NAD levels to fall and leading to cellular damage.

But you don't have to settle for poor health. And a good place to start is to apply some important lessons from the world's oldest cultures.

The Blue Zones Solution

As mentioned earlier, Blue Zones refer to areas where people consistently live long lives, typically 90 years or more. And that's not just a few people; almost all people in these areas live happy and fulfilling lives late in their lives with excellent health! 

Dan Buettner and colleagues discovered five areas where this is the case:

Blue Zones Map

Despite the fact that these areas are very different in terms of location, geography, culture, and so on, they all have nine things in common that contribute to remarkable longevity.

Natural Movement

The human body is designed to move, and that's a big reason why Blue Zoners are so healthy.

Daily exercise plays an important role in increasing NAD levels in the body, particularly in the mitochondria. As a result, it is one of the most natural ways to slow aging and improve health, according to the Sinclair model.

Having said that, people who live in blue zones do not exercise in the traditional sense. Instead, daily exercise is simply a part of their daily lives. Gardening, walking around the neighborhood, carrying items, pushing wheelbarrows, and so on.

Natural movements are sufficient to keep them healthy, fit, and strong in old age. Most people can perform physical labor well into their 80s and 90s because they have done it their entire lives.

The Fun Factor

Exercise does not have to feel like torture.

Exercise is something that people in Blue Zone cultures enjoy doing. It usually entails daily walking, in stark contrast to those who despise exercise and avoid it at all costs, or who make it a chore at the gym.

Exercise should be something you enjoy doing and something that adds value to your life and it's critical to find small ways to incorporate exercise throughout the day, such as taking the stairs and walking around the office or home every thirty minutes. These minor details add up over time.

The general rule is that every 30 minutes of sitting, 3 minutes of movement is required.

Proper Outlook

Mental and emotional states also play a significant role in longevity.

And people in blue zones have two key factors that help them develop a positive attitude: having a goal and shifting down a gear every day.

Goals are even referred to differently in these cultures, such as "Ikigai" in Okinawa and "plan de Vida" in Nicoya. Instead of blindly following others or doing something they don't want to do for money, they try to make a living by pursuing their passions.

As a result, they have a higher level of positivity, optimism, and joy, all of which are important factors in living a high-quality life. A high proportion of older adults in the Blue Zones report feeling optimistic and positive on a regular basis.

Stress Management

Everyone experiences stress, but the Blue Zones have specific ways of dealing with stress.

Prayer, remembering loved ones, naps, happy hour, and meditation are all common activities. And these practices are not carried out on a sporadic or "when I have time" basis. Instead, they are purposefully incorporated into daily life, resulting in less stress and improved mental, emotional, and physical health.

It stands to reason, given that chronic stress is a significant trigger for inflammation, which is a risk factor for the majority of chronic diseases. Increased blood pressure, chronic infections, low libido, poor cardiometabolic health, and nearly every other health issue

That is precisely why many people today have health problems: they are constantly pressed and do not give their bodies a break.

So, if you're one of those stressed-out people, it's critical that you take it easy every day in some way. As previously stated, there are numerous ways to accomplish this. Choose something you enjoy and can do quickly.

The Fullness Factor

In general, it is recommended by health professionals only to eat until you are about 80% full.

None of these Blue Zone cultures overeat, and they give the brain enough time to process the sensations of fullness and satisfaction.

That's most likely why these people aren't overweight and have been in great shape for the majority of their lives. Instead of feasting quickly and eating for hedonistic pleasure, these people enjoy their meals slowly and only eat what they need. Having said that, they don't limit themselves unnecessarily.

They appear to have a more natural relationship with food than the majority of people.

Plant-Based

Blue Zones eat a plant-based diet primarily, with 90 percent or more of their calories coming from plants, except for Sardinia, where over 70 percent of calories still come from plants.

Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are among the foods that contain an abundance of nutrients that slow the aging process, restore health, and promote vitality and longevity. A plant-based diet also contains numerous health-promoting compounds, such as carotenoids, phenols, alkaloids, and phytosterols.

If you've been told that carbs are bad for you, you should know that this is simply not true. These Blue Zones all consume a lot of carbohydrates. In fact, Okinawans get 90% of their calories from carbohydrates! They are, however, all healthy, high-fiber, nutrient-dense carbs. That is crucial.

Furthermore, many of the foods they consume are grown in their own gardens or fields. If not, they are still sourced locally and organically. Meat, eggs, and dairy products are still consumed, albeit in smaller quantities. And portions are kept small, typically 3 to 4 ounces of meat, poultry, fish, or other protein.

Dairy is typically produced by sheep or goats rather than cows, all of which are grass-fed and species-appropriate.

Even the animal foods they consume are far healthier than those consumed in Western societies. The animals have much higher omega-3 fatty acid levels than conventionally raised animals because they are grass-fed and/or pasture-raised. The same is true for the wild-caught fish they eat. Hormones, antibiotics, and other unnecessary substances and chemicals are not present.

Alcohol?

The last interesting dietary note is the consumption of alcohol, except for Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, who abstain entirely.

Alcohol is typically consumed in the early evening, with no more than two drinks, and with family and friends, as well as a meal. Typically, this is done with food.

It's not a license to drink as much as you want, but moderate drinking appears to be beneficial in the right circumstances.

As with most things, context is key.

Connection

Strong and meaningful social bonds are common in all Blue Zones.

In essence, almost all are religious, prioritize their loved ones, and have strong friendships and social groups.

It makes no difference to religious communities what religion or faith they practice. It's all about having a sense of belonging, being supported by others, and discovering a deeper meaning to life.

Attending faith-based services several times a month can increase one's life expectancy by up to 14 years.

Prioritizing Loved Ones

A strong emphasis is put on loved ones.

Grandparents and great-grandparents, for example, frequently live in or near their families' homes.

And the majority of people are expected (and want) to commit to a life partner. They also devote a significant amount of time to ensuring that their children are raised properly, and they place a high value on lovingly raising them.

Tight Social Groups

Lastly, people in the Blue Zones are part of tight-knit social groups.

These groups do not have to be large, and can be as small as three people, but the quality of the social groups makes them extremely beneficial.

Friendships can last a long time and improve your health in a variety of ways, including increased positive emotions.

Furthermore, it is widely acknowledged that the people you spend the majority of your time with have a significant influence on your habits, so if everyone in these groups practices healthy behaviors, they are far more likely to do so throughout their lives.

Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and Spring.

Henry David Thoreau

☎️ Wake Up Call

None of this is particularly novel. But, in today's world, how many people can say they do all of these things? Can you?

After all, religious attendance is steadily declining. People are increasingly distancing themselves from their families. Divorce has affected many families, and children are frequently raised by only one parent.

Furthermore, an increasing number of people are relying on social media for social interaction. While these interactions can lead to real-life friendships, they cannot replace face-to-face interactions. It is unsurprising that people, particularly young adults, experience higher levels of anxiety, sadness, and loneliness than previous generations.

And, contrary to popular belief, the majority of what is currently taking place is unhealthy. And it will almost certainly not result in increased longevity. One disadvantage of modern society is that it can contribute to increased stress, a lack of fulfillment, loneliness, and a lack of social support, which is the polar opposite of what the human body requires to thrive.

🌎 Implementing Blue Zone Practices

Fortunately, because these practices and elements are simple and well-known, they are simple to implement.

Daily exercise is easy to incorporate into your life by going for a walk in the park, gardening, playing with your children, and so on.

In terms of finding a purpose in life, there are numerous ways to earn a living today. There are numerous free and paid courses, classes, certifications, and other opportunities to learn more about and improve your skills in areas that are important and rewarding to you.

Downshifting and stress reduction are simple to implement through daily mindfulness and meditation sessions (even if they are only 10 minutes! ), sitting in nature, praying, and/or spending time with friends and family.

A plant-based diet is also relatively simple to follow. Anyone can make a positive change by eating more fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains, and less processed foods. If fresh fruits and vegetables are out of your price range, you can substitute canned or frozen foods. Frozen vegetables and fruits can be more nutritious than fresh.

And, if possible, try to buy locally at your local farmer's market. This applies not only to fruits and vegetables, but also to meat, eggs, and poultry. The Blue Zones are very good at growing food in an environmentally friendly way, and there is a growing movement in the United States to do the same.

Concerning connection, there are many churches and faith-based organizations throughout the country, and there is almost certainly one near you. It has never been easier to find like-minded people to start a group with, whether you belong to a less common faith or religion or aren't religious but have spiritual leanings. Volunteering or joining an organization is another excellent option.

Prioritizing family and friends should also be simple. Take a step back from your hectic schedule and begin prioritizing spending quality time with the people you care about. Many people are preoccupied with work or other obligations, but making a conscious effort to spend time with them is all that is required. Spending time with family and friends should be simple because it produces pleasurable experiences.

Some steps may necessitate political, legal, and/or environmental changes in your community but there is always something you can do. Simply take a step in the right direction and continue to make healthier choices as you are able.

You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.

Joe Lewis

Getting Back to our Natural Ways

When most people think of increasing their longevity, they envision an elixir, a fountain of youth, or a magic pill. And, based on the Sinclair research, it appears that increasing NAD improves sirtuin function can significantly slow aging.

But consider what is causing this NAD increase? Natural living?

According to Blue Zone research, increased longevity is achieved through a very simple process rather than a complex equation. Simply eat, exercise, and live as nature intended; as we have done for thousands of years.

Every species on the planet has an optimal way of life, and humans are likely the only species where many people do not live as they should.

Other creatures can do it on their own. While our superior intelligence has provided numerous advantages, it has also resulted in the extinction of our natural way of life. Fortunately, we can simply use this same intelligence to figure out how to get back to our natural way of life and incorporate all of the factors that lead to a longer and, most importantly, healthier life.

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As someone who grew up in California, I'm so surprised to see Loma Linda, CA is a blue zone! Upon a deeper google deep dive, it looks as though they have a very dense population of Seventh Day Adventists who live there, and the lifestyle they follow lends itself to a long life. So interesting! I moved away from my family about 20 years ago, and can certainly attest to the difficulty of living so far away from my loved ones. It truly has taken a toll. All of these principles are so valuable on their own, but implementing them as a holistic path of life can significantly elevate your overall health and well-being.

Just book marked this article so I can revisit it again...the information is so valuable. And not only is it valuable, it feels realistic and applicable. The concepts seem simple, but not necessarily easy. I love the general rule of engaging in 3 minutes of body movement for every 30 minutes of sitting, and practicing meditation even if its only for 10 minutes. It sometimes baffles me how much we have access to in the US and how sometimes having an extensive amount of options ends up with a lot of unhealthy habits. Very worthwhile read.

Oh yes, the blue zones!  My Mother and I were talking about this, and I remember watching a documentary a while ago with Maria Shriver when she went to Costa Rica. We even entertained the idea of moving to Loma Linda so we can live a long life!  Having access to everything  isn’t the healthiest, and variety isn’t the greatest. In the blue zones, they generally eat the same plant based/beans constantly. It’s only one blue zone in the United States. The US can learn a few things from other countries, especially with diet.