In my last job I was tasked with developing a wellness culture at a continuing care retirement community. The impetus actually came from my interview when I blindly asked if the organization was familiar with the work of Dan Buettner who orchestrated a vitality project in Albert Lea, Minnesota based up his work interpreting the longevity studies of the National Geographic Society. Geographers dubbed identified five longevity pockets around the world as ‘Blue Zones’, where places had centenarians at rates ten to thirty times the average US city. Interestingly, with the exception of one, these places had average monthly incomes of $500 to $800 USD. That lone exception was Loma Linda California. The other places identified were: Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya, Costa Rica ; Okinawa, Japan ; and Sardinia, Italy . These five distinct cultures had commonalities that could be applied to longevity throughout the world. The top four are: Eat Wisely, Move (exert) Naturally (daily), Possess a daily Sense of Purpose, and Connect with your Community. Buettner eventually published a book, Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. You can even guestimate your own longevity from his Vitality Compass on the Bluezones web site. And believe it or not, he is one of the few wellness gurus who is not trying to sell you something.
All of these were tied to culture in some way. The foods available to these folks were primarily beans, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruits. Meat was a rarity in most of these societies often used as a condiment as opposed to a primary protein source. Loma Linda made the list because of the predominance of Seventh Day Adventists (most of whom are exclusively vegetarian). Natural movement involves primarily employment, where folks in Sardinia were often shepherds, walking five or more miles a day to tend the flock. All the societies engaged in gardening or small plot farming. Dancing, swimming, and other physical rituals accounted for the ‘move naturally daily’ regimen. Outside of Loma Linda, there was no word for ‘retirement’ in these cultures. That meant occupation was a life-long experience, and hence a purpose on hand regardless of age. Connecting with community involved friend networks, checking up on others, and participating in religious or community activities.
Applying these concepts to our own lives here in the US has interesting complications. We are a society inundated with food choices (mostly bad), occupation is often viewed a necessary and not a choice of fulfillment or purpose, are overworked at desk jobs with little time or inclination for exercise, and live in a sprawling set of suburbs outside of large cities where neighbors hardly speak to each other. You actually have to make very conscious decisions to apply these longevity principals to your own life. Most people scantly give any of this any thought, hence the famous quote about most people living lives of quiet desperation.