We have one body to use in this lifetime. We don't get a second one and contrary to wonderful advances in medicine and surgery, new parts are not as good as the originals. Transplanted parts also come with baggage although they can be life prolonging and life saving. From the moment we are conceived and our single cells begin to divide and grow, we are unique among all the creatures of the earth.
Our ability to grow, heal, and repair ourselves is amazing. Our ability to think, reason, and have various and intense emotions sets us apart from all the other animals on earth. As a medical student, doctor in training, and long practicing physician, I marveled at the incredible complexities along with some of the breathtaking simplicities found in the study, assessment, and treatment of the human body.
Until around our late 20's our body is in a building and growth mode. This forward and positive anabolic mode brings our body to its full potential. Beyond this age and depending on how we have treated our body, we start the process of slow deterioration and breakdown. Though this process is inevitable, it can be greatly delayed and modified based on our choices.
If we decide to avoid physical activity, eat unlimited quantities of sugar, fat, and unhealthy foods, and live a high stress, low rest existence, our body will breakdown long before it was designed to. On the other hand, if we eat sensibly, get regular physical activity, adequate rest, and learn to de-stress, we can extend our body's vibrancy and span as well as look and feel young for a prolonged period of years.
Our amazing body is designed to process, store, utilize, convert, and conserve our energy. Our life itself is all about our ability to utilize energy. We get our energy from the conversion of the food we eat into small energy rich molecules that can be used by our cells. When these molecules react with oxygen in a well hydrated cell, we create energy. We create electrico-chemical energy that signals and drives mechanical energy and keeps our body and mind in motion.
As our lives have become less physical and more cognitive over the last few hundred years, we have started to develop patterns that make our body more susceptible to illness and injury and aging. Though the majority of the world population is moving down this path of "progress", there are areas in our world where the residents display an uncanny ability to live vibrant and healthy lives well beyond the statistical averages. These regions are called "Blue Zones".
There are Five Blue Zones in the world. They are:
Loma Linda, California
Nicoya, Costa Rica
In these Blue Zones, the residents are twice as likely to reach 90 as the average American. They also live on average 10 years longer than the rest of the population. The study of the Blue Zones is well worth looking into. The data regarding these long living individuals varies a bit, but the basics of their long lives consist of Geography, culture, diet, physical activity, emotional outlook and adherence to certain of life's values. There also appears to be some genetic isolation that assists in the anti-aging process of these populations.
There are 9 Habits that the people in these Blue Zones have.
1. They Move Naturally - The environment and geography requires that they move, walk, cycle, climb, and move about without thinking about it. They avoid machinery to do many of the daily projects around the home, farm, or business.
2. Purpose in Life - These peoples are taught in their cultures to have a purpose in their lives. The Nicoyans of Costa Rica call it "why I wake up in the morning".
Knowing your purpose in life is worth about 7 extra years of life expectancy.
3. Down Shifting - No one can avoid stress, but if we don't learn to shed the stress, it causes inflammation and will shorten our lives. These various groups relieve stress through rituals of remembrance of their ancestors, praying, taking a nap, or having "happy hour" without the alcohol.
4. 80% Rule - These people remind themselves to stop eating when they are 80% full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and being full is the difference between gaining weight and losing weight. They also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon and eat no more for the rest of the day.
5. Plant Slant - Meats are only eaten on average about 5 times per month and consist of a 3-4 ounce serving. The majority of their foods come from plants. Living in a thinner smaller body is a major requirement for a long life.
6. Wine - All but the Seven Day Adventists in Loma Linda, CA drank 1-2 glasses of wine daily, with friends and food and didn't overdrink at all.
7. Belonging - Nearly 100% of the longest living people belonged to a faith based community. Denomination didn't seem to matter. Attending faith based services 4 times a month can add 4 years to one's life expectancy.
8. Loved Ones First - A study of the 100 year olds in these Blue Zones found put their family first. Grandparents and parents were kept close. They committed to a life partner and invested time and love into their children.
9. The Right Tribe - The world's longest living people chose or were born into social circles that valued healthy behavior. Many studies have shown that smoking, obesity, happiness, and loneliness are contagious. We become like the people we hang out with.
There is a genetic component to living to 100 years of age, but these studies of the Blue Zone people demonstrate that most people can live an extra 10-12 years of good life by adopting the 9 habits of the Blue Zone people. This has been seen in the Loma Linda, CA population of Adventists, where their lifestyle plays a greater role than any genetics appear to play.
The great thing about this amazing body is we can change it and reverse negative trends at any time. We can choose to modify our lifestyle and we can choose to incorporate habits that are known to delay aging, prevent disease, and protect us from rapid deterioration and breakdown.
We are the only species on this planet that can make a choice at any time to better or worsen our lives. We don't want to go through our life living on instinct or living our life just like the social group we've chosen, if that group leads us to an early demise. Now is the time to make the choice. Choose Wisely.