The Contessa just got back from visiting her family in Italy and told me that she wants to move there one day because in her words- “they really know how to live” something that we have sadly forgotten here. As is my nature I started to pepper her with questions about why it is so much better, which I learned it basically comes down to lifestyle. They eat better, they exercise more, having to walk or cycle to most places, they socialize more, which leads to less stress. As a result they are happier and it’s been scientifically proven that happier people live longer. Kind of makes you go Hmmm. Why do they have it right and we have it so wrong?
What the Contessa was telling me was not surprising as it aligned with research done by Dan Buettner in his book “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.” Dan’s book reinforced other scientific studies that determined that lifestyle not genes is the chief determinant of how long a person lives. He along with a team from National Geographic searched for places where people were living longer than average and had lower rates of age related problems like heart disease, obesity, cancer or diabetes.
They identified five such places in the world they dubbed “Blue Zones” and after much research they were able to create a list of common denominators that delivered a long and healthy life. All we have to do is use the people living in blue zones (like the Contessa’s cousins in Italy) as role models, convert their core lifestyle practices into our daily habits and odds are we will be living healthier, happier, and longer.It’s not more complicated than that. One of the Blue Zones Dan discovered was in Okinawa an island off the coast of Japan where the elders were living longer than most but what stuck in my mind was research that was done on the children of the elders. Their children were seduced by the lure of high-paying jobs in high-stress environments that were accompanied by fast food diets and not getting enough exercise. Sound familiar? As a result, they are succumbing to illnesses (heart disease, stroke cancer, etc.) that the elders have managed to avoid. The younger people wanted more and the chase for more is killing them.
Another eye opener
They just published the 2018 world happiness rankings and the US ranking went down from 14th to 18th place which doesn’t make a lot of sense when you think about it. How can it be that people who live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, where the material comfort that they are now experiencing is equivalent to how the top 5% lived a mere half a century ago be so unhappy these days? People who today are free to jump on a plane and fly to anywhere in the world that they want for a holiday or who can choose instead to remain within the comfort of their environmentally controlled homes and amuse themselves watching tv on their 60 inch screens. They have never had it so good and yet they have never been so unhappy. Ponder on that for a moment. They are living so much better than most people in the world but instead of being grateful they are angry, stressed out, overweight, drowning in debt and feeling left behind. We have become victims of our own success, big job, big money, two many choices available to us and lots of useless stuff cluttering up our homes. Because of our “success” we end up paying a hefty price in terms of poor relationships, health issues, burnout and depression. But if you thought that was bad. For the second year in a row life expectancy rates in the United States fell which is a reversal of close to a century of improving health for Americans. Millions of middle-age workers face the prospect of shorter, and less active, retirement than their parents enjoyed. This is kind of hard to comprehend recognizing all the recent medical advances and the millions of dollars spent on medical research each year.
The current opioid crisis is a warning sign but it’s the tip of the iceberg as both death rates from alcohol abuse and suicides are showing sharp increases in recent years due largely to prolonged exposure to stress. People are frustrated and scared by possible job loss and living in fear of an uncertain future. They see the country falling apart right before their eyes. The education system is weakening, the social divide is widening, the middle class has all but disappeared, and the cities are filled with poor people living on the streets. People fear for their children’s future and what really stresses them out is that they don’t know what they can do to help fix it. Most people have never experienced this level of stress before and they are struggling to find ways to cope and this is when self-destructive behaviors take hold. Today people are physically inactive and are eating too much, watching too much television, on social media too much, buying stuff on credit that they really don’t need, complaining too much, often self-medicating with drugs and/or alcohol or taking prescription medication to help cope with stress.After reading all that are you surprised that in the United States, people are taking more medications for anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders than ever before? It’s just not right and deep inside we know it.
I’ve decided to create my own Blue Zone back here at home. While the idea is appealing I really don’t want to move to Italy so I’ve decided to start working on our own Blue Zone back here at home. The creation of a Blue Zone environment around ourselves and our family makes so much sense to me as I’m concerned about the trajectory we are currently on. I’m worried about what the future holds in store for our kids and the adoption of this new lifestyle will help them cope with it all and give them some much needed perspective. An added benefit is that it will also bring us together closer as a family and I like the idea of that. The time to change is now. Life doesn’t just happen it’s about choices that we make along the way and now is the time to make the choice not to live this way anymore. Going forward I will be posting a bi-weekly blog on each of ten key life categories that you will need to incorporate in the creation of your own Blue Zone so you can start living the life that you want. We can learn a great deal from people in other parts of the world, people who don’t have it “as good” as we have it.
Life is incredibly beautiful when you slow down enough to enjoy it.