The 100-Year Lifestyle
When you choose a profession, you have to know what you need from life. Myself, I love working with a variety of people, and I hate sitting. Among other things, satisfying those requirements in my career will grant me much more happiness- and according to National Geographic writer and longevity coach Dan Buettner, likely a longer, healthier life.
This past week, our professor of nutrition assigned a bonus opportunity, reflecting on Buettner’s 2009 presentation at TEDxTC in Minneapolis. In his talk Buettner discusses nine key principles common to all of the world’s longest-living cultures. These fall into four categories: moving naturally, right outlook, eating wisely, and connecting with others.
For the relevance to my nutrition class, let’s look at the three dietary guidelines he offers. First, all of the groups have a tendency not to eat their fill. Instead, they practice eating mindfully, like the Okinawans, who practice eating only until 80% full, acknowledging that there is a lag between filling the stomach, and actual perception of fullness. Second, centenarians in these cultures tend to have a diet that is heavily slanted toward plant-type foods. This does not exclude meat, but substitutes some of the meat-dominated meals common to modern America with protein-rich plants like beans and nuts. Third, they drink a little bit of alcohol each day. In Sardinia, Italy, the wine consumed by the long-lived residents contains three times the polyphenols of any other known wine. These compounds, known to many for their subgroup, tannins, are powerful antioxidants and have strong associations with many types of traditional medicine.
Being a full-time doctoral student makes it hard to incorporate any of the healthy lifestyle constructs that Buettner outlines, but habits that I grew up with are easier to maintain. I feel fortunate that my family implemented several of these lifestyle patterns (whether consciously or unconsciously).
My mom was a physical education teacher for the early part of my life, so she modeled the naturally active lifestyle, and built an environment that encouraged the same for myself and my two younger siblings. This included plenty of active play, using vacation time for camping trips and weekends for hiking. My dad played outside with us after dinner most every summer night when he returned from work, if my now nostalgia-clouded memory serves me right. House rules that allowed us leeway to roam extensively in the woods on our own set the stage for what I still love to do today, and our rural setting provided a lot of opportunity to fall in love with daily moderate activity for pure pleasure. All of this is consistent with Buettner’s Blue Zone cultures, who never exercise for the sake of it, but instead spend their work and free time moving.
Connecting with others
Our neighborhood played well into another important aspect of living long: personal connections with others. During my 90s upbringing, I was able to enjoy Saturday mornings that sound more stereotypically 50s, where kids would walk down the street, shouting up to each house to bring everyone out for street hockey. This sort of community was also present in our community-centered church, a Congregational community that earned its designation well. Here I learned to connect with people with whom I would never otherwise have interacted, building ties and a sense of belonging that has not changed with my current distance or prolonged absence.
Creating the right outlook
Withdrawing from my idyllistic reverie and returning to my current plight of lifestyle unease, I might note that I have learned to value the necessity of, as Buettner puts it, “downshifting.” At home, rituals like family dinners were a time to break from outside life, and studying year-round at NYCC makes filling that void more difficult. Now I have to make very intentional decisions to downshift, even during my busiest weeks.
In fact, during this heavy week of exams, listening to Buettner’s TED talk may just have been the break I needed, listening quietly and taking this time to reflect on the values I have grown up with. They make for a much more enjoyable life- even if I don’t live to 100.
Thanks to Dr. Erica Callahan for letting me recycle my assignment into a post this week. Thanks to my mom and dad for giving me a solid start on reaching centennarian status.
Coincidentally, The 100-Year Lifestyle is the title of a book by Dr. Eric Plasker, a doctor of chiropractic and keynote speaker whose focus is devoted to longevity. The passion for a healthy holistic lifestyle runs deep in chiropractic.