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Lessons from the “Blue Zones” – Here are 5 Things That the Longest-Living People in the World Do to Keep Relationships Healthy

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Do you live in a Blue Zone? If you’re reading this article on the AgingOptions blog, chances are the answer is no. The so-called “Blue Zones,” described on this website, are five places in the world where people live longest and stay healthiest. Only one, Loma Linda, California, is in North America – the rest are scattered across the globe: Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; and the Japanese island of Okinawa. Researchers have discovered that people living in these epicenters of health and longevity have a few key behaviors in common.

We found this article on a website called Well + Good (referred to as “Well and Good”). In it, reporter Kara Jillian Brown looks beyond things like diet and exercise to find out what people in the Blue Zones do to keep relationships thriving. At a time when healthy connections with others are more important than ever, we figured this was good information to share with our blog readers.

Living a Longer, Healthier Life Isn’t a Solo Endeavor

Researchers discovered a notable common denominator in the lifestyles of Blue Zone populations: while healthy individual habits can contribute to a long and happy life (such as good sleep, good food, and exercise), the key to longevity really is healthier relationships. According to studies, the stronger your relationships, the higher your likelihood of living longer and disease-free.

Dan Buettner, author, researcher, and founder of the Blue Zones platform, has boiled the daily behaviors of Blue Zone populations into five shared characteristics, key tips that anyone can do to both lengthen and deepen their life span through relationships with other people.

Lifestyle Tip #1: Strong Relationships Involve Deep Community Bonds

The nature of a “relationship” really is key here. Occasionally waving at the postal worker on their route, as pleasant as that may be, isn’t quite the same as engaging deeply and daily with neighbors and family the way people in tight-knit communities do.

Even though it isn’t considered a Blue Zone, the so-called “Longevity Village” of China, a town called Bao, is an area of interest for researchers such as physician Richard Honaker, MD. In his studies of the elderly in Bao, Honaker reports, “Our research showed that as long as people stayed in the village and adopted the village lifestyle, they were healthy and aging was slowed. However, if they left for employment in one of the big cities in China, then their health suffered.”

This holds true in all of the Blue Zone locations as well, and anywhere else that deep bonds with a close community of friends, family, and neighbors persist. These bonds have a calming effect on the human nervous system, and can even help prevent or minimize disease.  Honaker continues, “Many studies have shown lower rates of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and possibly even cancer for people with lots of friends and loving relationships in their lives.”

Lifestyle Tip #2. Maintain an Active Social Life

Obviously, we don’t all live a village lifestyle anymore, but something similar can be replicated in almost any community. The easiest way to do this is to engage with people who share your interests and belief systems through a religious group, a book club, a yoga group, or any other regular (think weekly) scheduled event. This gives you something to look forward to, and brings you into contact with all kinds of like-minded yet diverse individuals.

Dr. Honaker states, “Study after study suggests that having a faith may increase longevity.” This is likely tied both to the idea of deep bonding with other congregants as well as the regular nature of meeting and observing together.

Lifestyle Tip #3: Make Mealtime (and Drink Time) About Connecting with Others

It’s no secret that disconnection is a common problem in the modern life, and nowhere is this more obvious than in our mealtimes. While in previous generations communal meals would have been a normal part of everyday life and culture, most people now eat—and drink—alone.

But in the Blue Zones, food and drink are integral parts of daily living. Blue Zone dwellers often eat diets heavy in plant-based foods, and they do consume a bit of alcohol, often locally produced. But the key is that these meals are almost always eaten together, with conversation and laughter, making them a shared experience.

Suzanne Dixon, a registered dietitian and medical writer wrote in Better By Today that Blue Zone communities “eat to live, they don’t live to eat. Each eating opportunity is a time for connection with others, being with family, and a time for gratitude for all of the good things in their lives. They take the time to savor food, enjoy company, and slow down for a bit.” That’s great advice for us harried, on-the-go Westerners.

Lifestyle Tip #4: Maintain a Healthy Sex Life

If you were looking for permission, here it is: people in the Blue Zones aren’t shy about sex in their later years. In fact, in Ikaria, Greece, more than 80 percent of the population of 65-to-100-year-olds are still sexually active, and enjoying it.

Sex is a great way to connect with another person, of course, but there are also plenty of physiological benefits to maintaining a healthy sex life. Sex can reduce stress, give you a boost of confidence, and can even aid in better sleep. These elements can all contribute to deeper intimacy with others and healthier relationships as a whole.

Lifestyle Tip #5: Stay Geographically Close with Loved Ones

Part of the “village” lifestyle is being geographically close to family and friends. While this isn’t always possible, it’s highly advantageous. Even if the family close to you is family that you’ve chosen, not necessarily the one you were born into, it’s important to keep your relationships close by.

Close-knit communities are able to help each other in times of need and tend to be healthier as a whole, especially if different generations live side by side. This diversity can lead to the young helping the old, and the old giving their wisdom to the young.

We may not all be able to live in a Blue Zone, but that doesn’t mean we’re doomed to shorter, less happy lives. By following some of the keys stated above – as some you may already be doing without realizing it – we can surround ourselves with a loving support system and open ourselves up to longer, more loving futures.

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PHOTO CREDIT: www.brewminate.com

(originally reported at www.wellandgood.com)

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