Extend Your Life 10 Years with These 7 Simple Changes
October 13, 2015 | Home and Family
Ask anyone who has tried to lower cholesterol or improve blood pressure without medication, and you are likely to hear just how difficult it is to sustain any meaningful results. That’s because so many health-related diets focus on what you can’t do: No carbs. No alcohol. No fats. No fun!
What if you could incorporate simple, positive habits into your daily routine to improve your well-being and extend your lifespan by 10 years or more? That’s the principle behind the Blue Zones Project, and it’s the method David Van Dillen used to lose 50 pounds and reduce his total cholesterol from 238 to 126 in just eight months.
The Blue Zones Project is based on the research of New York Times bestselling author and National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, who teamed up with National Geographic to find and study the cultures where people live the longest, healthiest and happiest lives. He found nine common denominators among the people in what he calls “Blue Zones.” Today, his Blue Zones Project is taking those healthy habits to communities across the United States.
David and and his wife, Beverly, of Hermosa Beach, California, heard about the Blue Zones Project on the radio; and David, a former engineer, remembers being impressed by its statistically meaningful results. But it wasn’t until their doctor prescribed statin medications to manage their cholesterol that they decided to adopt the Blue Zones habits into their lifestyle. Concerned about the potential side effects of statins, they wanted to be able to get off the medication as quickly as possible.
A few months after they started, Hermosa Beach joined with two neighboring cities to form the California Beach Cities Blue Zones Project, allowing David and Beverly lots of opportunities for community support.
After just eight months of simple lifestyle changes, their results were so impressive that they were able to persuade their doctors to lower their dosage of statins. They ultimately went off cholesterol medication completely about a year ago, and Beverly was taken off blood pressure medication at the same time.
David and Beverly shared the simple changes that worked for them:
1. Move naturally. People who live in the Blue Zones don’t sit at a desk for eight hours and then go to a health club after work. They’re constantly moving throughout the day.
David and Beverly were always athletic people—they met as members of a rowing team—but they had to think of ways to incorporate more movement into their daily routine. “While I was working, it meant trying public transportation,” says David. “Taking the bus added an extra two miles of walking a day.” Now that they’re retired, David and Beverly walk about five miles nearly every day for recreation.
2. Eat until you’re 80 percent full. People in the Blue Zones never let themselves feel stuffed. “We started to adopt ‘hara hachi bu,’ a phrase that people from Okinawa tell each other around the dinner table. If you feel like you’re about 80 percent full, stop eating,” says David. When he first started, he admits he was hungry at times throughout the day. “Now, after regulating our food intake for a number of years, neither Beverly nor I ever feel very hungry. We have gotten used to the lower volumes of food.”
3. Go green. Fill most of your plate with fruits and vegetables. The Van Dillens joined a community garden, where they grow their own vegetables. “We used to eat like a lot of Americans—pizza, fast food,” says David. “I ate salad as a side dish on occasion but didn’t consider it a meal. Now I feel like I can order a salad as my whole meal, and I feel satisfied.”
Buettner adds that a diet laden with meat (“two or three servings a day”) greatly increases your chance of cancer. “The more you can take meat and refined sugars out of your diet, the longer you can live,” he says.
4. Take part in happy hour. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers (and, of course, heavy drinkers). A glass of red wine a day with friends and/or with food can help prolong your life. David and Beverly were already wine lovers, but they decided to cut back on the amount they drink to just one glass a day.
5. Find a healthy social circle. Research indicates that happiness and healthiness are contagious. Hang out with healthy people and you are more likely to adopt healthy behaviors. The Van Dillens joined a Blue Zones potluck group so they could socialize with others living a healthy lifestyle. They gather for dinner once a month, sharing healthy foods and taking home recipes they can use in their own meal planning.
“It helps to have buddies who encourage each other along,” says David.
Bonus Power Rules:
6. Eat nuts. While eating tree nuts isn’t technically one of the nine Blue Zone rules, it’s a healthy habit that Dan Buettner feels strongly about. “People who eat about two ounces of nuts, four to five times a week, live two to three years longer than non-nut eaters,” he says.
7. Drink plenty of water. Generally, adults should consume about two to three liters of water per day to stay at peak mental and physical performance, writes Buettner. Drinking water not only keeps your body hydrated, it helps prevent you from overloading on added sugars in soft drinks and sports drinks.
The Van Dillens are quick to point out that the changes may be simple, but they’re not easy at first. “Don’t think of it as a diet or temporary change. It’s a lifelong lifestyle change,” says David.
Making any positive lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on your overall well-being, but incorporating these seven changes can help the average person live an extra 10 or 11 years, says Buettner. Better yet, they can add quality of life to those extra years.