Live off the earth,

sleep well+nap regularly,

make love,

be supported by friends+family,

and live with purpose.

 There you go! 

Guidance from the Ikarians on a long and happy life

A recent New York Times Sunday Magazine article (adapted from an upcoming National Geographic piece, “Blue Zones”) by Dan Buettner entitled The Enchanted Island Of Centenarians provides a fascinating look into what a healthy lifestyle is. This article has become my rallying cry. Not that I’m packing up the family…as tempting as it is.

I’ve craved simplicity lately. And connections with family and friends, supporters. And it turns out, that’s just what my body and soul needs. Maybe yours, too?

Here’s what resonated most with me, aside from all the obvious food-sleep-sex info:

  1. Being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy; i.e. doing good is good for you.
  2. It’s really hard to change individual behaviors when community behaviors stay the same.
  3. For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, they need to live in a culture that makes it possible…likely creating your own variation of Ikaria, Greece (or other Blue Zones: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; or Nicoya, Costa Rica)

Thanks to Lifeyum reader (and manifestor) Paula Kaye Colarusso for sharing Dan Buettner’s article. Read on with my handy new table of favorite paragraphs, two comments (nearly 600 online), and a link to the full piece.

[Note to mobile readers: The fab table isn’t so fab on mobile devices, I’ve learned. This one-woman tech team is on it.]

Social structure might turn out to be more important. In Sardinia, a cultural attitude that celebrated the elderly kept them engaged in the community and in extended-family homes until they were in their 100s. Studies have linked early retirement among some workers in industrialized economies to reduced life expectancy. In Okinawa, there’s none of this artificial punctuation of life. Instead, the notion of ikigai — “the reason for which you wake up in the morning” — suffuses people’s entire adult lives. It gets centenarians out of bed and out of the easy chair to teach karate, or to guide the village spiritually, or to pass down traditions to children. The Nicoyans in Costa Rica use the term plan de vida to describe a lifelong sense of purpose. As Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, once told me, being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy.
The problem is, it’s difficult to change individual behaviors when community behaviors stay the same. In the United States, you can’t go to a movie, walk through the airport or buy cough medicine without being routed through a gantlet of candy bars, salty snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages. The processed-food industry spends more than $4 billion a year tempting us to eat. How do you combat that? Discipline is a good thing, but discipline is a muscle that fatigues. Sooner or later, most people cave in to relentless temptation.
The big aha for me, having studied populations of the long-lived for nearly a decade, is how the factors that encourage longevity reinforce one another over the long-term. For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, I have become convinced, they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible. As soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses. The power of such an environment lies in the mutually reinforcing relationships among lots of small nudges and default choices. There’s no silver bullet to keep death and the diseases of old age at bay. If there’s anything close to a secret, it’s silver buckshot.

Two different takes on the article from the Times follow. I appreciate both, but would love to hear from YOU!

The American health care system should take a few hints from the island of Ikaria. Direct medical care at the E.R. and costly prescription research are not making our country healthier. The Ikarian sense of community betters social and mental health. The irregular workweek allows ample rest and time to enjoy food. Universal access to food, in the backyard and at a neighbor’s kitchen table, would reduce the stress that many of our unemployed feel. We should encourage vibrant and connected neighborhoods with thriving centers and access to healthful foods. —HAYLEY PICKUSPortland, Ore.

I see the appeal of life on Ikaria. But I wonder if any of the islanders feel like they have a great book inside them. Or want to study painting or science or perhaps build a business. Do any of them yearn to do more than chitchat and gossip? Some people want to experience the great joy of achievement, not just the satisfactions of a stress-free life. —BRAD DESCHNew York, posted on nytimes.com

Read the entire article online here:

The Island Where People Forget to Die, New York Times Sunday Magazine, October 28, 2012

Residents of the island Ikaria in Greece live profoundly long and healthful lives. ©Andrea Frazzetta/LUZphoto for The New York Times

Addendum: Check out soul sister Kim the Dietitian‘s post about The Island Where People Forget to Die here.