Social Connectedness
26 Jun 2017
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The Blue Zones

The Blue Zones (2nd Edition) (336 pages, 2012) by Dan Buettner explores the lifestyle of communities in the world with the maximum percentage of centenarians in the population. Centenarians are those who live beyond hundred years of age. Buettner's original book in 2010 described four communities: Barbagia region of Sardinia, Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), The Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda (California) and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

Buettner identified nine factors that contribute to the longevity of Blue Zone residents. The last three factors pertain to social connectedness.

1) Move Naturally: The world's longest-lived people don't pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.

2) Sense of Purpose: The Okinawans call it Ikigai and the Nicoyans call plan de vida; for both it translates "why I wake up in the morning." Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.

3) Down Shift: Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world's longest-lived people have that we don't have are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.

4) 80% Rule: "Hara Hachi Bun Me" — the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don't eat any more the rest of the day.

5) Plant Slant: Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. With the exception of the Adventist in Loma Linda, no one was 100% vegetarian. However, they all ate meet rarely, anything from once a week to only a few times a year.

6) Grapes of Life: Wine. The Sardinians and the Okinawans drink alcohol. The other communities don't.

7) Belong to a Community: All but five of the 263 centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn't seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

8) Loved Ones First: Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).They

9) Right Tribe: The world's longest lived people chose — or were born into — social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created moais (social support groups) — groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

See National Geographic: The Secrets of Longevity and (Wikipedia) Blue Zone for more details.

A Cure For Addiction

Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong | Johann Hari is an excellent talk by the author of Chasing the Scream (400 pages, 2015). Johann also wrote The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think (Huffington Post, Jan 2015). Johann's main message is that drug addiction and loneliness go hand in hand. Instead of punishing and ostracizing drug addicts, we should help them get integrated into society by helping them grow connections with others.

Connecting With Family

An insightful and touching excerpt from the book Natural Health, Natural Medicine (448 pages, 2004) by Andrew Weil:

Connecting With Family (Chapter 8, Section 3)

An anthropologist friend of mine was once teaching a section of a course on Native American society at Harvard. In the class was a Native American, a young man. In talking about social organization, my friend kept referring to the "extended families" of Indians. Finally the Indian in the class interrupted him, saying, "Excuse me, but we don't have extended families. We have families. You have contracted families."

The nuclear family of our modern society is, indeed, contracted. Human beings want and need the intimate support of a real family. It is hard not to look at the "extended families" of other cultures with wistful longing, if not outright envy. Where I live in southern Arizona, the Hispanic population seems way ahead of the rest of us in providing for this need. For example, there are no Hispanics in the nursing homes here. Nursing homes are where we put our old relatives when we no longer want to care for them. In Hispanic families the old people, even when infirm, continue to be valued members and live at home.

A nurse at the University of Arizona medical center who attended one of my courses told me that she worked for a number of years in one of my courses told me that she worked for a number of years in twelve children recover miraculously from apparently fatal head injuries. They had been in bicycle or motorbike accidents, were in deepest coma, had flat EEGs (brain-wave patterns), and were given up for dead by the attending physicians. The organ transplant teams hovered around, waiting to take kidneys and hearts. She saw twelve children in that extreme state come back to fun consciousness and life, to the amazement of their doctors and the annoyance of the organ transplanters. What caught her attention most was that all of them were Hispanic. In her words, "I've never seen an Anglo kid recover from such an injury. And do you know what the difference is? When a Hispanic kid is in coma like that, the whole family is around the bed day and night, talking to him, praying for him, loving him. The Anglo kids are there all by themselves, unconscious children in beds in intensive care, all alone.

We are not meant to be all alone. We are meant to be parts of bigger families, bands, tribes. Don't settle for nuclear family contraction. Extend!

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