Successful Aging With Blue Zones® Lifestyle Traits: Part One

When it comes to healthy aging, quite honestly, there’s a lot to do. You’re supposed to make sure to keep your body active and your brain engaged all while maintaining your social connections as well. Sure, the benefits to your overall well-being are worth the effort, but retirement is supposed to be a time with less responsibility on your plate, right? Well, it turns out that in senior living you can have your cake and eat it too, so to speak. Here’s how programs like our Vivid Life make keeping active, engaged, and connected easy and fun! 

Benefits of Healthy Aging 

Good things happen when you focus on healthy aging. In addition to feeling better overall, which in and of itself is a win, other benefits of keeping active, engaged, and connected include:  

  • Improved ability to do everyday things ​ 
  • Reduced impact of illness and chronic disease​ 
  • Enhanced mobility, flexibility, and balance
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased energy level
  • Reduced feelings of depression and stress
  • Increased feelings of happiness and self-confidence
  • Reduced risk of cognitive decline 
  • Increased mental adaptability and cognitive reserve 
  • Improved memory recall and problem-solving skills 
  • Improved concentration and attention to detail  

How Senior Living Can Help 

At home, particularly when living alone, it can be hard to stay as active, engaged, and connected as you’d like. From lack of opportunity to lack of motivation to lack of transportation to mobility challenges, and more, it’s tough, we get it! That’s why we created the Vivid Life program in our senior living communities. It’s composed of three parts: Vibrant Body, Vibrant Brain, and Vibrant Connections. Here’s what each entails:  

Vibrant Body We offer amenities such as a state-of-the-art fitness center, a pool, walking trails, gardening opportunities, and even a dog park to help you stay active. A sample of activities includes:  

  • Walking club – Daily walks at different outdoor locations using pedometers to measure steps. 
  • Yoga – At least once per week for gentle yoga, and once per week for mindful breathing. 
  • Fitness classes – At least two times per week using a variety of hand weights, resistance bands, and circuit-type exercises. 
  • Tai Chi – At least once per week with a live instructor. 
  • Non-traditional exercise – Dancing, gardening, etc. at least two times per week. 
  • Physical games and sports – Golf, putting, bowling, croquet, bocce, and ping pong available daily with organized events one to two times per week. 

Vibrant Brain We offer monthly calendars filled with classes, events, creative arts, and enrichment opportunities to help keep you engaged. A sample of activities includes: 

  • Visiting lecture series – Twice per month with topics such as cultural, historical, local interest, career-oriented, etc. 
  • Creative art series – At least one per week with a theme that runs 3-6 weeks, such as poetry writing, storytelling, painting, digital photography, etc. 
  • Learning series – At least three times per month with an emphasis on learning something new such as foreign language, sign language, technology, hobbies, etc. 
  • Games – At least one time per week and may include poker, bridge, Scrabble, etc. 
  • Mindfulness – A meditation class once per week and gratitude discussion group twice monthly. 
  • Church service – At least once a week through visits by local churches. 
  • Stress reduction – At least once per month class that offers deep breathing exercises, nature walks, music appreciation, spa-type treatments, etc. 

 Vibrant Connections We offer resident-led clubs, social events, outings and volunteer opportunities for any interest to help you stay connected. A sample of activities includes: 

  • Outings – At least twice per month and may include going to concerts, art shows, museum visits, theatre productions, etc. 
  • Intergenerational programming – At least once per month and focuses on building relationships between young adults/children and residents. 
  • New resident welcome party – At least once per month to formally introduce all new residents, and includes ice breakers, social games, etc. to encourage connection. 
  • Philanthropic program – At least once per month provide residents the opportunity to give back to the community, such as volunteering for a local food bank or pet shelter. 
  • Resident-led clubs – May include game clubs, professional clubs, common interests, etc. that meet at least monthly.  

What’s more, it’s all right outside your door (or transportation is provided offsite) and all in a supportive environment with home maintenance, housekeeping, and restaurant-style dining freeing your time to make it even easier to stay active, engaged, and connected. 

Learn more about Vitality Living’s Vivid Life programs. Or find a Vitality Living community near you today to schedule a tour. 

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Blue Zones® are five regions in the world where people seem to live the longest. In recent blogs — here and here — we talked about where they are, how they were discovered and each region’s claim to fame in regards to longevity. For example, the Greek island of Ikaria has the lowest rate of dementia in the world and Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California happen to outlive other North Americans by an average of 10 years. Interesting for sure, but we know what you really want to learn: how can Blue Zones’ findings help you with aging?

Common Lifestyle Traits in Blue Zones

The Blue Zones regions – Sardinia, Italy; the Greek island of Ikaria; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan – are so far flung from each other it may seem they would have nothing in common. However, their residents actually share a number of lifestyle traits known as the Power 9®:

  1. Move Naturally 
  2. Purpose 
  3. Down Shift 
  4. Hara Hachi Bu 
  5. Plant Slant 
  6. Wine @ 5
  7. Belong 
  8. Loved Ones First 
  9. Right Tribe 

In this blog, we’ll take an in-depth look at traits one through five and how you can apply them to live your best life.

For more information on how we incorporate the Blue Zones’ approach in senior living, check out our Successful Secrets to Aging Guide!

senior living guide to aging well

Lifestyle Trait 1 – Move Naturally

According to Blue Zones’ research, residents “don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.” For example, they don’t have many of the modern conveniences for house and yard work, and as such, must do it themselves.

In Your Daily Life: The National Institute on Aging recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week in sessions of at least 10 minutes duration. This can include walking, water aerobics or swimming, biking, playing with the dog, even pushing a lawn mower or gardening— anything that can raise your heart rate. What’s most important is to keep moving and limit the amount of time you are sedentary.

Lifestyle Trait 2 – Purpose

Blue Zones’ researchers say having purpose can add up to seven years to your life expectancy. Known as “Ikigai” by the Okinawans and “Plan de vida” by the Nicoyans; both sayings translate to “Why I wake up in the morning.” 

In Your Daily Life: Finding renewed purpose starts by getting yourself in the right frame of mind to let yourself have fun and experiment along the way. Then, think about some of your go-tos like favorite foods, entertainment, hobbies, people; even things that brought you joy as a child and explore what attracts you to them to discover how you might expand on them.  From there join a club, take a class, learn a new skill or language or volunteer. There’s nothing more fulfilling than helping others!

Lifestyle Trait 3 – Downshift

You can’t avoid stress, even in the Blue Zones. But what’s different is that these residents have routines to help them to get rid of it, such as taking a few moments each day to remember their ancestors (Okinawans), praying (Adventists), taking a nap (Ikarians) and happy hour (Sardinians).

In Your Daily Life: The Mayo Clinic links reducing stress to benefits that include lower blood pressure, more energy, increased blood flow, reduced muscle tension and pain, improved concentration and mood; even improved digestion. Tips for taking control of stress in your life include keeping a gratitude journal, paying attention to your spiritual side whether it’s through religion, meditation or both, as well as making a point to get seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

Lifestyle Trait 4 – Hara Hachi Bu

This 2500-year old Confucian mantra is said by Okinawans before meals to remind them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full.  Also known as the 80 percent rule, Blue Zones’ researchers believe, “The 20 percent gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it.” Residents also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening then stop eating for the rest of the day.

In Your Daily Life:  It’s well known how important maintaining a healthy weight is to your health, particularly as you age, and portion control is a big part of this. The National Institute on Aging recommends these daily servings: fruits – 1½ to 2½ cups; vegetables – 2 to 3½ cups; grains – 5 to 10 ounces; proteins – 5 to 7 ounces; dairy – 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk; oils – 5 to 8 teaspoons.  And don’t forget the water (generally about 64 ounces of fluid daily through beverages or food). 

Lifestyle Trait 5 – Plant Slant

The cornerstone of most diets in Blue Zones’ regions is beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils. Meat is only eaten around five times per month and then it’s mostly pork.  

In Your Daily Life: You might recognize this as what’s often called a “Mediterranean diet,” which likely goes against the grain (excuse the pun) of the meat and potatoes diet on which most of us were raised. A tool such as Livestrong.com’s MyPlate Calorie Tracker not only helps you incorporate more of these foods, it can also help with the portion control we mention above as it allows you to log food/water intake, track consumption habits and create meal plans and shopping lists for plant-based diets.

Senior Living Supports Blue Zones

If you’re interested in a convenient way to incorporate all of these traits into life, consider senior living. For example, our senior living communities support this approach through our Vibrant Living Program which is designed to empower residents to stay active, independent and socially connected through a lifestyle that includes clubs, classes, events and outings, along with amenities such as pools, fitness centers, restaurant-style dining and housekeeping and laundry services. 

In Part Two, we’ll take a closer look at Blue Zones’ lifestyle traits six through nine.

Source: bluezones.com

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