5 Proven Steps to Live a Longer & Healthier Life
By Dr. Kevin Passero
Facing our mortality is one of the scariest parts of life. And not only do most of us want to live a long time, but we all want to do it while remaining physically active and mentally sharp.
The mystery of how to live a long life is something humans have been trying to solve for centuries, just think about the old stories about the quest for the fountain of youth. Over the last century we have indeed enjoyed longer lives, moving from a life expectancy of 47 years old in 1900 up to 79 years old in 2023.
However, if you are like most people, living longer isn’t just about adding more years to your life. It is about ensuring that those years are good, active years absent from the chronic disease that impacts many people as they age. Heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, cancer and cognitive decline can make the end of life feel more like suffering vs. living.
As a doctor, I see lots of exciting new research related to living a longer life and reducing the risk of suffering from chronic diseases that can make the tail end of our lives miserable. Some of these breakthroughs are very promising and exciting, but the problem is that none of them have been proven in human studies. In the age of information overload, we are constantly bombarded with the latest trends and ideas of how to live longer, healthier lives.
So where do we turn if we want to really know how to live a long and healthy life? How about to the people who are living to be 100…and healthy the entire time!
Entering the Blue Zone
The Blue Zones is a book by National Geographic correspondent Dan Buettner who spent over 20 years finding and studying areas in the world that have very high numbers of centenarians (people who live to be 100). In these areas, not only do you find a high percentage of people that live to 100, but the people in their 70’s, 80’s and 90’s often look and act like they are 20 years younger than their age. There are very low rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia amongst these people, which is in stark contrast to what is seen in the average aging population of the US. My patient Cheri is a prime example.
At age 52, Cheri was frustrated with her body because she couldn’t lose weight, was having aches and pains and was feeling run down all the time. In addition, she was concerned about recent changes in her bloodwork related to increasing cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. She knew these risk factors meant her risk of diabetes and heart disease/stroke were starting to increase. However, she had a lot more planned for her active life, and getting sick or dying early was not part of it.
Like most people, social media had been feeding her all the newest and best ideas about what to eat, what supplements to take, and how to exercise to make sure she looked and felt like she was 30 again. Unfortunately, none of it was working. She was doing everything she was supposed to be doing according to all the talking heads on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. And despite this, her body was still not responding how she wanted, and her lab results were showing things were indeed getting worse.
After only 8 weeks of working with our clinic and implementing some Blues Zones principles including the right nutrition and natural treatment plans, her energy came back, she started losing weight, her body no longer ached, and she had a renewed excitement about life again. And not only was she feeling better, but her cholesterol completely normalized, her blood sugar levels came down into the ideal range, and her inflammation markers regulated.
5 Proven Steps to Live a Longer & Healthier Life
I find it interesting how closely paralleled Naturopathic Medicine is aligned with the principles shared in the Blue Zone book. As a naturopathic doctor, I follow the following five key strategies to help patients enjoy a long healthy life:
1. Move: The vast majority of centenarians studied in the Blue Zones never stepped foot in a gym. However, they all moved a lot every day. Walking, gardening, herding sheep and being active were daily practices in every region. For example, in Okinawa Japan centenarians live in a traditional fashion with virtually no furniture. They sit on mats on the floor requiring them to stand up from the floor more than 20x per day. This builds leg strength, core strength and supports balance. Are you moving enough every day?
2. Eat More Plants: While only one Blue Zone was technically a vegetarian/vegan area, every Blue Zone had one thing in common when it came to plants…they ate a lot of them. Beans, greens and grains were primary staples in every Blue Zone, with very little consumption of meat. Most centenarians only ate meat 2-4x per month or less throughout their entire life. One of the key factors I look at with every patient is their diet and nutrition. Are you eating enough greens?
3. Build Community: Every Blue Zone studied had a strong grounding in community. People took care of each other and looked out for each other, and every centenarian had a significant amount of social interaction with friends and/or family on a daily basis. Having a community or team of caring health professionals who can support you on your journey is also important.
4. Connect to a Higher Power: A strong sense of spiritual connection was evident in every Blue Zone studied. This ranged from being part of an organized church to connecting with the ancestors of the past. Regardless of the method, giving over the stresses of daily life to a higher power was a theme in every Blue Zone. Are you nurturing your spiritual health?
5. Always Have a Purpose: Many people lose a sense of purpose after retirement and this loss often continues to build as we age. Having a sense of purpose was a key theme seen in all Blue Zones. Whether it was related to work, being around for family, or serving the community, having a purpose promotes longevity. Are you clear on your purpose?
While we have yet to discover the mythical fountain of youth, living healthier, longer lives is something we can all achieve with the proper guidance and focus.
And while there is nothing particularly new or “cutting edge” about these 5 Blue Zone strategies, the key is to actively apply them as foundational principles of your daily health regimen.