Tag: blue zones

How to Live to Be 106: Lessons from The Blue Zones & Great Grandma

Whether you’ve read this blog for a while or if this is your first time here (welcome!), you’ll notice that most of what I write about is food – food for nourishment, fuel, healing, connection and community.

The past two weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind (hence my brief hiatus) but have reminded me that there’s more to being well than food.

Although what we eat matters, other lifestyle habits can significantly impact our health and wellbeing, the quality and happiness of our lives, and even how long we live.

I recently spent 11 days in San Diego to attend two wellness conferences and relax with a much-needed vacation with my husband, Bill, to celebrate what has been the most exciting year in my career.

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During the conference, I was honored by the Wellness Council of America and had the privilege of meeting and spending time with some remarkable people in the field of health promotion.

The second to last day of the conference, as my husband was preparing to fly across the country to join me, he called to tell me that his great-grandmother, Anna “Loucene” Trueworthy, had passed away at the age of 106.

It was a bit ironic yet poignant that the topic of the conference keynote that morning was Blue Zones of Health by Dan Buettner, a man who has studied the lives of the longest lived people in the world to learn their secrets of longevity. Dan is the author of the books Thrive, The Blue Zone Solution and The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

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Dan shared what he learned in his research as he traveled around the world, spending time with and studying the lifestyle habits of people living in “Blue Zones,” regions around the world with the greatest concentrations of centenarians – people who live to be 100+.

In his talk, he shared the lessons to a long life, and while diet was one of the key components, he and his team found that other factors impact a person’s longevity with genetics accounting for about 20%, as established by the Danish Twin Study.

As I’ve spent the past week or so reflecting on what Dan shared, I couldn’t help but think of Bill’s great-grandmother and the life she lived. She certainly had genetics on her side with a mother who lived to 99, just six months shy of her 100th birthday, and a sister who is now 97. Great Grandma even smoked for many years (which is not a free pass to smoke!), but it just shows us that aging well is a complex process and is never about just “one thing.”

Without even knowing it, Great Grandma was a living example of many of the Blue Zones lessons.

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“For Rachel – I dedicate this book to the memory and example of Loucene” ~Dan Buettner

I wanted to take a moment to honor Great Grandma’s legacy and highlight just a few of the ways she lived out these lessons. For a full list of the Blue Zones “Power 9” longevity lessons, click here.

Move Naturally

Great Grandma didn’t spend hours at the gym. She didn’t have to. Much of her day was filled with natural movement – from doing chores, gardening, and taking after-dinner walks with her husband to square dancing and line dancing into her 80s, she moved naturally and enjoyed it. For people living in Blue Zones, being active without having to think about it was found to be a key to longevity. So many of us try to force activity and do things we don’t enjoy. Find ways of moving that make your body feel good and make you happy and incorporate them into your daily life.

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa dancing

Great Grandma and Great Grandpa enjoyed dancing

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This one might sound a little bit strange, but it is taken from the Japanese and means we should eat until we are 80% full or no longer hungry. Many of us eat until we are “stuffed” and fall completely out of touch with our body’s hunger signals.

As her granddaughter Susan shared during the eulogy, Great Grandma lived a life of moderation, never to excess. She was “the master of portion control” and never counted calories or fussed over what she ate, and unlike many of us today, she was never “on a diet.” She cooked a full meal every night for dinner, and the family ate together. We can all learn something from her example of listening to your body and eating to live rather than living to eat.

Purpose Now

Great Grandma had a reason to wake up in the morning. She lived on the family farm and lived independently in a small cottage until just a few years ago when she went to live next door with her daughter. Whether her purpose was to spend time with her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren or even great great grandchildren, she had a reason to live. She was also an organist and in the bell choir at her church and played piano for the Yankee Doodle Entertainers until she turned 100. She found joy in socializing, music, reading, and needlework. A sense of purpose is one of the keys to living a long time.

Great Grandma played the piano well into her 100s

Great Grandma played the piano well into her 100s

Downshift

Taking time to relieve stress was another lesson Dan shared with us. During her eulogy, Loucene’s son John commented how Great Grandma was never stressed. I would imagine she felt stress at times, as all of us do, but she knew how to handle and contain it in such a way that it didn’t impact her negatively. She spent time with family and her church community on a regular basis and found music to be relaxing as well. She was described by many as a devoted woman of faith, and her connection to God and her church also served as buffers to stress.

My mother-in-law told me that Great Grandma and the rest of the family observed Sunday as a day of rest and set it aside for family time and a big family meal each Sunday afternoon. They would Cook as a Family, spending quality time together to make their bonds stronger. This is somewhat of a lost art today. Centenarians take time to slow down, reflect and downshift their lives and Great Grandma knew how to do that, too.

Great Grandma celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary. She was very social and made time to unwind and celebrate.

Great Grandma celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary. She was very social and set aside time to unwind and celebrate.

Belong to a Spiritual Community

Healthy centenarians have faith and are involved in serving and socializing with a spiritual community. Loucene’s granddaughter described the church as “the center of Great Grandma’s life.” She was involved in the Women’s Society, and she was a church organist and in the bell choir until age 100. She and her husband participated in the Couples Club, so the church was the center of her social life as well. The sense of belonging, purpose and connection that comes from being part of a spiritual community is one of the Blue Zones Power 9 keys to longevity. Managing a church to accommodate all people, young and old, can be a tall task but there are ways that this can be done in a simpler way. Something like the Tithe.ly church management system could help to engage the church community while making admin tasks and leadership easier; see here – https://get.tithe.ly/church-management.

Loved Ones First

The most successful centenarians put their families first. Great Grandma never missed a birthday and sent a card for all major holidays, which was no small feat considering she has two children, 9 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great-grandchildren.

Her great grandchildren described her as admirable, talented, honest, witty, resilient, unifying, encouraging, wise, gentle, warm, welcoming, and classy.

Great Grandma Loucene in the front row in the white with her younger sister, Eva, to her right in green, and her daughter, Cynthia, to her left in blue.

Great Grandma Loucene in the front row in the white with her younger sister, Eva, to her right in green, and her daughter, Cynthia, to her left in blue. Her great and great-great-grandchildren surround her.

She embraced technology and Skyped with one great-granddaughter in Haiti, another great-grandson in the Middle East and her first great-great-grandchild in New York City.

She lived independently with her daughter, Cynthia, until the last few weeks of her life when outside care was brought in to help. An in-home care company like Always Here Home Care, helped look after her until the very end. In a society where caring for aging relatives is often seen as a burden, her family revered her and rallied around her to support and take care of her. Before she went to live with her daughter, her family bought her a new phone from somewhere like fanmisenior to make communication easier. She just wanted to be independent and having a phone which she could easily use, really helped with this.

During her memorial service, the pastor pointed out how Loucene’s life is an example to all of us of how to live fully. I feel blessed to have married into her family and to have had the privilege of knowing such a remarkable woman, who I’ve learned more about in her passing than I knew and appreciated while she was here.

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As I listened to everyone share their stories and memories, I reflected on how much Great Grandma lived the Blue Zones lessons – from living a joyful, simple, purposeful life of moderation and low stress, to belonging to and serving her religious community, socializing, and putting family first.

The example of her life will continue to impact and influence the lives of all of the generations that follow her.

Here’s to Great Grandma and the love and inspiring legacy she’s left behind.

This Is Community

Growing up, I preferred being alone more than being with other people.

It’s not because I didn’t like people; I was just super shy and introverted and felt safer and more comfortable in my own company than I did with others.

As I’ve mentioned before, studying abroad in Spain my junior year of college left an indelible mark on me, expanding my palate beyond what I ever thought possible. It also transformed my social tendency to prefer being alone.

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The Hispanic culture is a very social one. I was surrounded by people all of the time and rarely had the opportunity to be by myself. When I returned from my semester abroad, instead of spending all of my weekday evenings hunkered down in the library reading, studying or writing, I began to value and enjoy staying up until 2:00 a.m. playing cards, baking, listening to music, and hanging out with my friends.

For the first time in my life, I wanted to be around people more than I wanted to be alone.

Graduating from college and leaving the academic world for the first time two years later was frightening for me. All of my identity was wrapped up in how well I performed as a student and whether I got good grades.

I had just started my first dating relationship, moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with someone I didn’t know, and was working two jobs. In the midst of all of those transitions, I felt alone, lonely, and sad. I lacked community.

My then-boyfriend (now husband!) and I went through some challenging times as individuals and as a couple as we sought to establish new connections and find community.

Over the past seven years, we have been blessed by the generous, loving, supportive community of family, friends, church members, and co-workers that surrounds us.

We have experienced the significance of what it means to be in community.

When a couple in our church has a baby or is going through a challenging time, and dozens of people sign up to bring them dinners for two months…

This is community.

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When we sign up for a missions trip to Nicaragua as we are buying our first house and don’t know where the almost $3,000 we need for the trip will come from but end up being fully funded

This is community.

When a kitchen sink pipe starts leaking the day we move into our new house (which we had to get some loans to get in the first place), and our next door neighbor (who happens to be a plumber) offers us his industrial air blower to dry out the floor and replaces the pipe for half of what it would have cost elsewhere…

This is community.

When our bus gets stuck in the mud in an impoverished village in Nicaragua as we are on our way to a feeding center, and the villagers stop what they are doing to find rope to pull us out, dig their heels into the mud to push from behind, and bring whatever precious water they can find to help us clean ourselves up afterwards…

This is community.

When my husband has hand surgery and can’t drive his manual transmission car for a month, and four friends eagerly offer to lend us theirs…

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This is community.

And days later, when a snowstorm comes through, and our next-door neighbors take it upon themselves to shovel out our walkway, sidewalk and driveway, as they tell us, “We know your husband can’t use his hand. We take care of you.”

This is community.

This is what happens when we are in community. We were meant to be in community.

So, what does this have to do with food?

As I’ve written before, we believe good health begins in the kitchen. It’s a place of connection, community, and comfort.

Unique communities around the world identified as “Blue Zones” are home to the world’s longest lived people, people living active, fulfilling lives well into their 90s and even 100s. Belonging to some kind of faith-based community, being in a social circle that supports healthy behaviors, and eating a plant-centric diet are three of the nine lessons learned from people who live to be 100+.

The next time you have an opportunity to spend time with friends, family or even a coworker, create community in the kitchen. Make a healthy, nourishing meal together. You don’t have to have a fancy kitchen or be an experienced chef to do this – maybe a pot, a pan and a knife, or some of these inexpensive kitchen staples.

Pick out the menu, go grocery shopping, prepare the meal, and savor the food together. It will be more enjoyable than doing it by yourself. Do that enough times and maybe cooking will become something you get to do instead of something you have to do.

Looking for some healthy recipe inspirations? Check out my Pinterest board or some of the links below for ideas!

  • Kath Eats Real Food: Real food. Nothing processed here. Delicious and simple ingredients and recipes…check them out!
  • Girl Makes Food: Discover how delicious and easy healthy food can be!
  • Clean Food: Terry Walters cooks seasonally and prepares delicious, nourishing recipes. I have her cookbook, Clean Food, and we have made nearly a dozen delicious recipes from it!
  • Healthy Girl’s Kitchen: After struggling with diet obsessions for years, Wendy has lost and kept off over 40 pounds through a plant-based diet. Check out her awesome recipes!
  • The Gracious Pantry: Clean eating recipes for everyday living.
  • oh she glows: In addition to being meat and dairy-free, many of Angela’s recipes are free of gluten, soy, and processed foods…did I mention they are also delicious?

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