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Longevity Habit #3 – Downshift

According to the American Psychological Association, more than three-quarters of adults (76%) said that the future of our nation is a significant source of stress in their lives. Inflation was reported as a source of stress for the vast majority of adults (83%). Around three-quarters of adults (76%) said they have experienced health impacts due to stress in the prior month, including headache (38%), fatigue (35%), feeling nervous or anxious (34%), and/or feeling depressed or sad (33%). What it comes down to is that stress is making us sick! So take this week’s dive into longevity seriously for yourself and the people you love.
Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones, terms de-stressing as “Downshifting”. Each of the five Blue Zones address stress differently, but they all have a regular habit to off load stress rather than plowing through or ignoring it like most Americans. As we’ve discussed a lot lately, stress is one of the leading causes of premature aging. It is directly linked to chronic inflammation and major age-related health issues, from dementia to Alzheimer’s disease. If you haven’t read our blog on how stress ages us, you can refer back here. We also wrote an article on ways to de-stress based on the current science of stress management. But how do the longest-living people on earth do it? Keep reading for a glimpse into the daily habits practiced by the healthiest people on the planet and then make a plan to implement your own consistent strategies for letting go of what’s aging you!

The 5 Blue Zones & How They “Downshift”

Zone #1: Okinawa

Okinawa is referred to as a Japanese Hawaii. It’s over a thousand miles from Tokyo with warm weather, palm trees, and white sandy beaches. Most importantly, Okinawans not only live longer than most people on earth, they enjoy more disease and disability-free years. Okinawans experience less than ½ the rate of dementia, ⅕ the rate of prostate and breast cancer, and ⅕ the rate of cardiovascular disease. They emphasize letting go of the past and focusing on the present. They’re described as likable, laid back, and closely in touch with their spirituality.
Downshifting Habits:
  1.  Social networks: The Okinawan form moai, close social groups of friends. These safety nets lend financial and emotional support in times of need and give all of their members the stress relief of knowing that there is always someone there for them.

  2.  Spending time with the elders: Okinawans go out of their way to maintain a close connection with the elders in their community. Taking time each day to engage in activities and pay their respects.

  3.  Gardening: Nearly all centenarians in Okinawa grow gardens of their own. Their morning routines start with tending to the fields and arriving home in the afternoons with fresh produce. Gardening requires a significant amount of physical activity and provides a connection to nature, a common way to shed stress.

Zone #2: Adventists

Loma Linda is the only Blue Zone in America, located 60 miles east of L.A. with over 21,000 Seventh-Day Adventists.
Downshifting Habits:
  1.  Pray, meditate, or reflect every day: Adventists report prayer as their biggest stress reliever. They report that prayer helps relieve pressure by addressing and releasing it to a power greater than their own.

  2.  Giving back: Adventists spend optimal amounts of time giving back to their communities. They credit acts of service for taking their minds off of stress.

  3.  Honoring a day of rest: Adventists take one day per week to disconnect from modern stressful life by reconnecting with family and friends.

Zones #3: Ikarians

Located on the famous Greek Island, one in three Ikarians live past the age of 90. They credit well-managed stress as one of their secrets.
Downshifting Habits:
  1.  Gardening: Ikarians spend lots of time, especially as they get older gardening and doing yard work for exercise and outdoor time.

  2.  Walks: Ikarians take daily long walks and often end up at neighbors’ homes for social time.

  3.  Take a Nap. The entire village enjoys afternoon nap time. Studies show that individuals who nap regularly may have a lower risk of heart disease by lowering stress hormones.

  4.  Weekly Friend Dates. Ikarians spend a lot of quality time with friends and family. They prioritize weekly social activities.

  5.  Cohabitate: Ikanians live with multiple generations. Grandparents play an important role in the upbringing of their grandchildren and the household. Older Ikarians have a very active social role. Ikarian believe living alone is unhealthy.

Zone #4: Sardinians

Located 120 miles from mainland Italy, Sardinia is the 2nd largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. In most parts of the world, women who live to 100 outnumber men at a 4:1 ratio. In Sardinia the ratio is 1:1. This is where the world’s longest-living men on earth call home.
Downshifting Habits:
  1. Laugh a lot: Sardinians don’t take life too seriously and laugh daily. Most are natural comedians. Sardinians have a good sense of humor and love cracking jokes with friends. There is actual science behind laughter and longevity. Laughing improves heart health and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

  2.  Happy Hour: Happy hours are a daily occurrence in Sardinia. It’s normal to have a daily glass or two of wine (another Blue Zone habit) with friends.

  3.  Strong family connections: Members of Sardinian close-knit families tend to navigate life with less stress. Grandparents are the glue to the Sardinian family unit and are revered for their wisdom.

Zone #5: Nicoyans

Nicoya is an 80-mile peninsula that sits right on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The Nicoyans attribute the fact that most of them live past 100 to the rituals of their ancestors. Develop a Personal Purpose Statement.
Downshifting Habits:
  1. Purpose: Nicoyans have what they call a plan de vida, or a reason to live, a strong sense of purpose. Like we discussed last week on longevity habit #2, purpose-driven individuals are more likely to live longer.

  2.  Physical work: Chores and activities keep Nicoyans focus off of stress and on service. They like to get their hands dirty and spend significant time outside soaking up the vitamin D.

  3.  Social Networks: Frequent visits from their neighbors are normal. Most families remain in one household–parents, their children, and their parents live under one roof. They lean on each other and learn from each other in hard times.


Taking all of these factors into account, how are you going to make changes in your own life to slow your own aging process and live a healthier, happier, less stressful life? Remember that information without implementation is just entertainment. Take what you read here and what you know has worked for you in the past and make a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly plan! If that feels like adding stress then start with just one day at a time. I think a major mistake most Americans make is taking on habits that distract us rather than destress us. The main thing to notice is whether or not the strategy is relieving stress beyond the actual activity. When we distract ourselves, the stress will usually comes back with a vengeance once the activity is stopped (ie. phone, TV, drinking, eating). True de-stressing activities leave us feeling calmer, more peaceful, lighter, and refreshed. Taking the time to make this a priority in your own life will pay off in not only living a longer and healthier life but in enjoying the moments we’re in and since none of us are guaranteed the gift of growing old, every stress-less moment is a blessing!
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Have a wonderful week full of epic snowpack and sunshine!

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