I HATE birthdays. But not for the reasons you might think.
It’s partly because I hate surprises and so the anticipation that there could be a spontaneous singing of Happy Birthday in the middle of a restaurant or workplace, or worse yet – a gathering I’ve been lured to when I am wearing my most-ill-fitting pants – gives me angst. I know. Weird. But that’s me.
I also don’t like false fun. Or forced fun when it’s added to the ‘to do’ list. Listen, with the ups and downs of running a business, juggling family commitments, moving to a new city and into a new space (ummm, twice), becoming a student again, and trying to squeeze in some “me” time to decompress (otherwise known as “making personal time so I don’t lose my sh#t”), this year was jammed. And complicated. And hard. I barely held on. And the idea of adding even more event management just to say I celebrated – well, ugh. No thanks.
Now that does not mean I didn’t mark the occasion last week. I definitely took time to pause and reflect and be grateful for adding another year to my life. In fact, I’ve decided that this whole month is all about enjoying all the good stuff that comes with being a year older. Yay me for taking me time!
Last week’s celebration was filled with spontaneity – no planning! – and included birthday churros (80-20 rule, people), birthday yin yoga, a birthday float session in an immersion tank and (possibly my favourite!) – a birthday Negroni so I still might be ridin’ high when I say this, but aging isn’t so bad!
Not everyone agrees with that sentiment. I get it. Many of us in North America have this (outdated) idea that as we age, we’re going to lose our marbles, we’re going to lose our mobility, and we’re just going to languish as our health deteriorates and we become a burden to our family and everyone around us. Is that an accurate enough depiction of what we see portrayed on TV and in movies?
And yet, for every ‘miserable old crone’ we encounter or hear about in the media (whether it’s fictitious or not), there’s also inspiring elderly folk who are livin’ it up – perhaps even more so than us young-uns these days.
Thrive or die – what’s the secret?
Did they simply hit the genetic jackpot? This is, after all, a small sample of 5 amazing seniors. Perhaps they were just blessed with eternal youth in their blood. So…where does that leave the rest of us?
Without going too too deeply into the “Nature vs. Nurture Debate” (or at all), I believe it’s a combination of both and that lifestyle factors can either really put a damper on this aging thing, or it can help support you and improve your quality of life.
There are communities all over the world who are living proof that health and wellbeing can still be enjoyed well into your nineties and even hundreds. These places, coined “Blue Zones”, include regions of Japan, Costa Rica, and Greece (just to name a few) and are home to some of the healthiest centenarians in the world – as well as those who are getting there. Just so we’re clear – that’s my goal too. To be a centenarian plus!
While some may argue that it’s ‘probably something in their water’ which allows them to age so gracefully, their low rates of chronic disease and comparatively long lifespans have drawn the attention of various researchers. And they’ve got good news: You can adopt some of the well-studied lifestyle traits of these folks to promote health and longevity right where you are (win one for the ‘nurture’ side!)
So happy birthday to me and to all of us – long may we rock this world. And to do it the best we possibly can, here’s the top 5 life “hacks” of the world’s longest living people:
Eat a Plant-Rich Diet
Blue Zone residents eat a mostly plant-based diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Animal foods aren’t avoided – they eat smaller portions of meat a handful of times per month.
You don’t have to become a strict vegetarian or vegan, but it’s important to eat a variety of plant foods daily – they contain fibre, vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants that help decrease inflammation and protect you from chronic disease, like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
A simple rule of thumb is to fill half your plate with vegetables at every meal. Yep, every meal! That means breakfast too. Just because we’re used to eating a bowl of cornflakes doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a Mediterranean breakfast of yogurt or hummus and fresh crunchy veg alongside some beautiful olives.
Include Healthy Fats
And speaking of beautiful olives – eat heart-healthy, unsaturated and omega-3 fats in the form of olive oil, nuts, and fish.
Getting enough omega-3’s helps decrease disease-causing inflammation and keeps your heart and brain healthy. Did you know that there’s a growing body of evidence that links certain forms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease to inflammation in the brain?
Eating enough fat also keeps you feeling fuller longer, which can help prevent overeating that leads to weight gain – bonus! Because as we age, we have to work harder to keep the muscle mass which enables us to burn more energy each day and stay in control of our weight.
Stop Eating Before You Feel 100% Full
Avoid the clean plate club. Eating slowly chewing your food thoroughly gives your brain and stomach time to register that it’s had enough to eat.
Blue Zone communities avoid overeating and eating beyond feelings of fullness, which again, can help prevent weight gain. Just fyi – it’s called ‘hara hachi bu’ and really is a thing, especially in Japan where they have some of the greatest human longevity in the world.
Drink Red Wine
Enjoying a glass of red wine a day increases your antioxidant intake, which is thought to decrease inflammation and help prevent heart disease.
Of course, moderation is key. Four ounces of wine is considered a glass and drinking more than that is associated with negative health effects.
I highly recommend that if you are going to follow this particular hack, that you get your favourite glass, measure 4 ounces and mark on the glass where that 4 ounces goes. You would be surprised at how easy it is for our eyes to play tricks on us when it comes to eye-balling portions and before you know it, your good-for-you glass of pinot noir has turned into something that is no longer helpful and may in fact be toxic for your liver and other tissues
Move Your Body Throughout the Day
Have you heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”? As in, it’s not good for your health to sit for extended periods of time.
Lack of physical activity and prolonged sitting is linked to weight gain, obesity, and worst of all, increased mortality. Not to mention if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it – and that includes your ability to comfortably do simple daily tasks like bending over to tie your shoes, getting up and down out of a chair or off the toilet ( seriously!), or walking your dog. Be sure to look for opportunities to add movement into your regular routines.
You might try:
- Stretching while you watch tv
- Taking an after dinner evening walk
- Parking farther away from your destination
- Choosing stairs over elevators
- Taking standing and stretching breaks at work
- Using a stand-up workstation, and fidgeting while you work (or get up and have a one minute dance party – you know you want too!)
- And of course – you know I am a big proponent of yoga – it prepares and lubricates and strengthens and opens all parts of your body – joints, muscles, fascia and mind. And there truly is a yoga class for everyone out there. You definitely don’t have to be a size 2 bendy girl to take part and to enjoy it.
The world’s longest living people live active lives that include daily physical activities, like gardening, walking, and manual tasks. They LIVE life and they work at it every single day. And being active is not a trip to the gym ( although that’s ok too if it’s what you love) but just taking on every day chores and tasks with physical movements counts too.
Finally A Bonus Hack – from me
Gratitude is the secret sauce to a well-lived, well-loved, well life. Big or small, being thankful for all you have – saying it out loud multiple times a day – writing it down –and internalizing it can go a long way to keep you facing forward and wanting to age with grace and verve.
I am grateful for having the last 365 days – despite the stresses and strains – I had 365 days to live, be loved, and love back.
That’s enough of a happy birthday for any woman, right?
RECIPE: Mediterranean Bean Salad
The Mediterranean people are known for their longevity and for their delicious flavours. You know how I said you should mix it up at breakfast? This salad is crazy good alone or mixed with a little Greek yogurt for added protein at any time of day. Even breakfast!
- 2 15-oz cans of beans, drained and rinsed (use black beans, cannellini beans, kidney beans or chickpeas/garbanzo beans)
- 1 english cucumber, chopped with skin on
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- 1 cup cherry tomato, halved
- 1 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup virgin olive oil (= longevity oil!)
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 whole cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh herb
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine beans, cucumber, pepper, onion, tomatoes, and olives in a large bowl.
In a small bowl or sealed jar with a lid, whisk or shake together olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper.
Toss salad with dressing and enjoy at room temperature or refrigerate unused portions.