Think it’s time to make some healthy lifestyle adjustments? Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, is right behind you. Buettner is crossing Iowa in a bus, attempting to change American towns into healthier places. “More than 40% of Americans smoked in the ’60s, and only 20% do now,” he points out. “We can turn around our diet and lifestyle, too.”
One thing we Americans have going for us: We are always up for a challenge. So try these healthful ideas inspired by healthy women around the world.
Take 20% Off
Blue zones—like areas in Italy, Japan, Greece, California, and Costa Rica where the people have traditionally stayed active to age 100 or older—are some of the healthiest in the world. “In every Blue Zone, they eat less than we do, by at least 20%,” Buettner says.
One trick for slashing portions: “Instead of putting big platters of food at the center of the table, fill each plate at the counter,” Buettner says.
Pile on the plants
Not only are plant-based diets rich in antioxidants and other good-for-you nutrients, they’re also better for your waistline. “A plate of food in Okinawa has one-fifth the calorie density of a typical American meal,” Buettner says. “You can chow down for a fraction of the calories.”
Buettner suggests thinking of meat as a condiment rather than the main event, and subbing in more beans, legumes, and nuts.
Love the foods that love you back
A diet of berries and elk or tofu and sea vegetables might seem utterly foreign—but taste buds can be retrained. “Americans love fat, salt, and sugar because that’s what we’re used to,” says David L. Katz, MD, founding director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. “But studies show that if you eat more wholesome foods, you can learn to prefer them.”
An easy way to start: Search for stealth sugar, which Dr. Katz says is found in many packaged foods. “Once you get rid of that hidden sugar, you’ll start to prefer less-sweet foods,” he notes.
Sit down—and slow down
It might be too much to cook every meal. But we can sit at a table to eat our takeout instead of scarfing it down in the car. Savor each bite as the French do; stretch your meals out for 20 whole minutes. You’ll end up eating less and enjoying more.
“The longest-living people don’t think of exercise as a chore,” Buettner says. Instead, little bits of movement are a constant part of their everyday lives. Make like a French woman and take a short walk after dinner.
Shovel your own snow instead of paying the kid next door; make extra trips carrying laundry up and down the stairs.
Every Blue Zone is known for its strong social and family bonds. Besides spending quality time at home with family, surround yourself with healthy-living friends—good health habits are contagious, research shows.
Be sure to get involved in your community, too, whether it’s at church, a gardening group, or a volunteer organization. These connections can add years to your life, Buettner says.
Take it easy
Even the world’s healthiest people get stressed out sometimes. What they all have, Buettner says, are daily strategies to shed stress. Meditate, go for a run, make a dinner date with your best friend—and don’t worry about your inability to be a French woman or a Greek farmer.
It’s OK to enjoy the occasional cheeseburger. What matters is a cumulative lifestyle pattern of enjoying healthful food, staying connected to others, and keeping yourself moving.]
——————————————————————————————————- What I’m working on:
1. Slow down. Sometimes I really scarf down my food. I’m going to make a concerted effort to really enjoy my food.
2. Get out – OK, so I already do this. But I definitely want to continue it- I know that spending quality time with friends and family makes my life happier.
3. Take it easy – Definitely trying to ease up on stress and live in such a way as to build in relaxation time. (i.e., going home for lunch, reading before bed)
What are you working on to make your life happier and healthier?