We’ve been taught that the key to good health is willpower and perseverance.
Overweight? Push yourself away from the table. Go for a run.
The internet is full of health and fitness articles, showing you HOW to lose weight, get in shape, and look like a model. Health and wellness is now a $3.72 Trillion-dollar industry globally and growing steadily year by year.
On the flip-side, the latest rage is having your genetics tested to find out your risk for breast cancer, obesity, heart disease and more. The assumption many make is that, if you have a risk factor, you are automatically going to get the associated disease.
There are even women who opt for preventative mastectomies because they have a gene which increases their chances of getting breast cancer.
On the other hand, we can all name someone who, like George Burns, drank, smoked cigars, and lived to be a hundred years old… presumably, because they have great genes.
The reality is that the healthiest diet and fitness plan in the world isn’t enough by itself to make and keep you healthy.
And your genetics alone are not enough to predetermine your health status.
At a time when we have the greatest technology and knowledge around health and wellness, we have an epidemic of obesity and chronic disease. For the first time in a hundred years, the U.S. life expectancy seems set to drop for the third year in a row.
This trend is not true for other countries. In fact, there are areas of the world, called “Blue Zones” where they have an extraordinary percent of individuals living past 100 and thriving. For instance, Japan has almost 70,000 people who are over the age of 100.
Is the magic pill to health and wellness a combination of lifestyle and genetics? Or is there a secret ingredient?
Let’s look at the common features of all of the Blue Zones, as described by Dan Buettner:
1. Do moderate natural movements like walking, gardening, and housework. You don’t need to run marathons. Just stay active.
2. Eat smaller amounts and the least in the evening. Instead of eating your big meal in the evening and gorging until you’re full, stop when you’re about 80% full.
3. Have wine in moderation as part of a social meal.
4. Eat primarily plant-based foods.
5. Push your relaxation reset button, in whatever way works best for you.
6. Know the reason why you get up every morning… and choose one if you don’t yet know… you don’t just find your purpose. This alone can add up to 7 years to your life expectancy. That’s almost a whole generation!
7. Maintain strong, close family connections.
8. Maintain strong social networks and friendships.
9. Belong to a spirituality-based community. This adds 4-14 years to longevity. Such spirituality appears to be a source of support and a way for the aging to understand the meaning of life.
The results are surprising. Less than half of the factors have to do with lifestyle. And if longevity could be attributed to genetics, then these Blue Zones wouldn’t just be isolated communities within larger cultures like the United States.
These Blue Zones instead also share the importance of mindset, relationships, spirituality, community, feeling valued and supported.
Having a purpose and spirituality can together account for the difference between the average life expectancy and living to 100 without changing anything else… go figure!
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs details 5 areas of your life which must be met to live a fulfilling life. These are basic survival or physical needs like nutrition, safety, love & belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization (the need to fulfill your talent and potential).
The residents of Blue Zones have their basic physical needs looked after, certainly. More importantly, their essential emotional needs are being met too.
Dr. John Schindler, a surgeon in the 1950’s, realized that many patients wouldn’t get better, no matter how successful their surgery was. He determined it was because their essential emotional needs weren’t being met in a healthy way.
These 6 essential emotional needs are security, variety, love or connection, recognition or significance, self-esteem, and growth.
Security is the need to feel safe and certain about the future. Often, this emotional need is met through your community, religion, government or other institutions like the military. In blue zones, the community support provides that certainty.
The danger with having your security met through outside means is that there is no true certainty in life and no one can guarantee it, no matter what they might say or intend.
Far better to cultivate the certainty within you that, no matter what happens in life, you’ve got what it takes to handle it. And that internal certainty builds each time you step outside your comfort zone into uncertainty.
Like the honey badger, you learn to realize that you’ve got what it takes to pull through and succeed. And while community and support are also essential to life, so is knowing that, no matter what life throws at you, you’ll be just fine.
Variety is the seeming opposite of certainty. While humans need to feel safe overall, they also need variety to add spice to life… safely.
The key is to balance your certainty and variety. You may have a favorite food, for instance, but if you ate it day in and out, you would quickly lose your appetite for it.
You may also love traveling, but if you have a job which required you to travel every single day, you would likely get really tired of it and long for one stable place to call home.
The wonderful irony is that, by cultivating the internal certainty in the exercise above, you will also be proactively meeting your need for variety.
Love and connection are also an essential ingredient in blue zone longevity. More than just romantic love, this is the sense of belonging. It is the spiritual and emotional connection you need for true wellness. The key for love and connection is to get it in a healthy manner.
As with blue zones, you can achieve it with your family, community, support systems, spiritual community and through romantic love.
The danger with expecting to find it in these ways is that it can be taken away from you…if you ever find it in the first place.
Rather than expecting others to make you happy, the best way is for you to give love to yourself.
Like most in this society, you have likely been programmed to hate yourself… your body and looks, your intelligence, your talents… or perceived lack of them.
This is old programming left over from the days when parents thought that to praise a child was to spoil them.
If you were raised to have this pattern of self-criticism and loathing, it’s time to give yourself a lot of love. A great way to do it is through positive self-talk.
Growth-U’s “Friends First” program is designed to lead you to cultivate the most important relationship of all… that with yourself. Only then can you cultivate healthy loving relationships with anyone else, including your family or lover.
Recognition or significance is the need to feel special. As Andy Warhol said, we all need our 15 minutes of fame. In blue zones, every person has a role and feels needed, even the elderly.
Typically, the elderly continue to live with their extended families and are a respected source of wisdom and knowledge.
This is totally opposite to this society where the vast majority of people are forced to retire because they are considered too old. Then again, they may have to move into retirement and nursing homes if they can no longer manage on their own.
Our society as a whole idolizes youth instead of respecting the elderly.
The blue zones have healthy sources of significance. You can achieve that too by proactively looking for ways to give that significance to yourself.
Once again, the mirror exercise is simple and powerful.
Self-esteem is the next essential emotional need. This is different from the need for recognition or feeling special. Self-esteem is about the value you place on yourself.
In Blue Zones, people receive this sense from knowing they have a valuable function to serve in their communities.
Most people in this society are programmed to receive their sense of worth from what others think of them. Unfortunately, you could wait forever for others to give it to you.
Instead, it is far better to proactively fulfill this need yourself.
The final essential emotional need is Growth or creativity. The best way to fulfill this need is once again proactively.
If you wait for it to happen to you, your unconscious mind will revert to chaos because it needs a goal and purpose to aim its immense power toward.
If you’re not lucky enough to live in one of the world’s Blue Zones for wellbeing and longevity, you can still cultivate the secret sauce for yourself.
The first step is awareness.
Do the following exercise:
How well are your emotional needs being met, on a scale of 0-10? And by what means, internally or externally?
If any area is less than 8/10, it’s time to focus on that area more.
If any emotional need is provided mostly by external means, it would be healthier for your wellbeing and longevity to add in internal ways of meeting it too. Look for ways you can meet this emotional need for yourself.
That way, you can always count on you to meet your own emotional needs regardless of what is happening in the world around you.
After so much money has been spent to improve the state of our culture’s wellbeing, who knew the answer would be so simple?
I did say simple….not easy.
If you are overwhelmed by how to improve your relationships with yourself and others, join Growth-U’s supportive community of members who are all proactively climbing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and learning to fulfill their essential emotional needs in healthy ways.
Join Friends First, a program which helps you build a healthy loving relationship with the most important person in your life — you — so that then you can build healthy loving relationships with others around you.
We’ll look forward to seeing you there!