Living Blue and Living Longer

“Is there any way I can fix this without taking a pill?”

His question came as I was typing out his prescription. It’s also a question I hear often from patients. Many of us don’t relish the thought of popping a pill for a problem we may have lifelong. We don’t like the side effects they give us, or the cost (regardless what our insurance pays), or just trying to remember to take the darn thing. It feels like giving up control of our bodies—ourselves—to something external. We want to stay healthy and live a long life, but on our terms; not dictated by the half-life of a wonder pill.

So how do the healthy, long-lived people manage to do it? Fortunately, there is a fascinating book written by Dan Buettner called The Blue Zones , that helps us learn the answer. He researched areas in the world, called Blue Zones, that have pockets of people living to the age of 100 and beyond. He sought out their stories and the elements of similarity in theirs lives, or lifestyles, that led to their longevity. He points out, correctly when you look at the scientific literature, that our genetics (DNA strikes again) determine only about 25% of how long we live. That means, that our lifestyles determines the other 75%.

The author developed a tool (Vitality Compass) that can help us calculate our life expectancy now, before and after we make positive changes. Be honest with your answers. The calculation surprised—and shocked me—at the potential life expectancy. The important part of the tool to me (and hopefully to you) was what happens if we change—today, not next year.

So what is it about people whose internal odometer reach triple digits? He reviews the nine steps, or what he calls the Power Nine, that the centenarians lifestyles seem to suggest lead to long life. Without giving too much away (because you really have to read their fascinating stories), what they all seem to do, we can do. They ‘move naturally’, cut their daily intake of calories from food by 20%, avoid meat and processed foods, drink red wine (a small glass or two), see the big picture, take time to relieve stress, take part in a spiritual community, make family a priority, and surround themselves with others who share Blue Zone values. Of course, the devil is in the details when it comes to these nine steps.

I asked that patient if he was willing to do just about anything. He shook his head yes, but seemed to squirm uncomfortably. I explained it wouldn’t be easy, at least at first, and he would have to do these steps the rest of his life for success. He seemed to brighten when I got to the part about the red wine, but slumped when I explained the small amounts required. When I finished reciting the other steps his face seemed devoid of expression. I could almost see him mentally processing how his current life would have to change.

He took the prescription.

Would you?

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About Steve P. Sanders

A general internist writing and sharing ideas and art.

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