General News

It is fire weather here at this old house: very dry, warm, and windy. I hope everyone takes the fire and outdoor smoking ban seriously!

This is a fine example of our next characteristic of Blue Zone areas: the need to relieve stress. We have been going through the various steps discovered by Dan Buettner in his research of the five regions of the world where people live well into their 100s, in both senses of the word “well.” To review, we have looked at keeping moving throughout each day, eating until you are 80% full and so cutting calories, adding more vegetables to each day’s diet, drinking a glass of red wine daily, making family a priority, and surrounding yourself with those who share your values.

Today, we are reminded that there is scientific evidence that stress causes inflammation in the body and, over a lifetime, that inflammation may promote age-related diseases. (Sugar, to which our society is addicted, also causes inflammation in the body and I am sure that in years to come we will view sugar’s negative effects in the same way we today understand tobacco’s negative effects on the body.) Mr. Buettner, in his Blue Zone book, reminds us that slowing the pace of our lives down can help with this stress-induced inflammation but a slower pace of life can also help us achieve the other steps we have talked about so far.Image result for free photo sleeping

Getting enough sleep is certainly a part of this stress reduction. (Too much sleep is as bad as too little, studies are beginning to show, so as we age, it is important that we have that regular movement in each day. Spending our last days in a chair, dozing, is not the goal of a Blue Zone lifestyle!)

Limiting screen time is also key to reducing stress, especially if you are part of the election cycle madness currently happening in the USA. The TV, phone, Internet: all have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns when used too much too late in the day. An Internet search will provide guidelines and suggestions on an appropriate use of technology, especially before bedtime.

Two other stress reducing tips are the “holy pause” and “welcoming prayer.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about the ancient idea of Holy Pause in which one stops after finishing one task and “takes a breath” before moving onto the next item on the to-do list.  This brief pause can give us a chance to reflect on what we have just done and to consider what we must do next.

Welcoming Prayer is a way to embrace a feeling as it first becomes apparent and then deal with it before it takes over the driver’s seat of our thoughts and emotions. The example Cynthia Bourgeault gives in her book, “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,” is to say “Welcome Fear” or “Welcome Anger.”  We would not say “Welcome, Cancer,” for example but we would welcome the feeling of fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Then, by sitting with that feeling in meditation and prayer, we are able to “defang” it, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that the feeling doesn’t determine our responses and consume our every waking moment. This can help us process the stress and avoid accumulated inflammation and its long-term consequences.

So as I sit here in an old wooden house, aware of the growing drought and listening to the wind blow, I can welcome my nervousness and sit with it, processing it in a way that puts the proper perspective on it all. It will certainly help me sleep better tonight!

Here at this old house, we are in the midst of a series of reflections on Dan Buettner’s nine lifestyle principles as discussed in his book, The Blue Zones. These zones are areas of the world with the highest percentage of people living well into their 100s. So far, we have looked at moving naturally as much as possible throughout our day, eating until only 80% full, adding more vegetables into each meal, drinking a glass of red wine a day, making family a priority, and surrounding ourselves with those who share our values.

Today, we look at the need for each of us to have a purpose, a long-term vision of life and our goals within it. It is the answer to the question: why do I get up in the morning? Who or what needs me today? What do I hope to accomplish or learn? Who do I want to interact with or help? What is the bigger meaning of why I am on earth?

Those in the Blue Zones of the world tend to know the answer to those questions. If you don’t, make a list of things that you enjoy and/or are passionate about, people you care for and want to be there for, and causes you give time and money to. Reflect on that list and your role in your family, neighborhood, faith community, and larger society. What do you offer that no one else can? A sense of history? A vision for what can be? An ability to organize? An ability to encourage or serve or rally as needed? If you are not sure, ask a friend to help you clarify your gifts and talents.

You don’t have to have a high-powered job to be “important.” You are important because you are here, and, as a Christian, I would add because God created you to fill a niche that no one else can fill. You have a role to play even if it feels that no one views you as “useful” any more. It just may take a bit of time to discover what that role is now, especially if you are older and no longer have your usefulness and purpose defined by work or family status.Image result for free stock photo list of life goals

Maybe there is a story or poem or drama script or a piece of music inside of you waiting to be written down and shared. Maybe there are children who live near you who are floundering and need another adult in their life to help them find their life’s path. Maybe there is an animal counting on you for love and care. Perhaps there are people in care facilities or your faith community who need someone to reach out to them.

None of us is useless while we are still alive! If nothing else, we can pray for the needs of the world and there are plenty of those to keep someone going a long time. So while you are caring for your body, care for your soul by connecting with someone or something that can help you get out of bed each day. The world needs you!

Our next step in the characteristics of thriving centenarians is appropriate since we are celebrating a family wedding this weekend. Those who live in the five Blue Zones of the world tend to have a glass of red wine per day.

The red wine must contain polyphenols, which have been shown to combat arteriosclerosis, according to Dan Buettner in his book, the Blue Zone. 1.75 ounces of dark chocolate has the same amount of beneficial polyphenols as a 6.5 ounce glass of Basque region red wine.

(Personally, I find that I do better drinking red wine in Europe where they don’t allow sulfates in it. Actually, all food and drink is far more beneficial without preservatives and chemicals in it. If you think red wine bothers you, try to find some that doesn’t have the preservatives added to it.)

When you have a glass of wine with dinner, and especially dinner with friends, it can seem more special and might help you eat more slowly. Eating slowly and being connected with others on a regular basis are also characteristics of the Blue Zone lifestyle that we have talked about in previous weeks.Image result for free stock photo red wine

While the abuse of alcohol destroys health and shortens life, the judicious use of it can add to the length and enjoyment of it.


Welcome back to our discussion of the Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. Each week, we have been looking at one aspect that Mr. Buettner discovered as contributing to a person living and thriving for 100 years of more. These elderly people tended to be grouped in five areas of the world and had similar lifestyle characteristics no matter where they lived: Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan and Icaria, Greece.

For the past several weeks, we have talked about adding more movement to your day in organic ways (parking far away and walking to your destination, for example) , hara hachi bu (eating until you are only 80% full), eating more vegetables throughout each day, and surrounding yourself with people who share your values.

This week’s characteristic is similar to last week’s: in the Blue Zones of the world, centenarians are daily integrated into the lives of their family. Buettner says that “[s]tudies have shown that elders who live with their children are less susceptible to disease, eat healthier diets, have lower levels of stress, and have a much lower incidence of serious accidents.”Image result for free stock photo multi generational family group

This is used to be a way of life in America but is definitely not common any more. Now, communal living tends to be with friends and not family members. In fact, we often look askance at adult children still living with their parents; we sense the children have “failed to launch.” Yet, in many cultures of the world,  young married couples move into an addition of the main house where their parents and grandparents are still living. Children are cared for by multiple generations and elders have someone to look out for them without any one person bearing the full weight of care-giving. The idea of a “retirement community” or nursing home is unheard of.

Communal living with other family members shows a real difference in values from what most of us are used to.  In American culture, we tend to value youth and mobility and shove old age and dying out of sight. Children aren’t raised seeing elderly people or the aging process on a daily basis. They don’t learn as easily that death is a natural part of life nor how to die well from watching someone model that for them. They also don’t learn how to care for someone in very practical ways. Too often, modern culture is so child-focused that children grow up thinking life is “all about them.” Having a grandparent in the house can teach compassion and responsibility as well as give depth and history to a child’s understanding of life.

What can we do if we live far away from elderly parents? How do we handle parents who are difficult or have medical needs beyond what we are qualified to deal with? Decisions must be made carefully and, often, years in advance of need. Living together in one big family group may have a lot of benefits but it is certainly not without its challenges. How do we incorporate this characteristic into our lives?

One way is to visit nursing homes and “adopt” a person who may not have any family. Children will benefit in many ways from learning early on how to talk to people who are old and/or ill. Is there someone in your church whose own grandchildren live far away and who could be “substitute grandparents” for your children? If your parents are beginning to transition into old age, is there a way to find a living situation that would have them on the same property as you: a carriage house out back or a guest bedroom suite where everyone can have some privacy while still living together? Here in this old house, there is simply no room to put any more people for more than a short visit!

This is not an easy nor an individual concept to incorporate into your life but it did seem to be a very important one in the research on living and thriving for 100 years. The point is to ask questions and be proactive in engaging with the idea. Then, whatever answer you come to, may it bring you peace and long life!

I am just back from a lovely week in Alaska visiting family and driving to the end of the road in Denali National Park. Our daughter won the “road lottery,” something the National Park offers after the main tourist season has ended and the shuttle service is winding down. If your name is drawn, you get from 6 AM to midnight on a designated day to drive all 92.6 miles back into the park. The road literally ends then. We had a lovely time seeing wildlife and the vast expanse of Denali, which gets only 350,000 visitors per year! A wild and wonderful place.

Meanwhile, I continued to try to eat more vegetables, move as often as I could, and limit my daily calories, a hard list to follow when you are traveling! The big thing was for me to enjoy the moment and now focus on get backing on track here at home.

As we continue our discussion of the Blue Zone, those habits of centenarians throughout the world, we now look at  surrounding ourselves with what Dan Buettner calls “the right tribe,” that is, people who share your same values. These are people you see regularly for coffee or to talk with on the phone. It is the social network that keeps you from feeling isolated. They are also the people who keep you grounded in reality when you are feeling sad or discouraged. These are people who keep your mind stimulated and who you can laugh with on a regular basis.

Part of having a strong social network is being likeable yourself, the kind of person other people want to see frequently. This is an interesting concept to ponder since on the plane home, I read Velma Wallis’s classic Athabaskan legend, Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival.” This is an ancient story of two old women who tend to complain a lot and expect others in the village to take care of them. During a lean time, when the whole community is in danger of starving to death, they are left behind when the people move to find desperately needed food. The woman have a choice to wait to die (the tale begins in the fall) or to “die trying to survive.”Image result for free photo two old athabascan women

The book teaches a strong lesson without being moralizing and very much illustrates the point of this Blue Zone characteristic. We must build good social networks outside of our family relationships throughout all the stages of our lives but especially as we enter “old age.” Those people who surround us really can make a life-or-death difference to us.

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