I’m intrigued by research on the Blue Zones, which are essentially hot spots of longevity. In these areas of the world, it’s not uncommon for people to still be living active, healthy lives beyond the age of one hundred. So far, researchers have identified five Blue Zones:
These areas are diverse geographically, culturally, and spiritually. But what they have in common is a lifestyle that naturally supports all of the facets of good health: physical, emotional, and spiritual. People fortunate enough to be born in Blue Zones eat healthfully (a plant based diet, accented with small amounts of animal protein).
Moderate, daily exercise is a natural part of their lives (they walk and garden instead of going to gyms). They enjoy close relationships with family and friends, have a sense of life purpose, and nurture faith through a regular spiritual practice. All of these beneficial habits help to temper the effects of stress—which science is discovering is the underlying cause of virtually all degenerative disease, including premature aging.
No one escapes the reality of aging, but there is no doubt that we can slow the process. In our 20s, 30s, and even 40s, we can push ourselves beyond our natural limits, often without significant observable consequences. Because it appears that we’re doing okay, we continue overextending. At 50 years of age, however, most Americans continue to live highly stressful lives but suffer from at least one major health problem, take several medications, are out of shape, use at least one type of stimulant daily, and are in a downward spiral of worsening health. The sobering fact is that although Americans in the 21st century are expected to live beyond 75 years, most are merely surviving instead of thriving, their lives prolonged by technology and modern medicine, but lacking in quality.
There is no doubt that when the natural aging process is compounded by recurrent stress, the inevitable result is accelerated aging. But the pathological changes that cause biological aging can be prevented or delayed with the right assessment and treatment plan. I don’t believe in “anti-aging”, because aging is a natural part of life. But I do believe that it is possible to age gracefully by adopting a natural and harmonious approach to life, much like those fortunate people who inhabit the Blue Zones. You, too, can age well by following the simple wisdom of the Blue Zone inhabitants: Eat a simple, healthful diet; exercise moderately and often; nurture close relationships; cultivate a spiritual practice; and discover what gives meaning to your life.
In addition, we have the opportunity to benefit from herbal adaptogens and nutritional compounds that greatly retard the aging process, reverse premature aging, and optimize quality of life. Adaptogens are an essential part of my approach to living a long life of physical and mental vitality—these unique herbal allies provide assistance for handling short-term stressors by bolstering energy and decreasing physiological damage. At the same time, they provide long-term protection by preventing or delaying the negative metabolic changes that lead to degenerative diseases and premature aging.
There is much that we can do to insure health and vitality throughout life. When considering how to age gracefully, don’t underestimate the power of nourishing a positive attitude. I believe that the expression “young at heart” has significant meaning as an adage for healthy aging and a vibrant, energetic life. Ultimately, we need to cultivate the wisdom and courage to change those things that are within our control–and at the same time to let go of everything else.