04/18/2018 Mind-Body Health
The people you surround yourself with—friends, family, coworkers—can strongly influence your health. Here are some tips from centenarians on how to nurture your relationships and engage in your community for a long, healthy life.
In the past three articles in this series, we learned about people who live in Blue Zones (areas in the world where there is a high rate of centenarians) and how cultivating a healthy diet, having a purpose, and staying active are all factors that are involved in their longevity.
This series of articles is based on a 2004 study led by author and explorer Dan Buettner. Along with anthropologists, demographers, epidemiologists, and other researchers, Buettner traveled around the world to examine communities with high percentages of people living into their hundreds. They identified the following five spots, now referred to as the “Blue Zones,” where there is a high rate of centenarians:
- Loma Linda, U.S.
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Sardinia, Italy
- Ikaria, Greece
- Okinawa, Japan
Buettner and the researchers found that seniors in these widely separated regions share a number of key habits, despite many differences in their backgrounds and beliefs. These universal healthy habits can be broken down into the following:
This article will focus on the final factor: focusing on family/community.
The people you surround yourself with—friends, family, coworkers—can strongly influence your health. That sense of “belonging” is powerful, and the connections you build in your community—whether between individuals, organizations, faith-based groups, or other social activities—are important to everyday life.
In fact, studies have shown that people who have satisfying relationships with family, friends, and community members are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. As Buettner says, “Belong to live long.”
Here are some ways centenarians foster a sense of community that you can incorporate into your own life!
1. Put Loved Ones First
Having strong relationships with loved ones—family and friends—can improve health and increase longevity. Most centenarians create strong social groups by prioritizing loved ones. This means keeping aging parents nearby or in the home, committing to a partner, consistently spending time with friends, etc. These acts help build deep relationships and support systems—which is a great happiness boost!
“Sardinia’s strong family values help assure that every member of the family is cared for,” says Buettner. “The Okinawan tradition of forming a Moai [which translates to meeting for a common purpose] provides secure social networks. These safety nets lend financial and emotional support in times of need and give all of their members the stress-shedding security of knowing that there is always someone there for them.”
So if you are not doing so already, try to make it a point to invest in your friends and family.
2. Celebrate Elders
Different cultures have different attitudes and practices when it comes to the elderly, and these cultural views can have a huge effect on your experience of growing older. The majority of Blue Zone communities celebrate their elderly, seeing them as a wealth of knowledge, support, and/or authority. They are held in high esteem and serve important purposes within their community.
For Sardinians, “Grandparents can provide love, child care, financial help, wisdom, and expectations/motivation to perpetuate traditions and push children to succeed in their lives,” says Buettner. “This may all add up to a healthier, better adjusted, and longer-lived children. It may give the overall population a life expectancy bump.”
So the next time you visit your grandparents or interact with the elderly, try to spend the time connecting with them. They are sure to provide you with some lessons along the way.
3. Volunteer in Your Community
Volunteering is a great way for you to engage with others in your community. If you have ever volunteered, you may have noticed a positive shift in your mood afterward. When you volunteer, you can see the effects of your efforts in the community. So get out there and volunteer with an activity you’d enjoy or for a cause you strongly believe in—maybe you’ll make some new friends in the process!
4. Find a Hobby
Pursuing a hobby—either by finding a new one or fostering an existing one—is a great way to get into your community. Whether it’s knitting, biking, acting, etc., find or start a group for something you enjoy and meet others who enjoy it, too. You can check out apps like MeetUp to find local groups to join. If it’s a physical activity, you get the added bonus of exercising while having fun (another factor in living a long, healthy life)!
5. Nurture Your Spirituality or Religion
Following a religion or expressing your spirituality with others is a great way to be involved with your community. “All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter,” says Buettner. “Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4–14 years of life expectancy.”
By focusing on the social connections you build and nurture and engaging in your community, you may be able to increase your likelihood of living a long, healthy life.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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