Tuesday, May 4, 2010

To Your Health!: A Proselytizing Rant

The United States has done a progressively impressive job of demonizing the use of tobacco over the past quarter-century. Most people who smoke, particularly in upper-middle class culture, realize or at least have come to terms with the fact that they might be judged or ostracized for this habit. The demonization of this unhealthy lifestyle choice is sensible (smoking kills), and some other countries have done the same. (Example: My bosom friend Ilana Kresch has saved a cigarette box from Chile that, when translated, reads: "Warning: these cigarettes are killing you.") Yet, the equally detrimental decision of many to lead a sedentary lifestyle has, somehow, largely dodged criticism. While it is generally acceptable to say, for example, "I want you to quit smoking because I care about you" telling a friend "I want you to start exercising because I care about you" is far less acceptable. Yet, the research on the negative impacts of a sedentary lifestyle are practically as striking as that of tobacco use. Leading medical research indicates that exercise is linked to increased positive mood and mental health, creativity, increased energy and decreased risk of chronic disease.

I find excuses like "I don't like to do it" or "It's not fun" ineffectual in lieu of the smoker's excuse "I like to do it" or "It makes me feel good." You might notice a parallel. As Dr. Oz says (I feel great shame knowing that this is the second time I'm citing him on this newborn blog), regardless of whether or not one has found an entirely "fun" form of it, exercise should be like brushing your teeth; you do it every day, even when you don't want to. (But it can be fun. Speed walking with a friend, being involved in a sports team, or playing with your dog... fun! Everyone can find something they enjoy.) 

My point? A little piece of me dies every time I hear a shamelessly sedentary person lambasting smoking or a particular smoker. (Not that we should avoid passing any judgment ever for fear that we are speaking hypocritically... but this hypocrisy particularly peeves me because it is so common.)

Okay. Proselytizing rant over. What I really want to talk about on the subject of health and well-being is the exciting new research on Blue Zones. If you're not familiar with them, Blue Zones refers to the communities in or regions of the world where people live the longest and healthiest lives, often living over 100 years with limited disease. Examples of Blue Zones include Sardinia, an island off the coast of Italy that boasts the largest population of centenarians in the world, Loma Linda, California, a community composed largely of Seventh Day Adventists, and Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan with the highest disability-free life expectancy in the world.

Scientists are studying these longevity hot-spots to identify threads in lifestyle, and they have developed eight principles that lead to such healthy and long lives:
-Eating a plant-based diet (limited meat consumption)
-Regular, low-intensity exercise (i.e.: gardening, playing with kids, etc.)
-Family-oriented lifestyle
-Practicing a communal faith once a week (this reduces risky behaviors and encourages scheduled time for reflection/meditation)
-Identifying a sense of overarching purpose
-Eating to only 80% fullness
-Drinking wine moderately and responsibly
-Living in community that supports the healthful sort of lifestyle outlined above

To hear more detail about these communities and their lifestyle, click here for a video-clip. I hope learning about Blue Zones has been as edifying for you as it was for me. For one, it has inspired me to abandon my lifestyle of sobriety for a glass of wine per day. Huzzah! 

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