Aging. We all think about it from time to time. Some of us fear it more than shark attacks or public speaking, but aging is a natural and inevitable part of life to be embraced. Wrinkled skin and greying, thinning hair can’t be avoided, but what if we could age gracefully and reduce our risk of age-related ailments such as fatigue, muscle strength loss and joint pain? What if we could live longer, healthier and happier lives? Well, we have some good news for you - you can! It all comes down to healthy living and longevity wellness practices.
Reports carried out by Euromonitor International show wellness and optimal aging having the furthest-reaching impact on consumers and industries in the future. We will explore why centenarians live as long as they do, how you can improve your longevity and we’ll take a closer look at wellness services for optimal living.
What is longevity wellness?
Longevity wellness refers to healthy activities and habits contributing to living a longer life. There are several well-known and lesser-known factors to consider. We all know that nutrition and physical exercise contribute to living healthier and longer, but factors including lowered stress levels, social support, and having a positive outlook also play a vital role.
Many studies are looking at what increases human lifespan as the longevity community grows worldwide. Tech heads such as Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Peter Thiel are investing billions into longevity science R&D. They aim to identify and target the molecular causes of aging to find solutions to fundamental issues, including cognitive decline and loss of muscle strength.
While we await future technologies, what can we do to help prolong our aging process?
Taking inspiration from the world's blue zones
Numerous studies have been made about the world's five blue zones - regions where inhabitants live the longest. The five blue zones are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy (pictured)
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
By studying the blue zone inhabitants’ daily habits we can unlock many of the secrets to longevity. Healthy aging in humans is regulated by a mix of genetic and non-genetic factors. Studies show that between 10-25% of how fast we age is due to genetic factors which means that 75-90% of how well we age is up to us…what we eat, think, drink and even our perceptions and the environment we live in can optimize our genetics and quality of life. So, what about the blue zone lifestyle enables people in these unique areas to live so long?
Of course, it doesn’t come down to any one thing; there are several common themes throughout the five blue zone lifestyles. The main ones are:
- Plant-heavy diet
- Consistent low-intensity physical activity
- Close family connections
- Social engagement
- A sense of purpose or a spiritual path
The most apparent factor determining longevity is what we choose to eat. The cliché, you are what you eat, is metaphorically true. Besides avoiding processed foods, specific diets aid in increasing your life span. We can see this evidenced in the world's five blue zones.
What these unique communities have in common is a plant-heavy diet and access to locally sourced and organic fruits and vegetables. What they eat is rarely processed and low on simple carbohydrates…it consists of whole foods free from preservatives and rich in nutrients. The most common foods consumed in the blue zones are olive oil, leafy greens, nuts and legumes.
Another thing to consider is that most of the Blue Centenarians are careful not to overeat. For example, Okinawans live by a strict mantra called hara hachi bu, whereby they only eat until they are 80% full. How exactly you measure that we are not sure, but we guess there’s no reason to finish everything on your plate if you are already feeling replete.
Tellingly, two of the blue zones, Ikaria and Sardinia, are both islands in the Mediterranean. This is unsurprising because the Mediterranean diet has been proven to be an excellent choice to aid longevity and wellness. Read on…
The Mediterranean diet
In the 1950s, American scientist Ancel Keys first discovered the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. He found a correlation between cardiovascular disease and diet after observing the poorer populations of small villages in southern Italy were much healthier than the wealthy citizens of New York City. Keys suspected it was due to the diet, which led to his famous Seven Countries Study. The findings scientifically proved the nutritional value of the Mediterranean diet and its effect on the health and longevity of those who adopted it.
Further studies have proven that the Mediterranean diet can help prevent heart attacks, type 2 diabetes, strokes, and premature death, and promote weight loss. So what exactly does it consist of? Unsurprisingly; organic vegetables and fruits, whole grains and heart-healthy fats. To get more specific, here is a list of common Mediterranean foods:
- Vegetables (especially those with color)
- Legumes (peas, beans, chickpeas, etc)
- Extra virgin olive oil (fatty acids)
- Greek yogurt (probiotics)
- Eggs and cheese (in moderation)
- Fish, poultry and cured meats (in moderation)
Physical activity as a lifestyle
It’s not only nutrition that influences the world’s five blue zones. The most obvious other factor is physical activity, but this doesn’t mean intense workouts at the gym every day; the blue zone inhabitants are moving consistently as part of their daily lives through activities such as walking, gardening and daily chores. A study of the men in Sardinia found they lived on steeper slopes, farmed animals and walked longer distances for work which greatly influenced their longevity.
The key takeaway here is to simply move more. Choose to walk shorter distances rather than drive. Choose the stairs over the escalator. Get up from your work desk at least once an hour and move around… you get the point.
Downshifting (minimizing stress and getting enough rest)
Most people do not realize what stress does to the body. The effects are massive, both physical and mental. In fact, stress affects all of your body’s systems including the cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, endocrine, nervous, reproductive and immune systems.
The blue zones know how to keep stress at bay, whether it be through taking a nap, walking in nature, fellowship, remembering ancestors or enjoying happy hour with friends. Downshifting in this way is crucial for a long and happy life. Keep in mind the pure vida lifestyle, meaning a simple life - approaching each day with a sunny outlook and a light attitude.
Be sure to get enough rest, and if you find yourself stressing too much, find activities that help you focus on what brings peace and joy into your life.
Making family a priority
The blue zones not only spend quality time with their family but also their extended family. Furthermore, they support family members of multiple generations and often live under one roof. This kind of family devotion is proven by Harvard Health Publishing to aid longevity. So, remember, family is number one.
The importance of purpose
What does the Japanese term ikigai and the Costa Rican saying plan de vida, have in common? They both roughly translate to why I wake up in the morning. Centenarians have a strong sense of purpose. Whether they feel needed, are working on something meaningful, or desire to make the world a better place, they have a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.
This sense of purpose can also come in the form of spirituality. Dan Buettner, the blue zones longevity expert, found that the vast majority of the centenarians he interviewed belonged to faith-based communities and regarded spirituality as an important part of their lives. They also attended services to congregate with a like-minded community and reinforce values such as humility, charity, gratitude and compassion.
Enjoy a drink (in moderation)
Here is some welcome news; four out of five blue zone communities (except Loma Linda) regularly enjoy alcoholic beverages. But before you go and crack open that 2017 vintage, know that they drink in moderation and it’s usually part of a social gathering or paired with a meal. Still, it’s encouraging to know that studies have been carried out showing that moderate drinkers are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. As such, go ahead and have that glass of wine with friends.
Relationships and community
In 1938, Harvard University researchers began studying what makes us happy. It continues today and is the longest-running study on the subject. Only now, the research has pivoted more into retirement. The results show that the number one challenge faced by retirees is being able to replace the social connections they had while they worked.
In short, retirees don't miss work, but they miss people. Moreover, the people who fare best in retirement find ways to cultivate meaningful connections. Social connectedness is a big part of the blue zone communities as well, since friendships provide intellectual stimulation and emotional support.
It is now well-proven that people who maintain satisfying relationships and feel part of a community have fewer health problems and live longer. It turns out that staying connected feels great and influences longevity health just as much as physical exercise and diet.
Medical spas and wellness centers to aid longevity
In addition to adopting our own versions of the blue zones’ key elements, how can we enhance our longevity even more? Many people are now adding health treatments at wellness centers worldwide to extend their lives.
There has been a boom in wellness centers focusing on longevity with an influx of new health and wellness treatments over the last decade. Programs and treatments include detox, massage therapy, nutritional counseling, nutraceuticals, and hot/cold therapies. For example, infrared saunas draw out more toxins and temperature-controlled hydro pools, cryogenics and ice baths have benefits such as reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, boosting the immune system and minimizing the risk of infection.
Relaxing or high-impact massages can help manage stress with added physical benefits. Some might opt to take it further with spa treatments such as facial services or medi-spa treatments which can help maintain a youthful appearance and improve your sense of well-being.
There is a wide selection of impactful programs in the regenerative medicine field that have become increasingly popular for health and wellness. Here are a few worth noting.
What used to be solely used for healing in hospitals, many spas and wellness centers now offer IV therapies as a complementary therapy for longevity wellness. Health benefits of IV therapies include:
- Improving energy, mood, memory and sleep
- Slowing the aging process
- Helping control blood sugar
- Preventing and treating chronic conditions
- Boosting athletic ability
- Controlling inflammation
- Promoting skin health and joint health
- Enhancing the recovery from muscle fatigue and pain
- Optimizing metabolism and weight reduction
Another treatment that has gained in popularity in recent years is peptide therapy. To put simply, peptides can be thought of as small, ultra-specific proteins that can be administered intradermally or orally. Anti-aging benefits include promoting lean muscle mass and weight loss, improving cognitive function and more.
Bioidentical hormone replacement therapy
Another breakthrough is bio-identical hormone replacement therapy, which includes testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) for men, and estrogen and HGH for women. Benefits of bio-identical hormone replacement therapy include:
- Increases collagen and skin elasticity
- Reduces wrinkles
- Improves cognitive function and memory
- Helps shift fat to lean muscle mass
- Restores youthful sleep patterns
- Boosts the immune system
- Decreases bad cholesterol and increases good cholesterol
- Increases bone density (decreasing risk of osteoporosis)
- Increases exercise endurance and sexual function
Platelet-rich plasma injection (PRP)
As technology advances in anti-aging medicine, we are seeing fascinating therapeutic procedures emerge like platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP). This treats both acute and chronic soft tissue injuries, assisting with the body’s natural healing process.
The injections take a tube of your blood and run it through a centrifuge to concentrate your own platelets. These are then re-injected into the area of body tissue in need of treatment such as injured muscles, tendons, ligaments or joints. The platelets stimulate the growth of reparative cells which significantly enhances the healing process. As a result, PRP injections are rapidly becoming more common to treat various issues related to aging bodies.
Intravenous chelation therapy
As we age, heavy or toxic metals such as mercury, lead, aluminum, cadmium and arsenic can build up in our bodies to the point where they negatively affect every cell in the body. Chelation therapy is a medicinal treatment to remove these harmful heavy metals, in turn decreasing free radicals and assisting and preventing chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
Lowering heavy metals with chelation therapy may also help treat many other conditions such as autism, Alzheimer’s disease, memory, Parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety.
The new blue zone? A residential ship dedicated to wellness
Storylines MV Narrative is a live-aboard residential ship that circumnavigates the globe every three years. The global lifestyle has all the ingredients for a healthy, fulfilling and long life: adventure, nutritious food, an active lifestyle, social support, regenerative medicine, abundant activities, and opportunities to enhance one’s sense of purpose.
Could this be the new blue zone? The ship is providing a new type of ‘anti-aging global lifestyle’ that has never been offered before. It combines all the blue zone habits with all the latest longevity wellness treatments with doctors onboard that specialize in optimal living. The goal is for the ship’s residents to have more time feeling good, experiencing life and living well...everywhere around the world.
The vessel has the world’s largest dedicated wellness center at sea with highly trained fitness and nutrition experts as well as anti-aging spa treatments. In addition to services, there are a plethora of amenities designed to keep the ship’s residents moving including an open-air fitness deck that features a jogging track, group classes such as yoga, and a multi-sport court with sweeping views of the ocean and coastline. There is also a marina with kayaks, sailboats and paddle boards to encourage an active outdoor lifestyle.
Besides the wellness facilities and the unique experience of traveling the world, the ship boasts pools and jacuzzis with panoramic views, education facilities to support lifelong learning, a restaurant dedicated to farm-to-table food, and a solar-powered garden for growing organic vegetables on board.
MV Narrative’s chief health officer is resident anti-aging specialist, Dr. Brian Martin, founder of EnerChanges (Canada’s first optimal aging and living clinic, est. 1993). The onboard clinic features functional medicine including cutting-edge wellness solutions and treatments such as those mentioned in this article.
And remember that all-important factor of social connections and happy hours? The ship has 20 restaurants and bars, and a community of 1,000 like-minded people living aboard and traveling the world together.
Like our motto says; "Live a longer, healthier and happier life with Storylines"