Happy senior couple looking at sunset

By Joan M. O’Brien, RN, MSN, CDP®

Joan O'Brien

Interfaith Community Partners has chosen the word “well-being” for its word of the year for 2022. On the heels of the pandemic and the ensuing isolation and challenges that severely affected the well being of many people, this is the year’s new buzzword.

Well-being is sought by just about everyone. Simply put, it’s about living a life of joy and pleasure. Well-being includes so many positive factors that include:

  • Physical health
  • Emotional/mental health
  • Having a sense of purpose
  • Work-life balance
  • Social connectedness
  • Spiritual connectedness

This brings to mind areas around the world known as “Blue Zones.” Dan Buettner, American National Geographic Fellow and founder of the Blue Zones, traveled the world over to meet the planet’s longest living people and to find common elements of lifestyle, diet and outlook that led to an amazing quantity and quality of life. He found that people living in the Blue Zones not only live a longer and medically healthier life, but are content, happy and fulfilled. The Blue Zone regions are Ikaria, an island in Greece; Okinawa, an island in Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, a small city in California; and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. These regions share nine evidence-based commonalities that contribute to all aspects of well-being.

  1. They move naturally. They walk, they garden, they do housework. They live in environments where they move without thinking about it. They don’t run marathons or join gyms and don’t have mechanical conveniences for housework or yard work.
  2. They have a purpose. They know why they wake up in the morning. This makes them happier and healthier and actually can add up to seven years of life expectancy.
  3. They downshift. They have routines to shed stress. They have frequent social gatherings, meditation, and regular walks in nature. Adventists pray, Ikarians nap, Sardinians do happy hour.
  4. They follow an 80% rule when eating. They stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. They have their smallest meal early in the evening and eat slowly.
  5. They have a “plant slant”diet. Beans are the cornerstone of their diet. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains are included. They eat three to four ounces of meat per month.
  6. They have wine at 5:00. They drink wine moderately and regularly. Made with seeds and skins, wine has antioxidant properties.
  7. They put family first. They have close and strong family connections. Often extended families live in or close to home.
  8. They belong to a faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t matter. Attending faith- or spiritual-based services four times per month can add four to fourteen years to life expectancy.
  9. They are part of the “right tribe.” They have close friends and strong social networks with healthy behaviors.

Each of the above is important to an overall sense of well-being. We can learn from the people of these regions. It may take time and effort to build a new skilset to incorporate some of the above. It is a lifelong journey, but worth the effort. It will add years to your life and life to your years.

The secret to living well and longer is eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure.

Tibetan Proverb