By: Kuan Wang
When was the last time you considered the health benefits of the meal you just ate? If you are a resident of Boulder, CO it was probably fairly recently. Boulder proudly holds the title of having the lowest obesity rate in America since 2008. From its booming farmers market, to the $63 million spent on remodeling the university recreational center, Boulder County residents pride ourselves on being conscious of our health and the health of our environment. The whole purpose of being healthy and environmentally conscious is to lead a happy and hopefully, long life. Researcher, Dan Buettner, names Boulder as the happiest city in the United States. However, Buettner also has some advice to extend the longevity of one’s life. If you are a gym rat, much like myself, or just interested in trying to reach the triple digits on your birthday cake, then Buettner has some research that is quite relevant to us.
It turns out that longevity is not just dependent on what we eat and how we frequently go to the gym. It is a complex combination of diet, mental wellness, environment, and family. Buettner spent years researching five areas with the highest rates of longevity, which he calls the Blue Zones. The Blue Zones include Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Ogliastra Region (Sardinia), Loma Linda (California), and Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica). All his years of research boil down to nine main contributions to longevity known as the Power Nine: moving naturally, having purpose in life, downshifting stress, eating to 80% rule, maintaining a plant-based diet, enjoying wine at 5pm, having a strong social group, creating community, and putting loved ones first. When people follow these nine rules, they are able to feel a sense of belonging and happiness, which, in turn, can lead to longevity. However, I will be focusing primarily on diets and an active lifestyle.
We are constantly bombarded with viral diets ranging from veganism to paleo. With social media telling us different health tips from left and right, it is difficult to know what foods actually benefit us. After analyzing the Blue Zones, Buettner advises to eat a plant-based diet heavy in carbohydrates and low in protein. This may come as a surprise to many people -- but hear him out. The Blue Zones’ meals consist of a large portion of beans, rice, yams, and bread, all of which are carbohydrates. Their diets are still low fat and there is still meat incorporated into them, but meat does not seem to be as important of a component as people may think. It functions as more of a side dish than a main course.
There is also an absence of everything greasy, fattening, and processed. Just imagine living a lifestyle without French fries, Chipotle, artificially flavored ice tea, and vanilla lattes. Although giving up these things is hard, Buettner argues that they contribute to a shorter life span due to their high caloric count, chemicals, and sugar amount. Eating less will also be beneficial. Large portions may seem like we are getting our money’s worth, but we are also getting served extra calories, which will be converted and saved as fat because the human body does not need that much food. The famous Okinawa Diet tells people to eat until they are 80% full, which will make the difference between storing energy and gaining unnecessary weight. However there’s no need to complain the next time you get served too much food. Simply cut the portion size in half, and save half for later!
Thank goodness that Boulder has the Flatirons and is at the base of the Rocky Mountains. Easy access to the beautiful outdoors encourages many residents to be more energetic and to stay fit. This is uplifting because Buettner addresses how the residences of the Blue Zones all lead active lifestyles. However, due to the lack of advancements in many of the Blue Zones, the active lifestyle is due to not having access to cars, or to being farmers and shepherds. They do not have to constantly remind themselves to go to the recreational center; rather, their everyday lives force them to walk almost everywhere. Going to the store requires a walk, going to church requires a walk, and almost every other activity does too. Although walking is not a high intensity workout, it is a relaxing way to keep the body in shape and active. It is not quite the same as the weightlifting and cardio-intensive fitness that Americans often think of. However, in general, Buettner reminds everyone to stay active. This may be incredibly difficult due to the different lifestyles Boulder residents have, especially if someone has a 9-5 office job. However, taking the time to walk around, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or bike to work all contribute to the active lifestyle.
It also is important to remember that if our jobs restrict our active lifestyle, we can combat that by eating fewer calories. In no way does this mean to starve yourself. However, Buettner discovered the number of calories a normal, relatively sedentary American eats daily is equivalent to if not greater than the amount shepherds in Sardinia, Italy (who are out all day) eat. The difference is that they are active all day, and many Americans sit around all day. We can eat fewer calories, and in a healthy manner cut out the unhealthy, processed fats in our diet. It will reduce the amount of exercise needed to combat the food intake. But even if we reduce our caloric intake, it is still important to lead an active lifestyle, which luckily, Boulder County provides the perfect environment for!
Following Buettner’s advice does not guarantee a longer life; however, statistically, people who follow this lifestyle do have longer lives. Just remember to eat healthy, keep going to the gym, hike the Flatirons, and walk or bike to work, but also remember to take some time off to socialize with your family and friends. Have a night with wine and a romantic comedy. Find purpose in your job and happiness in everyday small routines. Who knows? Maybe Boulder will become not only the happiest, healthiest place in the United States, but also have the highest rate of longevity!