With the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth ll, at the age of 96, I am inspired by her superlative reign, her unwavering dedication to public service and mostly, the amount of years she spent happily and healthily as the second longest reigning monarch in our history. She is a symbol of resilience and strength both personally and professionally.
Her last public appearance was just days before her passing. Queen Elizabeth II met with Prime Minister Liz Truss at Balmoral two days before her death for the handover of power following the exit of Boris Johnson. All that to say, she worked up until 48 hrs prior to her death. Her Majesty truly embodied healthy ageing.
Queen Elizabeth ll, led an incredibly active lifestyle up until her death. Her life was a delicate balance of personal and professional activities. As a young woman she served in the British Armed Forces. She was a sportswoman, an equestrian who hunted on horseback, and loved walking in the countryside with her beloved dogs. She was a fan of Scottish country dancing, stamp collecting, pigeon racing and a deeply devoted Christian. She even discovered a love of gardening at age 91. According to one of her chefs she was quite a simple eater, preferring wild fish and game. What is clear is that Queen Elizabeth II did not suffer from any kind of degenerative disease, but died of natural causes. It invites the question, what did she do to live such a long and healthy life?
Theories in longevity abound. Studies on healthy ageing look to factors such as genetics, lifestyle, environment, diet, activity level, happiness, stress, all of the above or some combination thereof. I believe in the latter. A long lifespan is the cumulative result of doing small things, consistently over time. One such study that reflects this is called the Blue Zones.
What began as a National Geographic expedition, led by Dan Buettner, to uncover the secrets of longevity, evolved into the discovery of the 5 places around the world where people consistently live over 100 years, dubbed the Blue Zones. In fact, Dan and his team of demographers, scientists and anthropologists were able to distil the evidence-based common denominators of these Blue Zones into 9 commonalities that they call the Power 9.
The 5 Blue Zones are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California USA
To put this in perspective, the average lifespan in Canada is 82, the United States is 78, and the United Kingdom is 81. So the people in the Blue zones live on average another decade plus longer than their North America counterparts. But why?
Let’s examine the Power 9 commonalities of the people in the Blue zones:
- Engage in everyday physical activities
- Have a greater purpose in life
- Engage in activities that manage stress
- Eat to 80% full
- Eat a mainly plant based diet
- Enjoy moderate wine consumption daily
- Have strong social networks
- Belong to faith based communities
- Prioritise family first
While we can’t control the genes we were born with, It seems by these criteria that we don’t need to move to Blue Zone areas to adopt their diet and lifestyle traits. In fact, we have within our reach the ability to create our own Blue Zone, right in our own backyard.
Diving deeper into these 9 traits, here are some actionable steps that you can implement daily to live like a centenarian.
- Engage in everyday physical activity.
- Physical activity doesn’t have to mean going to the gym.
- Walk at lunch. Listen to an audio book or podcast while walking.
- Consider a stand up desk or a balance ball vs traditional office chair.
- Go dancing instead of the movies.
- Preplan your daily activities.
- Commit to trying new active things. Hiking, Biking, Walking, Yoga. You don’t need to run a marathon, just start something today.
- Have a greater purpose in life.
- Create your own mission statement or raison d’être.
- Remind yourself daily – what have I done or what could I do to actively support this?
- Get rid of negative things that detract from your purpose
- Participate in community or faith based activities
- Seek out mutually supportive relationships
- Engage in activities that manage stress.
- Journaling – Write to yourself daily. This will help you gain control of your thoughts and feelings, help you organise your life, which will in turn reduce stress.
- Try Yoga. Early morning yoga will loosen you up and put you in the right mindspace for the day ahead.
- Deep breathing or meditation – lots of great apps for this purpose (Headspace)
- Pay huge attention to your sleep quality. It is key to physical and mental restoration. 7 hrs/night minimum. There are lots of ways to work on sleep quality without taking prescription sleep medication.
- Eat to 80% full.
- This is a simple concept but requires attentive eating.
- Allocate at least 20 minutes to eat each meal. Chew each bite thoroughly.
- Don’t eat in front of the TV or computer – it’s distracting from the task at hand.
- Use a smaller plate and/or only take 80% of what you would consider your normal portion size. That way you can eat everything on your plate without guilt.
- Don’t skip meals – being ravenous isn’t congruent with this practice.
- Eat a mainly plant based diet
- 95% of the diet in Blue Zones is plant based
- Blue Zone eating habits can be compared to the Mediterranean diet in some ways which consists largely of fish, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.
- Start with 50% plant based and work your way up.
- Commit to having ½ your plate plant based at any given meal. Beans and legumes are excellent plant based sources of protein.
- Low carb veggies are best, low glycemic fruit is also good. It’s easy to find great examples of this on the internet.
- Plants provide antioxidants, which quash inflammation in your body. Inflammation is necessary at times for acute healing but a slow burning fire in your body due to chronic inflammation will manifest into a disease state.
- Picky about eating fruits and veggies? Take good quality supplements for what’s missing in your diet.
- Vitamin D3 for bone health and immunity
- B Vitamins for Stress
- Magnesium for Sleep and Relaxation
- Omega 3 fatty acids for Inflammation
- Probiotics for gut health and immune support
- Find your spiritual nourishment.
- Engage in social activities.
- Make your family your first priority.
- Strengthen your social network.
- Call a friend you haven spoken to in a while.
- Try something new – it will expand your social network.
Reflecting back on Queen Elizabeth II, she actually did embrace many common traits of the Blue Zones. She had strong religious faith, an incredible network of supporters, engaged in numerous physical activities, hobbies and interests. She had a clear and meaningful purpose in her life, and had a supportive companion in Prince Philip for almost 74 years. It doesn’t appear that she ate a plant based diet however, given the fact that she had a chef, it’s plausible to believe she did not dine on fast food or processed foods as is reflective of the Standard American Diet.
The takeaway here is that the quality of your diet and lifestyle directly affects the quality and quantity of your lifespan. Be conscious of those areas that require attention and make small changes consistently to improve the overall picture.
Be your own longevity changemaker!
Advice and/or information provided is not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent disease.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As a Certified Nutritional Practitioner in Holistic Nutrition, I take an integrative approach to health that considers diet, lifestyle, environment, mindfulness, stress and of course the uniqueness of each individual in their journey towards ultimate health and wellbeing. I can be reached at [email protected] or via my website www.nutritiondispensary.ca
Kyra Lidkie, BA, CNP
Nutrition Dispensary Inc.