We all want to live long, healthy lives, and while there are certainly cards we are dealt over which we have no control, there are actions we can take – habits we can adopt – that will increase our chances of hitting that centenarian mark. Or, at least, lengthen our life spans and – arguably more importantly – decrease our chances of developing a chronic, debilitating disease such as coronary artery disease, type II diabetes, or dementia.
There have been many books written about the keys to longevity – one must only look to the blue zones of the world to see that there are common denominators to every healthy lifestyle – so I am not introducing anything groundbreaking or previously unheard of. Rather, my goal in introducing the FRW Five for Life is to simplify life decisions as much as possible. To remove as many barriers to entry to an active, healthy lifestyle as possible and make these life-lengthening actions as feasible, familiar, and relatable as possible.
I will be introducing concepts and, most importantly, actionable advice over the coming weeks and months, with the intent of helping you incrementally change your life for the better.
There will be no crash diets here, no suggestions to run a marathon or forego happy hour in favor of hitting the gym. But there will be small steps that, combined together, can lead to big, positive changes in your life.
While I have read every book and article about the blue zones of the world (in case you don’t know, the original blue zones are the five regions of the world that were identified as having the lowest incidence of chronic disease and the longest lifespans), and I would love to live like people of Sardinia do – a more agrarian lifestyle with few deadlines and an emphasis on big family gatherings – or nurture a garden fit for daily consumption and full with an abundance of herbs and spices like people of Ikaria, Greece do, the reality is that I live in a very urban area where deadlines, achievements, traffic, full schedules, and lengthy to-do lists are damn near impossible to avoid. And so I must tailor a blue zones-inspired life to the reality of my situation. It may not be possible for me to take a long nap in the afternoon or spend hours in my garden in the morning, but there ARE tweaks I can make to my hectic, stressful life that make a substantial, meaningful difference to my overall health. And this, this list of five areas YOU can control, is my gift to you. With more advice, programs, challenges, and invitations for discussion to come. Without further ado, the basic tenets of FRW Five for Life. With much clarification to come, so keep an eye out for more!
· Foundational diet – I could offer a multitude of cliched phrases here: you are what you eat, bodies are made in the kitchen, etc. But the sad truth is that many of us are more careful about the quality of ingredients in our pets’ food (no offense to our lovely pets), or the quality of gas we put in our cars. And yet, it’s a simple, unavoidable truth: if you aren’t discriminating about what you put into your body, your health will suffer. Our bodies are, after all, akin to machines – albeit finicky, unpredictable machines. And quality of fuel matters. We all have personal preferences when it comes to food and drinks. I, for example, don’t drink alcohol, have a serious penchant for a good, milky coffee, and eat a largely vegetarian diet. I check a lot of boxes with that diet. And yet I do have a pretty aggressive sweet tooth, my penchant for coffee teeters dangerously close to overdoing it some days, and I’m a busy, working mom for whom convenience sometimes seems more important than nutrition. So what I will say is this: if you aim to eat healthy 70-80% of the time, you’re doing pretty well. And there will be far more to come on the subject of diet – I could fill books with this topic alone – but my general guidance for now is simple:
o Your diet should be 70-80% whole foods with minimally processed foods rounding out the other 20-30%. **side note here: foods that have been processed in ANY way (cut up/packaged in a bag or box, etc. technically count as processed – try to avoid the ultra-processed foods for maximum results…cookies, chips, granola bars, pastries, etc.)
o Vegetables and fruits should make up 50% of each meal. No excuses, no exceptions.
o Meat should be a side dish. This is not my personal vegetarian crusade against carnivores. Even lean meat is not necessary for a healthy, well-balanced diet. Error on the side of chicken and fish if you must and make red meat a rare indulgence.
o Smaller meals for a better day. There are many schools of thought about how often you should eat, how many meals per day you should eat, etc., and while this is partially about personal preference and schedule, the reality is this: large, filling meals are more likely to slow you down, make you feel sluggish, and impede your motivation (and digestion). Snacking in smart ways can be a great move, and big dinners are generally to be avoided.
· Functional movement – I am VERY definitely not saying that you shouldn’t exercise for the sake of exercise. Running is a core part of my daily life – it helps keep me healthy and accountable, it’s my destressing time, and – quite often – my quiet time. And whatever your fitness preference is, devoting time out of your day to work out is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.
But what I AM saying with functional movement is that, to truly reap the rewards of moving your body, movement must NOT stop when you leave the gym. Heading home to crash on the couch or sit at your computer for the rest of the day effectively negates much of the benefit of exercise. And, if you look to those blue zones of the world, most people who live in these longevity hot spots do NOT exercise intentionally; rather, they are active throughout the day by virtue of their lifestyles. They garden, they farm, they walk to their errands, to their friends’ houses, etc. So my suggestion is this: make movement a part of every hour of your day.
· Sleep & Stress – I’m lumping these two together because they often go hand-in-hand. Stressed out people tend to sleep less, and those of us who struggle to get good quality sleep are often very stressed as a result. This is definitely a tough one for me, as I’ve long had a very difficult time with sleep. I can fall asleep quite easily, but to say I am a light sleeper is like saying Michael Jordan was an ok basketball player. I’ve convinced myself that I’ve learned to live with less sleep, but I’ve become more attuned in recent years to the fact that quality of sleep and finding ways to reduce the stress that plagues many of us on a daily basis are critical to longevity and mental health.
· Family & Friends – this is an area that is often woefully overlooked in the United States. We are busy people, often running from appointment to appointment and only seeing our extended family and/or friends on special occasions planned weeks – if not months – in advance. In addition, there is a very American aversion to living near – or *shudder* WITH – your elders once you are a functional adult. Unless you are a first or second generation immigrant of a culture that places value on extended family, it’s likely you either live states away from your parents and grandparents. Of, if you do live within easy driving distance, you have placed very specific limitations of how
often you see each other.
I’m making no value statement here (I can’t truthfully say that I live within easy driving distance of either my father or my brother), but the truth is that spending time with extended family – and with friends – has been proven to have a tremendously beneficial impact on health time and again.
· Living Life with a Purpose – this is something I had admittedly not given much thought to until recent years. In truth, whether my life had a purpose never really crossed my mind until my mother passed away in 2017, at which point I really began to question and retool my life choices. Saying “I need a purpose” sounds cheesy at best and hugely privileged at worst – after all, there are many people in this world for whom finding a purpose ranks well below finding enough food every day to live. And yet, if you are lucky enough to be in the position of considering this question, then you owe it to yourself to really give it some thought. I am not saying we all need a lofty purpose such as “my life should be dedicated to eradicating poverty in third world countries”. Certainly commendable if that’s your direction, but I’m talking more about finding that thing, that spark inside you that gets you up each day, that gets you excited about seeing what the day brings. I won’t tell you what I think my purpose is now, but I would encourage each of you reading this to consider yours. 😊