Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do"

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  This is my favorite way to travel.  When I go to a country, I want to breathe the way that they breathe, I want to sing the way that they sing, and if they dance the cha-cha-cha, I will be cha-cha’ing all the way to my hotel room.  This is the best way to learn, I believe, the differences in cultures so that you can expand and grow in the ways that you need to in order to become a more authentic, defined individual.    

Lately, I have been thinking about how life has changed in America.  Not like I have personal experience living in America 100 years ago, but I can imagine how much life has changed. 

I can even remember to my time in high school up until now how much our lives have changed.  I remember typing a paper on a typewriter in high school.  I remember going to college and having a desktop computer and having to sit in my room in order to do my papers.  I don’t remember having technology attached to my ear, hip, and shoulder. 

I don’t remember ever seeing lawnmowers that mowed by themselves, or computers as small as a phone, or seeing my dad using a snow blower.  I remember the days of rakes, shovels, desktop computers, and landline phones.  I remember NOT owning a phone in middle school and actually using a pay phone or the school phone in order to call my mother.

I remember growing up and playing outside, playing with my dog, climbing a tree.  I remember imagining people and places and creating stories with my friends.  I remember playing with Barbie’s, coloring, and creating art projects that my mother would judge and give prizes.

Now as I look around at our children, my friends, and myself all I see is humanity drowning in technology.  And we wonder why we are not healthy and why we are not happy….true social connections have become about a computer or Facebook.  Celebrating a birthday means receiving 400 messages on my Facebook page and maybe 1 phone call from my friend who actually makes the effort to call me instead of Facebook me.

It is a strange phenomenon and I wonder how we break free from the vicious cycle that seems to just suck us in until we are caught up in a technology sand storm that does not relent until we cannot feel as a normal human being feels.  We become like machines, we become like the technology that we feed on every day. 

And what does this have to do with health?  With my health, with your health?  It has everything to do with our mentality, our emotional connections, and our ability to breathe, to laugh, to play, and to be human. 

Also, in all the longevity cultures that I have studied, daily physical activity was a huge part of their longevity secret.  Some of the oldest Italian men lived as shepherds and walked miles every day.  A lot of the oldest people in longevity cultures worked in their own gardens every day, weeding, planting, and maintaining the food that they would be eating.

If I think of a typical day in the life of an American, it would be:  wake up to phone alarm, check text messages and message back, turn on computer and check email, eat breakfast, jump in the car and go to work, sit on a computer all day, jump in car and come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed.  Somewhere in the mix of things we may mow the lawn (with a riding lawn mower, or we will pay the kid down the block, or we will buy a fancy automatic mower that moves and mows on its own), we may get rid of snow using the following avenues (snow blower, pay the kid down the block, or a shovel)…the vast majority of people would shovel last and chose the other options first. 

The funny thing is that most of us would work the gym into our schedule.  We mow our lawn by sitting on a tractor that mows for us and then we rush off to the gym to fit in a workout or we complain that we don’t have time in our day to workout.

What if we found ways to fit in “working out” into our daily schedules?  What if we found ways to move daily by making things harder instead of easier?  Let’s sell the snow blower and invest in a back-friendly shovel and shovel instead of going to the gym.  Or, let’s sell the riding law mower and buy a push mower and mow instead of going to the gym.

Most of the people in longevity cultures never owned a membership to a gym.  In fact, if someone built a gym and tried to gain members, they would go bankrupt fast because the people in these longevity cultures would not understand the purpose of a gym for all the physical labor that they are doing day in and day out.

I know that the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”  However, sometimes the Romans would die early for doing stupid things and if I want to plan to be healthy and live long, I may want to rebel against the “Roman” way of life and live an authentic life, caring for my physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nicoya, Costa Rica

The last Blue Zone that we are going to look at is Nicoya, Costa Rica.   In Nicoya, Panchita tends to her garden every day, doing her daily chores, and preparing food for herself and her son.  Looking at Panchita, you would think that she was 70 years old, and a robust 70 at that.  Panchita is very agile and busy every day.  She feels great purpose in seeing her grandchildren grow and making sure that her family is doing well. 

Panchita is 100 years old and one of the many centurions in Nicoya, Costa Rica.  She is outside every day and receiving vitamin D from the sunshine.  Vitamin D is a common deficiency that I see every day with my clients in Minnesota.  In the summer, sunblock keeps our body from absorbing vitamin D.  I usually recommend at least 20 minutes a day in the sun without sunblock so that your body can absorb Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is not found in a lot of foods and is best absorbed from the sun. 

For food, Panchita prepares traditional, non-processed food every day.  She makes tortillas from fortified maize (not at all like our genetically modified corn in America), beans, and uses vegetables from her garden.  It is interesting that every Blue Zone has a different diet that contributes to longevity, but the common denominator is traditional, non-processed food.  In America, most people would say that “traditional” American food is hamburgers, potatoes, fries, and pizza.  This is not quite the traditional cuisine that we should be aiming for in our plan to increase our capacity for longevity.

Panchita eats a heavy, full breakfast, while in the evening she eats a very light dinner.  This is a common custom to Nicoya.  Eating a light meal helps the body to detoxify and restore health while sleeping.  Eating a heavy meal right before sleeping can cause sleep disturbances and interfere with the body’s ability to heal and restore during sleep. 

Panchita’s mentality and perspective on food is “food gives life.”  She focusing on the life-giving properties of food and not on the gratification of taste buds or fulfilling a certain craving.  If you think about your perspective and mentality on food and how you eat, it tends to lead you towards a healthy lifestyle or an unhealthy lifestyle.  It is so important that we shift our thinking and beliefs about food so that we can move towards a healthy mentality of eating. 

The last “secret” to health in Nicoya, is the amazing mineral-rich water that is found everywhere.  Their water supply has not been tainted or changed and contains the minerals needed for optimal health.  Unfortunately, in America, most of our water has been “supplemented” with chlorine and fluoride, which can negatively affect the quality and health of the water. 

In Nicoya, we can learn to eat more traditional, non-processed food, to gain Vitamin D from the sunshine, to shift our belief system about food, to focus on our families, find mineral rich water sources, and to have daily purpose to living.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Sardinia, Italy

In other cultures, elders are revered and looked to for wisdom and understanding.  The knowledge of elders is valued as much as a rich inheritance for a young person. 

Through studying and looking at Blue Zones, cultures where people are living past 100 years old with no medications and no real aliments or health complaints, I come to see that American culture has come up wanting in the aging process.

It seems that we fear aging and fear plays into the dysfunction and deterioration of the aging process.  What we fear becomes us and may come upon us.  It is important that we believe that we can be healthy that we can possess health.

From the belief that we can possess health, we will be empowered to take action in order to take care of our health.  We will pay attention to what we eat, learn what we should look for in food, we will exercise, rest, and eat for health and not for enjoyment or pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong, healthful eating tastes great….but our taste buds have become skewed and have grown accustomed to processed foods, sweets, and unhealthy fats.  We have more and more food cravings, which show our deficiencies rather than our health and functionality. 

Let’s look at one of the blue zones and see what we can learn.  The first blue zone I will have us look at is Sardinia, Italy.  In Sardinia, there are many people living past the age of 100 in a healthful manner.  For example, Mr. Mura is 102 years old and lives at home with his 65-year old daughter.   

Mr. Mura is a staple in their household and he is celebrated as other elders are in Sardinia.  Mr. Mura gives wisdom and insight and helps with the daily activities of the household.  When he was younger (like 80 years old), he worked as a shepherd, caring for sheep and goats.  Mr. Mura, as well as many elders in Sardinia, derive a great sense of purpose out of building their family and pouring into the generations.  This helps to give them a will to live because of the great purpose and meaning that they find in their family.

Also, in Sardinia, they are not too serious about life.  They know how to laugh and enjoy their lives.  Mr. Mura is no exception.  He keeps a light, humorous stance on many things that happen in life.    Sardonic humor has its roots in this Italian city.   

Two of their most healing foods are their fermented foods as well as their raw dairy.  They enjoy raw goats milk, cheeses, and raw sheep’s milk as well.  Their diet consists of nutrient dense foods that are not processed in any way.  They eat off the land and eat what is given to them in nature.

America has had an influence, however, and some of the younger generations who are adopting American lifestyles are gaining weight and struggling with many of the same health problems facing Americans.

To sum up, in Sardinia and from the life of Mr. Mura, we learn the importance of having meaning in life, incorporating daily exercise, eating raw and fermented foods, as well as finding the time to laugh and enjoy living!

Next week, we will explore a few more Blue Zones to learn how to incorporate lifestyle changes to our own lives that will help increase our longevity and quality of life.