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How to Live to 100: Nine Healthy Blue Zone Habits

They’re known as the Blue Zones: Areas around the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live to be 100+ years old). These Blue Zone areas include parts of Japan, Mexico, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, and even Southern California.

In 2005, author Dan Buettner launched a research project seeking to learn the longevity secrets of these vibrant cultures which culminated in the 2008 publication of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. Although I haven’t read the book, Buettner’s research has been well documented. His work is a fascinating summary of what makes the world’s healthiest people so healthy.

Despite the fact that people live longer today than ever before, let’s face it: Most of us know very few people who make it even close to 100 years old, much less any full-fledged centenarians. Yet Buettner’s work features people like Francesca Castillo of Costa Rica, who, at 100 years old, still cut her own wood and cleared brush from her yard with a machete.

What sets centenarians apart? Is it purely genetics, or are there specific practices we can identify and adopt to help us increase our own life spans? Here are nine habits which, according to Buettner, centenarians throughout the world’s Blue Zones all share:

People who live in Blue Zones walk... a lot.

1. Walk…a lot. This reminds me of the best selling book, Eat, Move, Sleep by Tom Rath, who points out that sitting more than six hours a day is the most underrated public health problem in America. According to Buettner, Blue Zoners walk practically all day, not because they necessarily want to, but because most of them don’t own a car. While that’s not an option for most people, (something that, in my line of work, I’m grateful for!) Buettner recommends finding a place to live that favors activity and connectivity.

2. Don’t retire. Refocus. Blue Zoners all share a deep sense of purpose for their lives. They greet each day with a compelling reason to live. The traditional definition of “retirement” simply doesn’t exist in their vocabulary.

3. Find a de-stressing ritual. Although faced with the same worries we all have, centenarians manage stress through a variety of daily rituals, such as spending time with friends.

4. Follow the 80% Rule. In the age of super-sized portions, centenarians only eat and drink until they feel 80% full.

5. Eat lots of vegetables. In the Blue Zones, the least expensive and most popular dishes are plant-based. Most eat limited amounts of meat and very little refined sugar and carbohydrates.

6. Drink a little wine. Contrary to popular belief, centenarians, by and large, are not teetotalers, although most drink limited amounts and wine is the drink of choice.

7. Cultivate strong friendships. Blue Zoners are consistently found to have a core group of life long friends who provide stability, intimacy, and support.

8. Be part of a community. There is a strong sense of belonging in Blue Zones; a deep-seated cultural expectation of people caring for one another, often centered around religious faith.

9. Stay married. According to Buettner, a positive, committed relationship adds at least six years to life expectancy.

Here’s a question: What would it mean to the quality of your life–and the strength of your personal brand–if you had the physical, mental, and spiritual capacity to live 100+ years? Which of these nine habits resonate the most with you? Which ones challenge you? I’d love to hear your feedback!

This post was adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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Six Lifestyle Changes You Can Make This Summer

If you live in a place where there are four seasons, the onset of summer brings a welcome change of pace. We go on vacation, spend more time outdoors, hang out with friends and, in general, have more time for reflection and recalibration.

And if your summer reflections include elevating your health and fitness, here are six simple improvements that, based on personal experience, will enhance your energy, improve your well-being, and help you feel more alive and present regardless of the season.

Six Lifestyle Changes You Can Make This Summer

1. Spend more time standing than sitting. In one of my previous posts, I shared some of the growing research linking sitting with increased risks of cancer as well as heart disease, depression, and premature death. Despite the plethora of exercise and other recreation options out there, most of us still spend too much time on our butts–so much so that some health experts have coined the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking.” This summer, be deliberate about spending more of your day standing than you do sitting. From getting a stand up desk to tracking your steps through a fitness app on your phone, spending even an hour or so more on your feet can have a huge impact on your health, especially as you age.

2. Clean up your sleep hygiene. Like sitting, the research on the health implications of sleep are enormous. Over the last several decades, the average amount of sleep has steadily declined (it is currently around 6 1/2 hours). Although digital distractions play a part, the biggest contributor is the myth of sacrificing sleep for productivity. Many people, especially leaders, view sleeping more than 6 hours as being a luxury verses a necessity; for others, the lack of a consistent sleep ritual makes it hard for them to fall asleep after a busy, demanding day. Regardless, if you struggle with sleep, take some deliberate steps this summer to examine your sleep hygiene and create a consistent habit of getting to sleep and waking up at the same time.

3. Breathe through your nose. Sure, the idea of improving your breathing sounds overly simplistic. Yet research once again shows that the majority of Americans have poor breathing habits. The most common bad breathing habit, breathing too much through the mouth, leads to shallow over-breathing, which reduces carbon dioxide levels, causes poor circulation, narrows airways, and builds up toxins in the bloodstream. Committing to a daily practice of deep breathing through your nose stimulates the release of nitric oxide which opens up blood vessels and sterilizes the air in your sinuses, among many other benefits. For a simple, stimulating breathing exercise, revisit this previous post.

4. Eat nutrient dense foods. Together with sleep and stress level, what you eat has the biggest impact on your health and well-being. Unfortunately, much of what the average American consumes today has little resemblance to real food, which is part of why we’re so crippled by chronic disease. The good news is, even small changes in your diet can have a dramatic impact on your wellness, especially if your food choices include nutrient dense foods. In a previous post, I reported on four superfoods that, based on volumes of nutrition research, have a dramatic impact not only on your health, but on your energy as well. Commit to incorporating just one of these nutrient dense foods into your daily diet and watch your energy soar.

5. Avoid sugar. According to research, American’s consumption of sugar has reached staggering levels, explaining why chronic disease is so prevalent despite volumes of information and billions of dollars spent on health care in this country. Consider this: The amount of sugar contained in one can of soda is, by some estimates, more than our 18th century ancestors consumed in an entire year! What’s more, volumes of research has shown that sugar is addictive; the cravings caused by sugar are the similar to those induced by nicotine or cocaine. Excessive consumption of sugar has been linked to cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and nearly every known source of chronic disease. And it’s everywhere–just check the ingredient labels on salad dressings, Gatorade, peanut butter and many other unsuspecting food sources. For a complete guide to quitting sugar that also includes inspiring testimonials and practical strategies, check out Sarah Wilson’s blog, I Quit Sugar.

6. Smile more. Like breathing, the act of smiling seems too simple, too reflexive to have any impact on our health. But surprising research has shown otherwise. A 2010 Wayne State University study, for example, found a direct connection between the length of the smiles of pre-1950’s baseball players (on their baseball cards) and their life spans. Those who smiled brightly in their photos lived an average of eight years longer than those who didn’t smile. Similarly, British researchers postulated that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate. The problems is that, while children smile as many as 400 times a day, by the time they reach adulthood, many report smiling less than 14 times a day, providing other unsuspecting inroads to chronic disease: depression and low energy.

Today, the amount of choices we have in what we consume and how we spend our time is far beyond what our ancestors could have ever imagined. But, as the wise saying goes, with great freedom comes great responsibility. Failing to make good choices for our health can have serious consequences, which is why following these six simple strategies can add years to your life… and life to your years!

Questions: Which one of these resonate with you the most? Why do you think that is? What are some other strategies you have employed to improve your health and well being? I’d love to hear your feedback!

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Everything You Do Matters

I was first introduced to the Butterfly Effect by author and blogger Andy Andrews.

 

A doctrinal thesis published in 1963 by a meteorologist named Edward Lorenz, in short the Butterfly Effect states that a butterfly can flap its wings on one side of the world and set in motion molecules of air that in turn set in motion other molecules of air and eventually create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Ridiculed by the scientific community for more than thirty years, the Butterfly Effect nevertheless persisted in myths and urban legends until physics professors in the mid-1990’s proved it, not only with butterflies and air molecules but with every form of matter…including people. Eventually, the Butterfly Effect became a scientific law called the Law of Sensitive Dependence upon Initial Conditions. When applied to people, it essentially means that all of your actions can shape far-reaching outcomes spanning generations. It means that everything you do matters.

I was reminded of how this law applies to personal branding during a talk I gave as a guest at a local B.N.I. (Business Network International) meeting several years ago. The story begins in Traverse City, Michigan during the summer of 1982 between my junior and senior year of college. My girlfriend–who is now my wife–had just flown in for my sister’s wedding and my parents invited us to join them, my sister and two of my brothers for dinner downtown. Five months earlier, my dad had purchased a Buick dealership in town, taking a small, under-performing franchise and turning it into the top selling dealership in northern Michigan. It was the height of summer in this beautiful, scenic Lake Michigan resort town and our entire family was coming together for a much-anticipated wedding celebration.

After a wonderful dinner we hopped in our cars to head home. While backing out of the parking space, one of us–I cannot recall who–inadvertently sideswiped another car in the cramped parking lot, leaving a 6-inch crease in the rear fender of the parked car.  By this time it was nearly dark and there was on one else in the lot. We could easily have pretended nothing happened, hopped back into our cars, and driven away.

Instead, noticing what had happened, my dad jumped out of his new Buick, surveyed the damage to the other car, pulled a business card out of his wallet, wrote a short message on the back along with his home phone number, and left it on the windshield.

Having witnessed my father’s leadership and personal responsibility my entire life, I was not surprised by his response and never thought about the incident again–until the morning of my B.N.I. presentation nearly 30 years later. Following my brief speech (I can’t recall the topic), each B.N.I. member delivered their customary introduction along with a few comments on my talk. After the first few members spoke, a woman introduced herself and, after some kinds words about my message, proudly mentioned that she and her family had purchased every car they owned from us since the early 1980’s.  Then she explained why.

“I had recently moved to Traverse City back in the early 1980’s and had spent the evening shopping downtown with some friends when I returned to my car and immediately noticed a pretty big dent in the rear fender,” she said, adding that this was the first brand new car she had ever owned and really wanted to keep it looking great. “Frustrated and angry, I walked to the front of the car and noticed a business card stuck in my windshield with your father’s name, phone number, and explanation of what happened. I called him the next day and he was so gracious and apologetic. He not only arranged to fix the dent but he gave me a car to drive while it was in your body shop. To me, the integrity that your father displayed was huge, something I have never forgotten, and as a result, my entire family has done all of our business with your company ever since.”

I was shocked. That was the first time I was reminded of that incident since it happened–it seemed like a lifetime ago.

What does this have to do with the Butterfly Effect?  Everything. What was to my dad a simple act of doing the right thing–his response would have been the same whether anyone had seen it or not–was, to this woman, a rare display of integrity that resulted in lifelong loyalty. And for a big ticket purchase like an automobile, that’s a lot of revenue.

The lesson? The quality of your life–the strength of your personal brand while you’re alive and the legacy you leave after you’re gone–is driven not so much by the major events and big decisions you encounter at key times in your life, but by the seemingly small, everyday decisions you make, both good and bad.  If the flapping wings of a tiny butterfly can affect meteorological events thousands of miles away, imagine the impact of your everyday decisions.

My questions for you: How can you apply the Butterfly Effect to improving your personal brand? What seemingly small decisions have you or those close to you made that have had significant long term consequences? How can a deeper awareness and understanding of this principle impact your life?

This post has been adapted from my 2013 blog post.

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Maximize Your Happiness This Summer

My first big opportunity in the auto business came in the summer of 1986 when my father, determined to avoid the nepotism so prevalent in family-owned businesses, purchased a tiny Ford dealership in Honor, Michigan and commissioned my brother and me to run it by ourselves.

We were thrilled at the prospect of being among the youngest dealership owner/operators in the country. And since it was so small–we opened with seven employees–we personally connected with virtually every customer who walked through our doors, getting to know many of them like family over the years.

I recall one local couple in their early 60’s who purchased a new Ford pickup to haul their newly acquired travel trailer. The husband, having worked in a blue collar job all his life, would tell us how much he was looking forward to retirement. “The last few years have been miserable,” he said, “but when I retire and never have to work another day in my life, then I’ll finally be happy.”

But within four years after his retirement party, the happiness that this hard working man so looked forward to never came: he died of a heart attack.

The Illusion of Happiness

Stories like this are all too common; they illuminate a critical perspective of people who live well. Happiness is never a destination. The problem is, we’ve been taught our entire lives that it is–that if you work hard then you will be successful and only then, once you achieve some milestone in your life like getting married, becoming partner in your firm, or, in my customer’s case, retiring from your job, will you be happy.

by Dennis Ottink via Unsplash.com

In his revealing book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor shares some fascinating findings on the relationship between happiness and accomplishment:

“… New research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around: We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19% faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.”

Years ago, a friend emailed me a document titled, “The Way to Live” by an anonymous author. I think I’ve shared this simple yet profound treatise on living proactively with hundreds of people:

“We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we are frustrated that the kids aren’t old enough and we’ll be more content when they are. After that we’re frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We will certainly be happy when they are out of that stage. We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice vacation, when we retire. The truth is, there’s no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?”

I think the reason this advice resonates so strongly with people is that it’s so intuitively true; at some point in our lives, we’ve all succumbed to this line of thinking.

Here’s the BIG IDEA: As we embrace the changes brought by the summer season, remember that the road to success doesn’t culminate in happiness… it begins with it.

What compromises are you making in the pursuit of maximizing your happiness? What would it mean to the quality of your life if your sense of well being wasn’t connected to any future outcome or circumstance, but to the joy of the journey?

This post has been adapted from my 2015 blog post.

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