Imagine watching a century of beautiful sunrises as you begin your day. Or spending time with family as you take in a hundred years of sunsets.
We live in the United States, the most prosperous country in the world. And yet, we are lonelier than ever, craving social connections, a need to belong, to be counted. Even before the pandemic, 20 percent of Americans who were 65 years or older, reported feeling socially isolated. Life expectancy has been dropping steadily for the last 4 years.
Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, in his book, Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World, he writes: “Loneliness ran like a dark thread through many of the more obvious issues that people brought to my attention, like addiction, violence, anxiety, and depression. . . . Clearly there was something about our disconnection from one another that was making people’s lives worse than they had to be.”
So, if more prosperity doesn’t seem to work for us, what could?
Enter, the Blue Zones
As shown in his recent Netflix documentary (Live to 100, Secrets of the Blue Zones), Dan Buettner travelled the world searching for pockets of longevity.
He found it in five disparate communities with a common thread running through them all - the interconnectedness in their way of life and the role of nature in building the social fabric. He called these communities, the Blue Zones.
During his travels, Dan observed, “My thoughts returned to the Blue Zones, where I’d learned the priceless value of slowing down, of engaging in long conversations with a neighbor, of unrushed family dinners, of eating low off the food chain, and of cooking at home. Of walking to the places I need to go—and if they were too far away, of moving closer to them. Of getting closer to family, to beauty, to nature, and to the rhythms of life”
What a beautiful way to live!
We’ve realized that loneliness has a cost
Our social connections aren’t a luxury; they’re critical to our physical and mental well-being. Loneliness causes depression, dementia and cognitive dysfunction and now, there is also robust evidence that social neglect increases risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and premature mortality.
Loneliness also affects the immune system. It is ironic, the very thing that protected us in the pandemic - isolation - also negatively affects our immunity.
It is clear from numerous studies, that we function less efficiently when we are denied the pleasures that social connections. Throughout life, we have a variety of relationships and we need almost all of them to lead a happy and healthy life.
What are the people in the Blue Zones doing differently?
Here are some of the key findings that Dan shares about people in the Blue Zones:
Blue Zones are invariably located close to nature, where trails, streams, forests and hills are easily accessible to the people. Spending time outdoors is both a necessity and a priority and contribute to overall well-being.
People in the blue zones live active lives. They move around every 20 minutes or - walking around, doing chores, housework or visiting friends. Walking is the primary means of commute.
They don’t have a gym regime, instead, activity is part of their daily routines - cleaning, cooking, gardening, woodworking, everything that they need to live.
Many Blue Zone inhabitants follow a primarily plant-based diet rich in vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
The social fabric is strongly woven such that everyone has friends and family to spend time with, laugh, share joys and food with.
The community is organized around interest groups - exercise, faith, hobby or community welfare.
A sense of purpose and engagement with life, even in older age, is often cited as a key factor in longevity. There is an active give and take that builds a thriving community spirit in all residents.
Deliberate time in Nature
Folks in Blue Zones are there for each other. Until a couple of decades ago, they were more independent of outside help than before.
How did they build this culture of care?
When spending significant time outside, the Blue Zone residents automatically included walks, foraging, sharing food, building fires, alongside more traditional active conservation activity like planting, clearing and coppicing.
Feeling present and “held” in their natural environments nurtured positive forms of social connection among them. Friendships and relationships originating in a cooperative way of life, are usually lifelong.
Time in nature, the hardiness of their life has taught them the importance of a social network to rely on or fall back on. An additional benefit of nature driven wellness is that what we consider precious, we save. All "Blue Zone" communities lean towards less invasive approaches to farming, animal rearing or clearing forests.
This is as close as we can get to the natural rhythm of human life as it was meant to be. Dan’s finding can be summed up thus, “People are connected, and so their health is.”
MyTrailPals serves as a catalyst, motivating individuals to remain physically active, immerse themselves in the natural world, and cultivate a supportive community of outdoor enthusiasts. We wholeheartedly support the notion that nature holds the potential to combat loneliness and act as a gateway to the "Blue Zone" – a region known for its longevity and well-being