While you may have heard the term “mind-body connection,” you may not realize how important it is to healthy aging. The premise is that our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect how our bodies function, just as what we eat and how much we exercise can affect our mental state. It’s something that residents in Blue Zones®, five regions in the world where people seem to live the longest, know all too well and why they incorporate mental wellness practices in daily life just as they do physical wellness. Here’s how you can too.
A Blue Zones® Approach to Healthy Aging
While Blue Zones regions are geographically dispersed - Sardinia, Italy; the Greek island of Ikaria; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan – residents there share lifestyle traits that researchers believe help them to live healthier, happier and longer lives. These lifestyle traits are known as The Power 9®. We’ve described each of the traits in our previous blog, 9 Secrets to Healthy Aging from the Blue Zones, but two of the traits specifically relate to mental wellness:
● Purpose – Find a reason to get up and out of bed every day.
● Down Shift – Create a daily routine that helps you reduce stress.
Mental Wellness Tips from Blue Zones
Unfortunately, mental wellness as we age is often not as much of a priority as it should be. In fact, approximately 15% of adults aged 60 and over suffer from a mental disorder according to the World Health Organization (WHO); the most common are depression and anxiety. But, as Blue Zones residents have found, being proactive about mental wellness is easier (and more beneficial) than you may think. Tips include:
Purpose – Called “Ikigai” by the Okinawans and “Plan de Vida” by the Nicoyans; both translate to “Why I wake up in the morning.” And it’s this purpose that Blue Zones’ researchers say can add up to seven years to your life expectancy. To find, or renew, your purpose, try:
● Making sure you’re open to new opportunities and then begin trying new things like joining a club, taking a class, learning a new skill; the possibilities are endless!
● Thinking about the talents and strengths you have to offer and how you may be able to expand on them through volunteering for example.
● Considering the books, movies, hobbies or even types of people that you’re drawn to and why; you may be able to find purpose in the things you already love!
Down Shift – Blue Zones residents have stress in their daily lives just like us, but they also have set daily routines to help them reduce its effects on their health like taking moments each day to remember their ancestors (Okinawans), praying (Adventists), taking a nap (Ikarians) and enjoying happy hour (Sardinians). To reduce your stress, try:
• Practicing gratitude by making a list of 4-5 things you are grateful for to reference when feeling stressed, or keep a daily gratitude journal which is also a wonderful way to preserve some of your most fond memories.
• Meditating, which can take many forms such as Tai Chi, yoga, breathing deeply, repeating a mantra, and/or spending time reflecting in nature.
• Getting better sleep by following a regular sleep schedule, minimizing naps, having a bedtime routine to wind down, and creating a safe, comfortable place to sleep.
For more information on how to apply these practices in senior living, download our Guide to Living Better, or contact us today to schedule a virtual or in-person tour by calling 540.777.7103.