If you’re like me, you want to live a long, healthy life, filled with purpose and surrounded by those you love. What are some practical ways to make that dream a reality?
Best-selling author Dan Buettner, along with a team at National Geographic, think they have the answer. They scoured the world for communities of people that lived longer, healthier lives and then researched those people to determine what they were doing differently than the rest of us. His team came up with 9 key traits.
Move naturally. None of the people studied by Buettner exercised in the way that you and I have come to think of exercise. They didn’t run marathons, lift weights or do CrossFit. Instead they moved naturally. They walked, climbed stairs, gardened and/or road their bike for transportation. Movement was a regular, natural part of their day.
Have a purpose. Apparently, if you have a reason to get out of bed in the morning, you’re much more likely to be alive to get out of bed in the morning. Buettner points out that the people in the Blue Zone of Okinawa Japan have even given this a name. They call it Ikigai. It means “a reason for being” or “a reason for getting out of bed in the morning.” What is your Ikigai?
Find ways to relax and shed stress. Buettner’s researchers found that when you’re in a hurry and stressed, it triggers an inflammatory response in your body. That inflammatory response can lead to all sorts of health problems and diseases. By finding ways to relax and de-stress, Blue Zone people live longer.
Eat less. Those who live longer tend to eat less than the rest of us. Buettner points out that it takes your stomach about 30 minutes to tell your brain that you’re full. Blue Zone people naturally recognize that and stop eating before they’re full. The Japanese even have a name for it: Hara Hachi Bu. It’s a Confucian teaching to stop eating when your belly is 80% full.
Eat more plants and less meat. Blue Zone people aren’t typically vegetarians, but they tend to eat a more plant based diet, especially beans. They eat meat, but usually only 4-5 times per month.
Drink in moderation. Those who drink in moderation tend to outlive teetotalers. The antioxidants and resveratrol in red wine, for example, have been shown to improve artery health and increase good cholesterol (HDL). Consume too much, however, and the negatives outweigh the positives.
Have faith. Buettner and his team found that those who attend some sort of faith based service four times per month tended to live, on average, about 14 years longer than those who didn’t.
Live close to and be committed to loved ones. Blue Zone people tend to live close to their loved ones and they are committed to those relationships. They have a healthy marriage. They keep parents and grandparents close by and they help them as they age. They have their children nearby and have a good relationship with them.
Have a strong social network. Blue Zone people tend to have strong friendships. Not only that, but their friends tend to support healthy behaviors and they are a positive influence—both mentally and physically.
On the surface, Buettner’s research seems like common sense—eat right, get exercise, have friends—but I think that misses the main point. The power of those behaviors only shows up when they become lifestyle habits. The people in the Blue Zones do those things every day for a lifetime. So if you want to gain some of the same benefits (regardless of where you live), consider how you can design your lifestyle, environment and daily life to incorporate those 9 things regularly.
If you want to read more about Blue Zones, Buettner has two books based on his research:
Note: I periodically recommend books to readers and I belong to the Amazon Affiliate Program. That means that, at no additional cost to you, Amazon will pay me a few cents if you purchase a book through one of my links. Obviously I’m not doing that to get rich, but because I believe in the things I recommend. Please don’t buy anything unless it will help you accomplish your goals for a meaningful retirement.
This week is National Retirement Planning Week, so I thought it would be good to give everyone a quick reminder of what it takes to get ready to retire. Sure, saving enough money is important, but retirement is more than just a math problem. There are plenty of other things involved as well. With that in mind, I made a handy retirement readiness flow chart that will give you an idea if you’re ready to retire or if you still have some work to do. To see the chart, just click on the image below.
In 8 Habits of Successful Retirees I talked about what actions, habits and behaviors make for a great retirement. But sometimes being successful at something is as much about avoiding the bad as it is about doing the good. With that in mind, here are 5 behaviors that will ruin your retirement.
Poor time management. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said “I keep track of minutes like a banker keeps track of money.” He wasn’t just referring to games either. His practices were scheduled down to the minute too. His reasoning was simple. He had 5 two-hour practices each week over the course of a 21 week season to coach his players. That is 210 hours or 12,600 minutes of practice. That time is easy to waste if you’re not very, very intentional. The same is true for your retirement. You will have a very limited time in retirement, even under the best of circumstances. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to waste days, months or even years (See also: The surprising truth about how retirees spend their day). Keep an eye on the clock and be very intentional with your time.
Waiting for permission. Too many of us sit around in life waiting for someone to tell us it’s ok to do something. Call it the inertia of permission. It can kill your retirement. Chances are good that you don’t need anyone’s permission to do what you want in retirement. You’re a responsible adult. You live in a free country. You (hopefully) have financial independence. As long as what you do doesn’t break the law or hurt someone else, just do it. Don’t wait around for someone to give you a green light. You don’t need it. Give yourself permission and get going.
Assuming. We make lots of assumptions. We assume that we won’t develop crippling arthritis in our feet. That we won’t have a heart attack walking to the front door. That we won’t be diagnosed with a life changing illness like cancer or diabetes. That we won’t get divorced. That a friend or loved one won’t die. That we won’t lose our job. Those are all things that haven happened to clients of mine over the last year and when they happened, they wiped out dozens of opportunities from each person’s “To-do” list. If you assume that the opportunities available to you today will also be available to you tomorrow, a year from now or ten years from now, then you’ll tend to put things off. One of the most valuable insights I’ve gained from working with hundreds of retired clients over the years is that these “unexpected” things happen to everyone. Don’t assume that you’ll always have time. Live your life like your opportunities have an expiration date, because they do.
Confusing “Past” you with “Future” you. Retirement should be a time in your life when you do the things that you’ve always dreamed of. For you that might be travel, leisure, adventure, volunteering or learning a new skill or hobby. When given the opportunity to actually do those things, however, people will often talk themselves out of it. They say something like, “I’ve never been one to…” or “That’s not me.” Well guess what. That might not have been you when you were working 60 hours a week and raising 3 kids, but your circumstances have changed. You need to get rid of limiting beliefs and redefine how you see yourself. Maybe you ARE the guy who becomes an expat to Ecuador. Maybe you ARE the lady who takes up skydiving. Maybe you ARE the couple that sells everything and starts a B&B in Oregon. Past you does not equal future you.
Not leveraging the first half against the second half. I have a friend who works at IBM. Early in his career he changed positions within the company as often as possible so that he could get a broad set of skills and experiences. His goal was to take that varied set of skills and experiences from the first half of his career and leverage them into a successful management position during the second half of his career.
We should all be doing something similar in life. By the time you reach retirement you’ll have about sixty years of hard won knowledge, skills, wisdom, insights and experiences. Use those things as leverage to define, shape and create a successful retirement. You know what works and what doesn’t. You know what makes you happy and what doesn’t. You know who matters to you and who doesn’t. Put that knowledge to good use.
Have a great weekend!
Photo by Nick Kelly.
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