Welcome to June! It is beautiful! Blooming Peonies, Lupine, climbing roses and Iris along with wild phlox and daisies are in our yard. Such a delight! There has been more severe weather than usual and we have had to take cover in our “safe space”. We are grateful we had only minimal wind damage.  Our hearts are with those who have had severe storm damage and been without electricity–all over the country and world.

Today, I want to reflect on a new topic for me. In recent months people have been telling me I should learn more about Blue Zones–because they think they have commonalities with what we are doing at Hope & A Future. Blue Zones are areas around the world where people are not just living past 100, but living really well.  I was told that the reasons researchers think people are living so well sounded like the way we are living at Hope & A Future. Last week I  finally found  some time to look into this and I agree with my friends!

Blue Zones got their name from people collecting data on where people were living longer and healthier.  They marked the spots with blue dots.  These zones were found in different places around the world including one spot in the United States. First researchers looked at how folks in blue zones were living and the second, if they could be replicated.  The data collection took well over 20 years and the replication trials were shorter but produced promising results.  

Before sharing what I learned about Blue Zones, I want to say that  from the inception of ideas for Hope & A Future, goals were never focused on living longer, they were instead focused on living a person’s best possible life no matter what they faced. And we have seen amazing results.  Before Social Determinants of Health were defined, I was noticing them!  When I was a much younger nurse, I observed that people needed purpose, meaning and belonging in their days or they began to wither. It was also clear that we all need friends we are comfortable with and that we feel understood us. Loneliness is not compatible with living well. We now have a great deal of research available pointing out the physical and mental detriments of loneliness for young and old. And the Surgeon General V. H. Murthy has declared loneliness as an epidemic in the United States. As a young nurse, I often watched people wither away from loneliness and a lack of purpose in their life. And because of the way I grew up, I already knew about the magic of intergenerational relationships and considered intergenerational community to be a central need as one of the solutions for loneliness. When we add good clean food, fresh air, gentle movement and kindness to an engaged and inclusive intergenerational community – especially one that enjoys arts and nature, people live like everyday as an adventure. There is an exception to every rule, but with these ingredients most of us will live our best life. And it turns out that when faith is added to this mix, it becomes a recipe for blue zone living!

For most Americans, their first thoughts on health go to food and exercise and then it is likely that guilt sets in!  Let’s not go there.  Let’s think about a lifestyle where we enjoy more plant based food from a garden, the farmer’s market or the produce section of a grocery store.  Think about the gentle activity of working in a small garden, walking through a beautiful farm market or even the produce section at your grocery store. Then imagine smiling at neighbors, fellow shoppers and having a friendly conversation.  You are already on your way to the blue zone.  Not just because of the fresh healthy food, but also because of the gentle exercise and kind interactions with those around you.  Blue zone foods vary with their location on the planet and the culture they are part of.  Blue zone’s exist in Italy with lots of pasta and sour dough bread, Japan with rice, as well as Costa Rica, Greece and California.  The diets in Blue Zones are all more plant based and they are enjoyed with conversation which means they are eaten in community and slowly.  Portions are not supersized and people stop eating when comfortably satisfied. Exercise usually occurs naturally.  There was more walking. The more uphill walking, the greater the longevity.  Yet activity did not necessarily include hard work. Every day includes a wind down time with a little herbal tea, wine or beer enjoyed with family or friends. This all feels Fun!

At Hope & A Future we have a garden–with intergenerational help. Staff and interested residents work together to prepare meals. We enjoy whole foods during most meals–we are Americans and we do run short of time occasionally so we have some faster food!  But family style meals with friendly intergenerational conversation are the goal.  While alcohol is not a part of every day, and some require a doctor’s order, we enjoy wine and beer when we have parties and celebrations. In our expansion we are making room for social times of a person’s choosing.  

While food and exercise are important, they are likely not as important as the social connections, and sense of belonging and time to unwind available in blue zones.  In Blue Zones, work is less stressful than the fast paced business, education and health care systems of the United States. Perhaps we value stress and fast paced work a bit too much in the US.  In some Blue Zones, retirement is not a concept.  People keep working.  Some are over 100 years old, shepherding and running vineyards. Even in Urban Blue Zones like Singapore, people continue to work and have genuine purpose into their older years. In all Blue Zones, naps are OK and people have time to wind down with each other every day.  They sing, talk, dance and sit together.  How nice!  And they help each other.  Seniors stay in their community even if they need to be cared for.  Family and friends work together to provide needed care.  If something unexpected happens and money is needed to solve a problem, communities sometimes rally to take up a collection. People do not feel alone in the midst of hard times.  They have words for their social group that describe caring relationships.  Family is important and so is their immediate social group.  They solve problems and they unwind together. This means that people experience less worry and stress.  And they experience more purpose, belonging and kindness. Hope & A Future’s TIIN model is designed to create a family of friends–where staff and residents purpose to work together to help each other and have fun.  

All of the people in the studied Blue Zones shared a common thread of faith and a positive outlook. They volunteered to help each other because it made them happy to do so. This connects them, keeps them moving and gives purpose and belonging to everyone.  Different faith communities are represented.  The commonality is that all believe that how they treat their neighbors matters.  This is very much how The TIIN model works. In our first phase, people with different belief systems have come together to be helpful. Many pray and worship together. All love, care for and enjoy their neighbors.  

I do not necessarily think we can control how many years we live, but I do think we can affect how well we live our years.  I am sure that the worst way to live is in loneliness and the best way is in an encouraging community.  And I know that is what we are aiming to do at Hope & A Future. And I believe that all generations will benefit.  

If you want to learn more about helping us build the first TIIN or about living in our TIIN, please contact us at [email protected]

Until we meet again, I hope you will enjoy the summer with each other!


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