And they’re sharing some of their findings in their new book, Undo It! With Ornish ($19), where they explain that many illnesses, including chronic inflammation, oxidative stress (an interruption in the natural balance of free radicals and antioxidants in your system), and changes to your microbiome, originate from the same sources. They've found that most of these biological concerns can be traced back to four key lifestyle habits: How we eat, manage our stress, move our bodies, and prioritize our interpersonal relationships. (At the moment, the Ornishes are conducting the first randomized trial to determine if improving these four lifestyle habits can reverse early stage Alzheimer's disease.)
"This theory provides a more scientific basis for understanding disease and helps explain why Blue Zone regions and some Asian countries have had low rates of all these different chronic diseases," Dr. Ornish recently shared in an interview with longevity expert Dan Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones, who studies places in the world where people tend to live exceptionally long, healthy lives.
Below, we break down the diet, stress management, physical activity, and socializing habits of people who live in Blue Zones to remedy that wellness routine decision fatigue we spoke about earlier.
The 4 longevity lifestyle habits that promote disease prevention
1. They eat plant-based diets
When it comes to filling their plates, the folks of the Blue Zones focus on plants. "They're eating 90 to 100 percent plant-based food beyond a shadow of a doubt," Buettner previously told Well+Good. Why? Because foods like vegetables, fruits, grains, and beans benefit your heart, gut, and brain. Plus, plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, prevention of type two diabetes, a reduced risk of cancer, the prevention of Alzheimer's Disease (and the list goes on).
The people of the Blue Zones also eat small playing card-size portions of meat on occasion, and generally stick to drinking water, coffee, and—yes!—wine.
Enjoy your veggies with this vegan Italian meatball soup:
2. They manage stress by gardening
Researchers are really just beginning to understand how stress contributes to disease, but early findings indicate that the mental turmoil caused by a too-long to-do list or one too many nights of poor sleep essentially compromises our body's ability to regulate inflammation. And scientists now believe that this can cause diseases like Alzheimer's to both develop and progress—hence why stress management is a huge part of protecting your body and mind from disease.
Luckily, there are many ways to mitigate stress—from meditation to prayer to dancing. But in the Blue Zones, gardening is perhaps the most popular form of stress relief. The positive side effects of gardening include delayed symptoms of dementia, and improved mental and physical health.
3. Blue Zone residents stay physically active throughout their day
Blue Zone residents aren’t known to do strenuous workouts, but their lives are dynamic, Emily Kiberd, DC, founder of New York City’s Urban Wellness Clinic, previously told Well+Good. For example, they walk to the grocery store, dance, practice thai chi, and ride their bikes basically everywhere. FYI: walking, dancing, and biking have all been shown to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. So keep in mind that your morning stroll and lunchtime dance break are making a difference (even if each one only lasts 15 minutes).
4. They stay closely connected to their communities
Go figure: Having people in your life who love and care for you—and who you love and care for in return—is good for you. "Love is not something you hear about often in mainstream medicine, and that’s the part that our participants are most apprehensive about, even though it’s probably the most valuable," says Anne Ornish. One study demonstrated that dementia risk in people above the age of 75 was lowest for those who had various, satisfying social connections.
So when you're thinking about how to take care of yourself today, make sure to pencil in some time with someone you love. Your body will thank you in the long run.
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