The more I read about Blue Zones and about that approach to living well, the more I've come to realize that our life in Albany already encompasses many of the concepts - and that we could do even more to capitalize on those opportunities for 'good living'.
There are nine lessons that the study uncovered through researching the areas with the highest percentages of centenarians (as listed on BlueZones.com - you can read more about each lesson there):
2. Have the right outlook - Purpose
3. Have the right outlook - Shed stress
4. Eat wisely - Until 80% full
5. Eat wisely - Mostly vegetarian, with limited meat
6.Wine @ 5 - 1-2 drinks per day, preferably wine
7. Connect - Belong to a community
8. Connect- Put loved ones first
9. Connect - The right tribe
It struck me as I learned more about each of the above that several are made easier for our family to attain based on the community in which we live.
Blue Zone Finding: As it turns out, the world’s longest-living people don’t lift weights, run marathons, or join gyms. It turns out that they live in places where they naturally move more, without thinking much about it. They live in places where they can walk to the store, to work, to their friend's house, or places of worship. They garden and work outside. Movement is a part of their daily life.
Here in Albany: It's my guess that, overall, we have the opportunity to walk more than many of our suburban-living friends. One of the reasons I wanted to live in Albany was for the walkability. From our home we can walk to the library, our daughter's daycare center, the gym/pool, a couple of drug stores, the hospital, several restaurants, the homes of many of our friends, a pond, a few playgrounds, Stewarts, my doctor's office, the salon where I get my hair cut, church, our dentist's office, and (if we were so inclined) the municipal golf course.
Do we walk to all of these places? Nope. But we do walk a lot. (It is oh-so-valuable to be able go places without going through the putting-the-baby-in-the-carseat struggle!) We take walks with our daughter most days of the week, sometimes just around our part of town, to no destination in particular. Sometimes we have a destination - the library, CVS, the pond, the playground, Stewarts, the coffee shop, and occasionally a restaurant. We often walk to visit our friends (we are lucky to have several friends living within a 1-mile radius), or meet friends for walks (or ice cream!) We've walked to church a couple times. But I know we could do an even better job of making the most of the awesome walkability of our 'hood.
Blue Zone finding: The Blue Zone researchers found that the people that live the longest eat meat, but in limited amounts - "consider it a condiment". Beans, including fava, black and soy and lentils are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets.
Here in Albany: The quality of our local food scene is extolled often. Local farms, restaurants that value local/happy food, Honest Weight Food Co-Op, a supportive gardening community, several Farmers Markets, and a great local food blog scene make it easy to access and value this kind of diet. In our new role as parents we've become more aware than ever of what we eat, where our food comes from, and eating well. We're making more from scratch, buying as much locally-sourced food as we can afford (via Honest Weight, various Farmers Markets and our CSA), eating less meat, growing vegetables, and overall just being more aware of what we consume. I love that it's so easy to eat this way from here (although I do wish there was a weekend farmers market in Albany proper for city residents, rather than the mid-week mid-day markets for State employees. Probably too late for this now as all of the farmers are in Troy/Saratoga/Delmar/Menands on Saturdays and Schenectady on Sundays. It's not hard to get to any of those places, but it would be nice to feel the kind of community a market brings.)
Blue Zone finding: All but five of the 263 centenarians that were interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. The religion didn't matter, as long as it met as a community. The research found that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
Here in Albany: We've been attending church more since living closer to our families, and certainly since Evelyn was born. Having a church within walking distance helps on the particularly lazy mornings. I'm also inspired by the many Jewish families I see walking through our neighborhood to and from synagogue on Saturdays. The presence of organized religion is stronger (and more diverse) in our current neighborhood than anywhere else I've lived. It's not a surprise, with several synagogues and churches of various denominations nearby, but I think it's an uncommon neighborhood trait in 2012.
Loved Ones First:
Blue Zone finding: Centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. Aging parents and grandparents live nearby or in the same home. The researchers recommend working on being in a positive, committed relationship and investing in children with time and love.
Here in Albany: We could probably achieve much of this living anywhere. Except that here, we live less than 15-minutes away from both sets of parents. Evelyn sees her grandparents- all of them- at least once a week, often more. Same goes for her aunt and uncle. This was a big factor in our decision to live in Albany. We could find- and have found- many of the other good-living qualities elsewhere. But the family that we have here, especially now that we have a child, is something we wouldn't have anyplace else.
Blue Zone finding: The world’s longest lived people chose (or were born into) social circles that support healthy behaviors. Research shows that smoking, obesity, and even loneliness is contagious. And so is happiness. The Blue Zone researchers recommend evaluating who you hang out with, and then surrounding yourself with the right friends. They claim this will do more to add years to your life than just about anything else. Isn't that amazing?
Here in Albany: We have dear and awesome friends living far and wide. Having friends living so nearby here in Albany has strengthened many of our friendships: easy weeknight meals or hangs together, frequent visits, meeting up for walks and talks, sharing garden bounty, baby play dates at the library and playground, meeting up for a drink at the neighborhood bar after work, and being able to easily help each other out in a pinch. The ease of our Albany friendships goes a long way. I worry that we'll lose that as years go on and young Albany residents and families do what young Albany residents and families seem to do as they grow: move to the 'burbs. For now, it's another thing that I love about living in Albany.
Our family can do plenty more in terms of living well, but achieving the Blue Zone ideals aren't so out of reach from here. Who wants to meet up for that glass of wine?