Communities Can Promote Long and Healthy Lives
by Molly Brown
In 2005, a National Geographic researcher, Dan Buettner, studied five communities (called Blue Zones) from around the world in which people regularly live well into their 90’s, free of the diseases often associated with aging. His study is described in the Spring 2018 issue of YES! magazine, “To a Long, Healthy Life.” (www.yesmagazine.org).
One of his strongest conclusions: longevity isn’t just up to individuals, their genetics, health habits, and good fortune. Communities can create cultures of longevity and justice, which help everyone to live longer and healthier lives. Here’s five principles that communities (and individuals) can adopt to do this.
- Eat mostly plants. How can communities make this possible? In Siskiyou County, we are already supporting plant-based diets through our Farmer’s Markets that provide a wide variety of vegetables (along with some meat). People can use CalFresh, EBT, and SNAP benefits to purchase fresh produce. Let’s make sure that everyone has access to truly healthy fresh foods—and knows what they are—rather than subsisting on low-cost and low-nutrition junk foods.
- Move naturally. This is certainly more possible in rural areas like ours, where natural beauty abounds and invites us to walk, run, bike, ski, snowshoe, and so forth. The Active Transportation Committee in Mt. Shasta plans and seeks grants for creating safe and inviting trails and bike paths in town and in the surrounding area. The Mt Shasta Recreation and Parks District provides similar opportunities. Let’s take advantage of our small towns and walkable neighborhoods to use our cars less and walk and bike more this spring and summer.
- Decrease stress. We are social beings and need to reduce collective stress by supporting one another. One of the greatest stressors in our nation today is economic inequality. We need an economy that supports meaningful and well-paying jobs, of course. And we also need more time to take care of each other, to play together and make art and music. We need to connect with one another in a variety of ways.
- Cultivate a sense of purpose—a great way to reduce stress. Blue Zone research shows that having a sense of purpose can add up to seven years to life expectancy. Communities and groups within communities can have a shared purpose from which their members draw a sense of individual purpose. Many people in South Siskiyou County share a common purpose of protecting our clean and precious air, water, soil, and land. Volunteer groups share purposes such as working with transient and homeless people, child abuse prevention, Meals on Wheels, city beautification, community gardens, and more.
- Belong to a healthy tribe. When we find common purpose, we restore a sense of belonging and cultivate empathy, creating healthy mutually supportive tribes. Healthy habits and unhealthy habits are contagious. Our choices as individuals do influence others, especially our friends.
Moreover, many people today need to shift their story from “rugged individualism” to interconnected individuality, so they feel comfortable asking for and offering help to one another. We really can’t make it on our own. “A culture that supports, protects, and honors friendships will give everyone more opportunities to be surrounded by caring people making healthy choices” (p. 12).
In many ways, South Siskiyou communities measure up to these principles, and no doubt we can do even better. Let’s continue to work together to create supportive community cultures for the health, wellbeing—and longevity—of all who live here.