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Welcome to the Live Well Furman blog!  This blog is designed to help support healthy behaviors in the Furman community and beyond.  Be sure to sign up for our email subscription to have the latest campus wellness offerings, wellness news briefs, healthy meal ideas, and exercise tips delivered straight to your inbox each week!

The Blue Zones: Discovering the Secrets of Longevity

 

Have you ever wondered what are the keys to living a long, happy life?

Even with advances such as sanitation and medicine, life expectancies still vary considerably around the world.  For example, the country boasting the highest life expectancy is Japan at a whopping 84 years.  This falls down to 79 years in the U.S.,  60 in South Africa, and an incredible 46 years in Sierra Leone (1)

For many years researchers have been intrigued by places in the world that boast long life expectancies.  As early as 1958, they began to study these areas to find out why some people not only live longer but they also seem to enjoy a high quality of life throughout their years (234).

More recently, National Geographic Journalist Dan Buettner led a team of research scientists on multiple expeditions to these areas to learn more about their way of life (5).  He used the term  “Blue Zones” to describe the areas with high life expectancy and seemingly high quality of life.  These locations include Ikaria (Greece), Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Loma Linda, California (United States).

Research suggests that longevity  may be partly due to genetic variations that resist chronic disease.  However, behavioral factors are believed to play a large role (6).  Researchers believe these behaviors are keys to longevity and a higher quality life.  In other words, you don’t have to actually live in a designated “Blue Zone” to reap some of these benefits.

Characteristics of the Blue Zones

The Blue Zones appear to share four common behaviors that likely play a large role in longevity.

1) Eat Right

All of the Blue Zones enjoy a diet that is rich in minimally processed plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, potatoes, and whole grains.

Interestingly, the macronutrient distribution ranges and accessory foods do vary.  For example, the Traditional Okinawan diet is very high in carbohydrate (85%), low in protein (9%), and very low in fat (6%) (7).  The carbohydrates tend to come from large portions of low energy density, high nutrient density foods such as green and yellow vegetables, soy products like tofu, seaweed, and purple sweet potatoes that are common to the region.

This contrasts greatly with the traditional Mediterranean diet that is characteristic of Ikaria, Greece.  It may consist of more than 30-40% calories from primarily unsaturated fats and smaller contributions from carbohydrates and protein (8).  Importantly, the higher fat diet of Ikaria contrasts sharply from the burgers, fries, and pizza that are common in the Western diet.  Instead, Ikarians consume very large amounts of vegetables and fruits that exceed recommended intakes. Green vegetables and wild plants are commonly eaten as a salad and then cooked in olive oil for a main dish (9). Despite the high percentage of calories from fat, the eldest portion of the Ikarian population only consumes about 1,000-1,500 calories per day (10).

Apparently, humans are fully capable of thriving on a wide variety of macronutrient distributions ranges (carbohydrates, proteins, fats) as long as we focus on eating the right kinds of foods.  An important study called the OMNI (Optimal Macronutrient Intake) Heart Trial came to the same conclusion.  Research consistently demonstrates that the healthiest diets are based on a wide variety of plant foods that are minimally processed–vegetables, fruits, whole grains, potatoes, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

What about meat and alcohol?

Intake of animal foods and alcohol is generally kept to a minimum in all of the Blue Zones.  The Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California promote a vegetarian diet and abstinence from alcohol (11).  In fact, the Adventist Health Study-2 found that vegetarians tended to have lower rates of metabolic syndrome (12), cardiovascular disease (13), type 2 diabetes (14), obesity (15), and cancer (16) than non-vegetarian Adventists.

The main sources of protein in the traditional Okinawan diet are legumes, such as soybeans and tofu (17) but small amounts of meat may be served as an accompaniment to the meal (18)  Nicoyans eat a high fiber diet with beans, rice, and small portions of animal protein (19) while many Ikarians enjoy fish (20).  Sardinians enjoy moderate amounts of red wine, small portions of animal proteins, and an omega-3 rich sheep milk cheese (21).

Whether you choose to be a vegetarian or not, the optimal diet is based largely on minimally processed plant foods.

Armenistís_ikaría (1)

2) Stay Active

Not surprisingly, the Blue Zones tend to be environments that support active living.  As seen in the picture of Ikaria above, daily physical activity is virtually required due to the mountainous terrain.

Daily walking in the Blue Zones is common as a means of transportation to visit a friend, a place of worship, or a store.

Indeed, physical activity is strongly associated with reduced premature morbidity and mortality.  According to the Surgeon General’s Report, “significant health benefits can be obtained by including a moderate amount (e.g., 30 minutes or more) of physical activity on most, preferably all days of the week” (22).  Greater benefits can be gained by greater amounts of physical activity.

These health benefits may include lower rates of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.  Physical activity has also been associated with improvements in feelings of “energy”, mood, anxiety, depression, stress, cognitive function, sleep, self-esteem, functional capacity, and overall quality of life.

To learn more about how exercise improves dozens of health outcomes, click here.

1 Old_Sardinian_Man

3) Have a Sense of Purpose, Hope, Happiness, and Contentment

Mental and spiritual well-being are vital components of longevity.

According to Buettner, people in the Blue Zones experience stress just like the rest of us.  What sets them apart is the ways that they learn to cope.  Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a mid-day nap, and Sardinians enjoy a glass of afternoon wine with others (23).

Buettner also reports that the overwhelming majority (258 out of 263) of the centenarians that they interviewed belonged to a faith-based community (24).  Spiritual health has been associated with better health and longer life span, decreased rates of suicide, decreased rates of alcohol and drug abuse, and greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction (25).  Hundreds of studies have reported that spiritual well-being helps people to cope with a wide range of illness and stressful situations such as physical ailments, stress, natural disasters, war, and death (26).  Spiritual health is also positively associated with hope, optimism, kindness and compassion toward others, and meaning and purpose in life (27).

Okinawans call it “ikigai”; Nicoyans call it “plan de vida.” Both of these translate to “why I wake up in the morning” (28).  Having a strong sense of purpose and hope seem to be vital components of longevity.

1 okinawa social

4) Establish and Maintain Relationships with Others

The Blue Zones place a strong emphasis on relationships with others.  This may include committing to a life partner, caring for children and aging parents, or spending time with friends.  We need the support of others to maintain a long, happy life.  Equally important is feeling that we are making a difference in the lives of others through our own kindness and compassion.

One of the greatest documented examples of the effect of social relationships on health is the “widowhood” effect (29).  Spousal bereavement has been associated with increased mortality rate, especially during the first 12 months after loss.  This means that after the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse is more likely to pass away over the next year.

The death of a spouse from all almost all causes (e.g., infection, cancer, heart disease) has been associated with increased mortality rate from all causes in the surviving spouse.  It does not appear to be related to one aspect of human biology.  Despite the substantial amount of research on this topic, the causes of the “widowhood effect” are still unclear (30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35).

Strong relationships are an important aspect of longevity.

Bottom Line

Even though we may not live in a Blue Zone, we can incorporate some of their common characteristics to improve our own longevity and quality of life.  To spread the word, Buettner’s team has developed the Blue Zone Project.  This systems approach uses the collaboration of citizens, schools, employers, restaurants, grocery stores, and community leaders to establish policies and programs that support better health and well-being in the community.  Learn more at Bluezones.com.

5 Gadgets to Make Healthy Cooking a Breeze

healthy gadgets_Part1

 

Our Spring 2016 FUEL Healthy Eating Program began this week.  Twenty members of our faculty, staff, and spouses are learning about an easy plate-based guide to eating.  Simply fill half of your plate with vegetables and/or fruits, one quarter with whole grains or potatoes, and one quarter with a lean protein source.  This simple eating style has been associated with improvements in nutrient intake, weight management, and health outcomes associated with chronic disease.

Sounds simple, right?

Most of our FUEL participants already know what they should eat.  The challenge is finding healthful foods that are quick, convenient, inexpensive, and tasty.

Much of our time in the FUEL class is spent exploring healthy meal ideas that can fulfill all of these things– even if you are inexperienced or not particularly fond of being in the kitchen.

Here are a few of my favorite gadgets that make healthy cooking a breeze:

healthy gadgets_Part2

1) Nonstick Baking Mats

These mats are perfect for our favorite two ingredient Banana Oat Cookies.  They prevent food from sticking to your baking sheet and make clean up a breeze.  In a medium bowl, mash two ripe bananas with a potato masher or the back of a fork; stir in one cup of dry old fashioned or quick oats.  Place the baking mat on top of a baking sheet.  Drop little spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly golden.  For variety, stir your favorite toppings into the mixture before you bake.  Try mini chocolate chips, chopped dried dates, dried cherries, chopped nuts, or shredded coconut.  These cookies are great for dessert, snacks, or even breakfast.

 

 

healthy gadgets_Part3

2) Ice Pop Makers

Craving a cool, sweet snack?  Ice pop makers are perfect for freezing leftover smoothies or blended fruit and yogurt.  One of our favorites is the Green Monster Smoothie that combines frozen pineapple, bananas, orange juice, and fresh spinach or kale.  Leftover smoothie can be poured into these molds to make Green Monster Popsicles.  Another favorite in our house is to blend plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit.  Add a little sweetener if desired but many fruits are sweet enough already.  Strawberry Banana Yogurt Popsicles (pictured above) can be made by blending fresh or frozen strawberries with ripe banana, plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt, and a little orange juice.  Experiment with other varieties such as frozen cherries, mango, blueberries, or peaches. Freeze the mixture in the molds and then let them thaw at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

 

healthy gadgets_Part4

 

3) Microwave Steamers

I am a huge fan of Birds Eye and Publix brand frozen vegetables and brown rice mixtures that can be microwaved right in the bag.  I frequently stock my freezer with those quick convenience items.  But how can you cook fresh vegetables and plain brown rice almost as easily?  Try one of the many varieties of microwave vegetable steamers and rice cookers that are available today.  Microwavable soup mugs are perfect for bringing leftover soup for lunch.  The Sistema microwavable soup mug pictured above has a steam vent lid to prevent splatters in the microwave and a handle for easy handling.  Needs some healthy soup ideas?  Check out or easy FUEL soup recipes or Soup and Salad board on Pinterest.

healthy gadgets_Part5

 

4) Tofu Press

Okay, okay, before you wrinkle you nose at the thought of tofu, let’s look at this one a little closer.  Check out these interesting facts about tofu:

Did you know???

~ Tofu is made from soybeans and is a common staple in Asian countries.

~ Tofu is made the same way that cheese is made.  To make cheese, a coagulant is added to animal milk.  The curds (solids) are separated from the whey (liquids).  Then the solids are pressed into a block to make cheese.

To make tofu, a coagulant is added to soymilk.  Then the solids are pressed into a block to make tofu.  Tofu is essentially a plant-based version of cheese– but it is healthier for you.

~ Tofu is available in different forms such as silken (perfect for smoothies), firm, and extra firm (perfect for stir fries).  If you would like to lower your intake of genetically modified foods, simply look for “organic” tofu.  I like Trader Joe’s Organic Extra Firm tofu that is less than $2 per package.

~ Some of the myths about the dangers of tofu are simply not supported by research.  In the past, concerns were raised about the plant estrogens in soy foods.  Researchers now believe that the phytochemicals in soy foods either have no effect or slightly decrease the risk for breast and prostate cancer. Current research suggests that up to 1-3 servings a day of soy products can be a healthful addition to the diet. Check out some of the latest guidelines here.

~ Tofu is an excellent source of plant-based protein and calcium.  It contains little or no saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol.

~ Soybeans are a vital part of sustainable and organic agriculture.  Farmers strategically plant legume plants like soybeans in crop rotations to help “fix the nitrogen” or replenish nutrients in the soil.  This reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that can be harmful to the environment.  So soybean products like tofu are good for the planet as well.

~ Tofu can taste great!  We have made recipes such as teriyaki tofu bites for our Study Day Recharge, OLLI vegan cooking classes, and FUEL classes.  A variety of tofu dishes are frequently offered in the Charles E. Daniel Dining Hall as well.  Folks are always pleasantly surprised when they give it a try.

 

So back to the tofu press…

I received this tofu press over a year ago and it has become a weekly staple ever since.  Even my husband, who was not particularly fond of tofu in the past, likes it prepared this way.  A tofu press presses some of the water out of water packed extra firm tofu.  This gives the tofu a meatier consistency that is a little closer to chicken.  It also allows the tofu to be able to soak up more sauce from your dish.

Our favorite tofu dishes are Teriyaki or BBQ Tofu.  Start with a package of extra firm tofu that is packed in water.  These are in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Remove the tofu from the water and place it in the tofu press for 5 minutes.  Set it over a plate with a rim or a shallow bowl to collect the water.  Then prepare it the same way that you would prepare chicken.  You can cut the tofu into desired shapes.  Saute them in a large skillet with a little bit of vegetable oil over medium high heat until lightly golden on both sides.  Then add a little bit of teriyaki or BBQ sauce (I like Trader Joe’s).  The tofu will soak up some of the sauce.  Then serve with brown rice or roasted potatoes, and a large serving of your favorite vegetables.  Leftover sliced tofu is also great layered on a whole grain sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, or avocado.

healthy gadgets_Part6

 

5) Microwave Popcorn Maker

Popcorn is technically a whole grain and is a great source of fiber.  While there are many lighter varieties of microwave popcorn bags available on the market, it is cheaper and fresher to just pop your own kernels.  We have several of these microwave popcorn makers and use them frequently.  Simply add popcorn kernels to the container and microwave.  Eat it plain or with a dash of salt, garlic powder, and/ or other seasonings such as smoked paprika.  My favorite variety is to spray a little bit of olive oil or vegetable oil on the popped kernels and sprinkle it with grated Parmesan or nutritional yeast.

 

Healthy Eating… made easy.

Meet the Spring 2016 FIT Rx Trainers!



FIT Rx Trainers

 

This semester 13 of our outstanding Health Science majors are participating in an internship in individualized exercise assessment and prescription called FIT Rx.  They learn how exercise can be used to improve many health outcomes and earn academic credit by applying these principles directly with our faculty, staff, and dependents.

 

I am pleased to introduce our FIT Rx trainers for the Spring of 2016:

Top row (left to right):  Allie O’Neill, Matty Newman, Sunny Okoroji, Eric McAvoy, Nathan Stevens, Claire Sullivan, Haley Gray

Bottom row (left to right):  Katherine Fleming, Jamie Brill, Megan Kirkpatrick, Leah Pope, Katelin Beals, Karina Nazareth

 

If you would like to learn more about the FIT Rx program, please contact Kelly Frazier at kelly.frazier@furman.edu

Strike It! New Martial Arts based class available through the Group Exercise Program

STRIKE IT!

 

Strike It! is a brand new addition to the Furman Fitness Center Spring 2016 Group Exercise Schedule and begins today, February 8.  (Click on the image above to enlarge.)

Be mindful

be mindful

 

Dr. Meghan Slining (Furman Health Sciences) and Dr. Min-Ken Liao (Furman Biology) will be leading a free four week course on mindfulness and meditation for Furman students in February.

To register, email bemindful@furman.edu.

Spring Group Exercise Class Schedule

 

 

 

Furman Group Exercise classes begin next week with new reduced rates for the Furman Community!  Hope to see you there!

 

(click on the schedules below to enlarge)

 

 

 

GROUP EXERCISE Spring term [Compatibility Mode]_Part1

 

 

GROUP EXERCISE Spring term [Compatibility Mode]_Part2

FIT Rx Registration Open!

FIT Rx Spring 2016

 

Are you interested in starting an exercise program or improving your current program this year?  Furman Faculty, Staff, and Dependents are invited to participate in our FREE FIT Rx Individualized Exercise Training Program.  Health Science majors are trained in the foundations of exercise assessment and prescription and earn internship credit by working directly with individuals.  For more information, please contact me vial email at kelly.frazier@furman.edu or phone 294-2816.

FUEL 2016 Registration Open!

FUEL 2016 promo

 

Happy New Year!  Are you interested in making some strides toward a healthier diet this year?  Furman Faculty, Staff, and Dependents are invited to participate in our FREE FUEL healthy eating program.  FUEL classes will meet on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m.- 12:15 p.m. this term in the PAC.  We will explore the relationship between diet and health and discuss many practical ways to improve eating habits.  Free healthy food samples will be provided throughout the program.  Optional assessments of blood work and body composition can help you to track your progress over time.  For more information, please contact me via email Kelly.frazier@furman.edu or phone 294-2816.

Free Guided Meditation and Meditation Room for Final Exams

FINAL Finals Week Guided Meditation Poster 2