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Longevity Principles

Eighty percent of lifespan is determined by the way we live and not genetics.

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Longevity Principles: Changing the Way Senior Living Residents Live to Improve Lifespan
Eighty percent of lifespan is determined by the way we live and not genetics.

Applying longevity principles to the design and programming of senior living communities can help residents have longer, healthier and happier lives.

Blue Zones® are areas in the world that have the highest concentration of people who live to be 100 and beyond. There are Power 9® Principles that contribute to longevity:

  1. Move Naturally
  2. Purpose
  3. Down Shift
  4. 80% Rule
  5. Plant Slant
  6. Wine @ 5
  7. Belong
  8. Loved Ones First
  9. Right Tribe

Let’s dig deeper into the “Power 9” to see how implementing longevity concepts into our senior living communities can contribute to a longer, fuller life for our residents. The original Blue Zones include:

  1. Ikaria, Greece
  2. Sardinia, Italy
  3. Loma Linda, California
  4. Okinawa, Japan
  5. Nicoya, Costa Rica

The concept behind Movement is to MOVE NATURALLY. The men of Sardinia, Italy are primarily shepherds by trade and as such they walk 5-6 miles a day over uneven terrain. This consistent “exercise” has led to a population of centenarian men that match the women 1 to 1 whereas it is 4 to 1 women to men in the rest of the world. In Okinawa, it is the custom to sit on the floor for meals and to entertain guests. Everyone from very young to very old get up and down off the floor several times a day. We all know that sitting and lack of movement is bad for health – “sitting is the new smoking” we hear. The idea is to move frequently through the day. Simply walking everyday can battle a whole host of chronic diseases. We can turn the long corridors and large senior living campuses into opportunities for everyday movement.

To Have the Right Outlook we look at DOWN SHIFT and PURPOSE. The seventh day Adventists in Loma Linda, California observe a true Sabbath, a day to rest and spend time with friends and family. The idea isn’t to stop moving and retire to the La-Z-Boy recliner. It’s not about no work, but rather having the tools to let stress go. Bottled up is toxic to mind and body.

Reduce Stress
What does down shifting look like in senior living where every day could be a day of rest? There are a host of new stressors our residents face such as loss of loved ones, health, finances and other big life changes that can keep them up at night.

Be intentional about encouraging stress-reducing activities into your programming such as trying new hobbies, meditation, playing with a pet, or exploring the outdoors.

Have a Purpose
In addition to down shifting, we must also find PURPOSE. A sense of purpose is necessary. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawan dialect. Rather, they believe in “ikigai”, your reason for being. Common to Blue Zone centenarians is a strong sense of service to others. When they lose this, they deteriorate very quickly. The average American over the age of 65 watches seven plus hours of TV daily. How does this activity give people a sense of purpose? Have a Purpose – Eat Wisely Go beyond planned activities. Provide something ongoing that each resident has responsibility for and gives them a reason to get up every day. Our residents have previous occupations and/or new-found interests that can become catalysts for service opportunities that allows everyone to contribute.

Nutrition is very important in all Blue Zone communities. Apply the Plant Slant, 80% Rule and Wine @ 5 principles to your nutritional plan and programming to provide a sense of purpose, control and health to residents’ lives.

Gardens & Plant-Based Meals
Most in these areas follow a Mediterranean diet made up of mostly plant-based foods with some whole grains, beans and nuts. Meat is rare, eaten only once a while. They usually have their own gardens that they plant, tend, harvest and cook for themselves. Gardens & Plant-Based Meals – Eat until Satisfied Resident gardens that can be integrated into chef gardens where residents and chefs together plan, tend, harvest the garden which is then integrated into their meals.

Eat Until Satisfied
In Okinawa, they abide by “hara hachi bun me” which means to stop eating when you are 80% full. They accomplish this by stopping eating when they are no longer hungry instead of when they are full.

Help residents eat the correct amount by using smaller plates, removing TV’s from eating areas, and serving nutrient-dense foods.

Happy Hour Doesn’t End at Retirement
Happy Hour Doesn’t End at RetirementA small amount of alcohol is common in many Blue Zone diets. Wine is big in Sardinia where locals make a brew that is high in anti-oxidant properties which can help prevent age-related diseases. Moreover, enjoying a glass of wine or a beer can reduce stress and be an enjoyable part of the day with friends and family.

In an assisted living community in Bend, Oregon the residents work with a local brewer to brew their own beer giving them purpose and engaging the community.

Nurturing the Soul
Another characteristic in all Blue Zones is some form of spirituality. The Sardinians and Nicoyans tend to be Catholic, Okinawans have a form of ancestor worship, the Ikinarians are primarily Greek Orthodox and there are the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. Many studies have started to look at the complex connection between religious and spiritual beliefs and how that relates to physical and psychological health. Spirituality and religious practices can reduce stress, help you feel better emotionally, and to be part of a community.

In addition to a chapel, be intentional in recognizing spirituality as part of the human existence. Inquire about daily practices and make it part of the everyday.

Inviting Family In
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of family. Family support can provide support, traditions, motivation and wisdom. In America, people tend to live apart from their adult children and grandchildren. There is a big difference between visiting upstairs or down the street versus getting in a car and having to drive somewhere. Life Plan Communities better equipped to invite people in will help increase visits from family.

The Family You Choose
But what if you don’t have family close by? You need a “Moai,” a Japanese term for meeting together for a common purpose. A group of friends that are there for each other to laugh together, offer support when needed, and share life’s journey through thick and thin. Retirement communities are a perfect place to find a RIGHT TRIBE. Studies show that those who spend less time engaged in social activities tend to decline faster in motor function than those who do. Retirement communities are a perfect place to find a RIGHT TRIBE. The scale of senior living communities can be overwhelming. Break them down into “smaller neighborhoods” to increase connections and relationships.

I look forward to incorporating these principles into senior living communities through architecture and design. We can make a positive and lasting impact in our residents lives by incorporating these principles of longevity.