America’s Early Alcoholic History

Though alcohol is a billion-dollar industry in the United States (as in many nations) — and its consumption is virtually customary in nearly all events, festivities, and social gatherings, public and intimate — Americans’ love of drink is not what it once was. As The Atlantic reports:

Early America was also a much, much wetter place than it is now, modern frat culture notwithstanding. Instead of binge-drinking in short bursts, Americans often imbibed all day long. “Right after the Constitution is ratified, you could see the alcoholic consumption starting to go up”, said Bustard. Over the next four decades, Americans kept drinking steadily more, hitting a peak of 7.1 gallons of pure alcohol per person per year in 1830. By comparison, in 2013, Americans older than 14 each drank an average of 2.34 gallons of pure alcohol—an estimate which measures how much ethanol people consumed, regardless of how strong or weak their drinks were. Although some colonial-era beers might have been even weaker than today’s light beers, people drank a lot more of them.

In part, heavy alcohol consumption was a way to stay hydrated: Often, clean water wasn’t always accessible. Hard liquor, on the other hand, was readily available, Bustard said; farmers frequently distilled their grain into alcohol. Rush “may have been observing what’s going on on the frontier”, Bustard said, “thinking, you know: What’s the country going to come to?”

This love of drink was not just perceived as public health problem (though the concept would not emerge until the late 19th century), but even a political one. Continue reading

How Indigenous People Beat Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common afflictions in the developed world. The majority of Americans will experience it at some point, especially as they grow older, and an incredible one-third of them will suffer the chronic variety, for which treatments will not work.

But what is basically a given experience in the U.S. and other industrialized countries is a rarity among many indigenous cultures, namely those that have continued to live a traditional way of life. NPR follows Esther Gokhale, an acupuncturist and chronic back pain sufferer who travelled the world to study societies that seemed to lack this problem. Though I do not put much stock in the practice of acupuncture, her observations are worth noting:

If you look at an American’s spine from the side, or profile, it’s shaped like the letter S. It curves at the top and then back again at the bottom.

But Gokhale didn’t see those two big curves in people who don’t have back pain. “That S shape is actually not natural,” she says. “It’s a J-shaped spine that you want.”

In fact, if you look at drawings from Leonardo da Vinci — or a Gray’s Anatomy book from 1901 — the spine isn’t shaped like a sharp, curvy S. It’s much flatter, all the way down the back. Then at the bottom, it curves to stick the buttocks out. So the spine looks more like the letter J.

“The J-shaped spine is what you see in Greek statues. It’s what you see in young children. It’s good design,” Gokhale says.

In case you are wondering what a J-shaped spine looks like, here is a sample:

Not that the statue’s back is nearly flat until the bottom, where it curves so the buttocks are behind the spine; this is preferable to an S-shaped spine as far as back pain is concerned. Via NPR.

While the hypothesis seems to make sense, there is yet to be any scientifically rigorous study or documentation of indigenous peoples’ spines and whether their shape has anything to do with back pain. Hopefully this idea will spur such well-needed research, especially as back pain becomes more common.

But there’s a whole bunch of reasons why Americans’ postures — and the shape of their spines — may be different than those of indigenous populations, he says. For starters, Americans tend to be much heavier.

“If you have a lot of fat built up in the belly, that could pull your weight forward,” Mummaneni says. “That could curve the spine. And people who are thinner probably have less curvature” — and thus a spine shaped more like J than than an S.

Americans are also much less active than people in traditional cultures, Mummaneni says. “I think the sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak.”

Everyone knows that weak abdominal muscles can cause back pain. In fact, Mummaneni says, stronger muscles might be the secret to Gokhale’s success.

In other words, it’s not that the J-shaped spine is the ideal one — or the healthiest. It’s what goes into making the J-shaped spine that matters: “You have to use muscle strength to get your spine to look like a J shape,” he says.

In essence, a J-shaped spine and the subsequent lack of back pain is a symptom of greater physical activity and well-developed core muscles, so the lack of both is what accounts for greater back pain in developed societies like the U.S.

In any case, back pain — not to mention other common but seemingly inexplicable pain like that of the knees — is a consequence of being bipedal. It has a natural basis that can nonetheless be mitigated through greater physical activity and less caloric intake, both of which were once the norm for humanity for millennia.

As someone who once suffered from chronic back pain, due mostly to growing up obese and sedentary, I can attest to the efficacy of building up muscle and being more active. The following tips from Gokhale are well worth considering for those of us who work desk jobs:

1. Do a shoulder roll: Americans tend to scrunch their shoulders forward, so our arms are in front of our bodies. That’s not how people in indigenous cultures carry their arms, Gokhale says. To fix that, gently pull your shoulders up, push them back and then let them drop — like a shoulder roll. Now your arms should dangle by your side, with your thumbs pointing out. “This is the way all your ancestors parked their shoulders,” she says. “This is the natural architecture for our species.”

2. Lengthen your spine: Adding extra length to your spine is easy, Gokhale says. Being careful not to arch your back, take a deep breath in and grow tall. Then maintain that height as you exhale. Repeat: Breathe in, grow even taller and maintain that new height as you exhale. “It takes some effort, but it really strengthens your abdominal muscles,” Gokhale says.

3. Squeeze, squeeze your glute muscles when you walk: In many indigenous cultures, people squeeze their gluteus medius muscles every time they take a step. That’s one reason they have such shapely buttocks muscles that support their lower backs. Gokhale says you can start developing the same type of derrière by tightening the buttocks muscles when you take each step. “The gluteus medius is the one you’re after here. It’s the one high up on your bum,” Gokhale says. “It’s the muscle that keeps you perky, at any age.”

4. Don’t put your chin up: Instead, add length to your neck by taking a lightweight object, like a bean bag or folded washcloth, and balance it on the top of your crown. Try to push your head against the object. “This will lengthen the back of your neck and allow your chin to angle down — not in an exaggerated way, but in a relaxed manner,” Gokhale says.

5. Don’t sit up straight! “That’s just arching your back and getting you into all sorts of trouble,” Gokhale says. Instead do a shoulder roll to open up the chest and take a deep breath to stretch and lengthen the spine.

Bugs May Be The Latest Culinary Trend

Over 2 billion people across 100 countries eat insects as part of their regular or traditional diet. But in the Western world, where meat consumption (and indeed the consumption of food in general) is disproportionately high, making bugs an accepted part of the menu can be especially beneficial — if not difficult, given the obvious taboos (there is a reason insects are only eaten in the context of reality shows or as part of gross-out humor).

NPR’s excellent food and health column, The Salt has more on this growing trend in the West, and how bugs can be made more palatable to societies where eating is them unthinkable.  Continue reading

Diet is More Important Than Exercise for Losing Fat

I say losing fat as opposed to losing weight because the latter is too broad: if excess weight is due to larger muscle mass for example, it is (usually) far less troubling for health reasons. When people speak of losing weight, they really mean improving the ratio of fat to muscle in their bodies (hence the phenomenon of “skinny fat“, in which someone appears slim in both appearance and scale results, but has a disproportionate amount of fat relative to muscle).

With all that cleared up, I know what many people are thinking: another study countering what so many other studies have previously established. This seems to be a perennial problem in nutritional science, which is still a young and developing field full of unknowns and rife with difficulties in conducting research (there are so many variables affecting health and weight among individuals that it takes unfeasible large and long-term studies to get solid, measurable results — hence why so many conventional wisdoms are being challenges decades later following the build-up of many studies).

Anyway, take the following report in the Washington Post as you will. From what I have read on the subject, the claims of these researchers do seem well-substantiated, but feel free to present your own arguments.  Continue reading

Chart: How The American Diet Has Changed Over Forty Years

Utilizing USDA data, Vox.com has produced acolorful graph that charts the vast changes in the average American’s diet since 1972. (Note that it shows the total supply of these items divided by the number of Americans, rather than exact consumption levels. However, this nonetheless gives a good sense of how eating patterns are changing over time, especially insofar as supply both reflects and often influences demand.)

Here is some analysis from the article:

[Y]ou might notice there are a lot of olive-green bars toward the bottom. We’re all eating a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables than we used to. That’s in part a story about changing tastes, but it’s also about economics — globalization and trade deals like NAFTA have given Americans more access to a wealth of fruits such as limes and avocados. And it appears those foods have replaced preserved or processed produce — many of the foods whose availability has shrunk are those maroon bars that represent canned, frozen, or dried produce.

While we’re eating a lot more fresh fruits and veggies than before, we’re not getting healthier all around. High-fructose corn syrup consumption has skyrocketed. Back in 1972 — right around the time that it was first introduced — we had 1.2 pounds per capita of the syrup available to us. Today, it’s 46.2 pounds … and that’s in fact down substantially from a high of 63 pounds in 1999.

Of course, don’t let the numbers fool you on a few of these — some of the massive growth came because of very small numbers. For example, it’s not that we’re eating piles and piles of lima beans today; rather, it’s that we were eating only 0.0005 pounds in 1989 versus 0.007 pounds in 2012 — a huge percentage gain in growth from an initially very small number.

What are your thoughts and reactions?

Less Than a Minute of Nature Can Boost Health

The Atlantic reports on yet another study confirming the benefits of exposure oneself to nature, even for literally a glimpse.

A nice walk through a city park can do wonders for a work-weary brain, reducing mental fatigue and improving attention. But if you’re trapped on the high floors of an office tower all day, you can’t exactly break for a long stroll and a picnic. Well, fear not. If you have a view of a nearby green space, like say a green roof, and even just a minute to spare, you can reap some of the same refreshing benefits of urban nature.

That’s the upshot of a new paper from an Australia-based research team set for publication in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. Their work has found that even taking just 40 seconds to focus on a view of nature can boost “multiple networks of attention”—sharpening your mind to handle the next task dealt by the work day. They call it a “micro-break,” and it turns out your brain loves it:

You can read the details and methodology of the study in the article, but it is certainly not the only research to confirm the importance of nature to human well-being:

The findings certainly fit with all that social science has found in recent years about the restorative power of nature. Whether it’s a walk through a park, a stand of trees out the window, or a mere desk plant, natural views give the working brain a breather—to varying degrees—by engaging our involuntary attention centers. The new conclusion that greenery might work its magic in mere minutes is an especially intriguing prospect in a fast-paced work world. And if green roof simulations were replaced with the real thing, the performance outcomes in the current study might even have been stronger.

I can certainly vouch for this by personal experience. From my regular bouts of anxiety and depression, to good old fashioned work-related stress, pausing for just a moment to focus on my desk plant, visit my garden, or take a stroll through a nearby park has done wonders.

I am glad to work just blocks away from a beautiful public park (and more glad that my job lets me take regular walk breaks). Since I have incorporated this practice into my daily routine, I have seen a notable decline in both the frequency and severity of stress, fatigue, and sadness (although other lifestyle and dietary changes have continued to that as well).

But a few minutes is all it takes to try this out and see the difference.

How Mindfulness Can Help Depression

Mindfulness meditation is one of the biggest trends in both medical and New Age circles. It broadly describes a form of mental training in which one deliberately focuses on emotions, thoughts, and sensory experiences of the present moment. Though it has roots in various religious traditions both Western and Eastern (especially Buddhism), it has long been observed to have secular applications as well, and the practice itself does not require any particular religious ritual or component.

There has been a lot of research showing that mindfulness, like meditation as a whole, has tangible mental and physical health benefits. The most recent study to confirm the benefits of “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)”, as it is known in medical parlance, was published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal. As Al Jazeera reported:

In this study, 424 adults in England with recurrent major depression, who were on maintenance antidepressant drugs, were randomly assigned to go off their antidepressants slowly and receive MBCT or to stay on their medication.

Study results published showed that after two years, relapse rates were similar in both groups — 44 percent in the therapy group versus 47 percent in the antidepressant drug group.

“Mindfulness gives me a set of skills which I use to keep well in the long term”, Nigel Reed, a participant in the study, said in a statement. “Rather than relying on the continuing use of antidepressants, mindfulness puts me in charge, allowing me to take control of my own future, to spot when I am at risk and to make the changes I need to stay well”.

The researchers said that while they found no evidence that [mindfulness] was superior to the use of antidepressants in preventing relapse, they said “both treatments were associated with enduring positive outcomes in terms of relapse or recurrence, residual depressive symptoms and quality of life”.

“We believe these results suggest a new choice for the millions of people with recurrent depression on repeat prescriptions”, Kuyken said.

I can personally vouch for the effectiveness of this approach, although it is worth reiterating that this is just one of several ways to combat depression, and by no means is it a wholesale replacement of other therapies (indeed, it is usually complementary).

Solutions will always vary from individual to individual, but with the rate of depression growing across the world, any new options on the table will certainly help; moreover, mindfulness techniques are beneficial to overall wellness, not just as a therapy for depression.

The Unexpected Cause Of Addiction

Addiction has long been the subject of intense personal criticism, attributed to personal irresponsibility, negligence, or immorality. But centuries of this approach have done little to mitigate it; if anything, social or legal punishments make the problem worse, breeding psychological distress and resentment that further reinforce, if not escalate, the addiction.

A cynic might chalk the persistence of this social ill to the vagaries of human nature, e.g. bad, stupid, or irresponsible have always existed and always will. No amount of medical, legal, or social support will do anything about it. Locking up addicts or ostracizing them is the most we can do to remove the problem.

But there is mounting research, going back over three decades, that shows substance abuse to have more complex and external origins that go well beyond personal fiat. As HuffPo reported:

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments – ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you”.

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

Before anyone points out the obvious fact that rats are not humans, and thus not a reliable basis on which to base our addiction solutions on, it turns out that the Vietnam War, of all things, bolstered the study’s conclusion as well:

Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.

In other words, addiction is shaped as much, if not more, by the individual’s social environment than any chemical reaction or moral perspective. This makes sense when one considers that fundamentally social nature of humans, and how our behaviors, actions, and pathologies are influenced by a wide range of external factors, ranging from the physical environment to the support of our fellow humans.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right — it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them — then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe — as I used to — that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

I recommend reading the rest of the article, but the conclusion is clear: when addressing addiction at both an individual and community level, it is vital to go beyond the biological or psychological factors and take into account the context — the state of the addict’s social life, the sort of bonds or lack thereof in their life, etc. A more holistic view takes into account all the relevant details.

Obviously, more research is needed to explore this issue, but it is definitely interesting and important to take into account every possible variable.

Lessons From The World’s Blue Zones

One of the major motivations to eat healthy, exercise regularly, and engage in healthy lifestyles is to enjoy a long and quality life. Most people want to enjoy as many fruitful and productive years as possible, and thankfully advances in medicine and nutrition are making it easier than ever.

But the key to longevity and productive old age may be a lot simpler and more accessible, if the world’s “Blue Zones” are any indication. These are regions in the world – Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Ogliastra Region, Sardinia; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – that are known for having the highest number of centenarians (those living at or past 100) in the world.

In fact, not only do these Blue Zoners live long lives, but perhaps more importantly, they enjoy fairly robust mental and physical faculties: despite their advanced age, they are active, alert, happy, and lacking the diseases and disabilities that usually afflict people decades younger, let alone at or near 100.

So what do people in these communities – which span different cultures, climates, and environments – do to stay so healthy for so long?

Well, they each have their differences: for example, Sardinians consume a lot of fava beans and red wine, residents of Loma Linda, California are known for eating copious amounts of nuts and legumes, and Okinawans heavily utilize the spice turmeric in their diet.

This suggests that there are different paths to having a long and healthy life. But the similarities are what are especially informative. Here is a breakdown from NPR:

Ikaria, Greece

You may remember this Blue Zone from Buettner’s wonderful 2012 New York Times Magazine article entitled “The Island Where People Forget To Die.”

As we’ve reported, health researchers have long praised the Mediterranean diet for promoting brain and physical health and keeping chronic diseases at bay. So what makes the diet of the people on Ikaria, a small island in the Aegean Sea, so special?

“Their tradition of preparing the right foods, in the right way, I believe, has a lot to do with the island’s longevity,” writes Buettner.

And “what set it apart from other places in the region was its emphasis on potatoes, goat’s milk, honey, legumes (especially garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils), wild greens, some fruit and relatively small amounts of fish.”

Ikaria has a few more “top longevity foods:” feta cheese, lemons and herbs like sage and marjoram that Ikarians use in their daily tea. What’s missing that we usually associate with Greece? Lamb. The Ikarians do eat some goat meat, but not often.

Okinawa, Japan

Buettner calls the islands of Okinawa a kind of “Japanese Hawaii” for their laid-back vibe, beaches and fabulous weather. Okinawa also happens to have one of the highest centenarian ratios in the world: About 6.5 in 10,000 people live to 100 (compare that with 1.73 in 10,000 in the U.S.)

Centenarians on Okinawa have lived through a lot of upheaval, so their dietary stories are more complicated than some of the other Blue Zones. As Buettner writes, many healthful Okinawan “food traditions foundered mid-century” as Western influence brought about changes in food habits. After 1949, Okinawans began eating fewer healthful staples like seaweed, turmeric and sweet potato and more rice, milk and meat.

Still, Okinawans have nurtured the practice of eating something from the land and the sea every day. Among their “top longevity foods” are bitter melons, tofu, garlic, brown rice, green tea and shitake mushrooms.

Sardinia, Italy

On this beautiful island in the middle of the Mediterranean, the ratio of centenarian men to women is one to one. That’s quite unusual, because in the rest of the world, it’s five women to every one man who live that long.

The sharp pecorino cheese made from the milk of grass-fed sheep in Sardinia, has high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Buettner writes that the Sardinians explain their exceptional longevity with their assets such as “clean air,” “locally produced wine,” or because they “make love every Sunday.” But when Buettner brought along a researcher to dig deeper, they found that pastoralism, or shepherding livestock from the mountains to the plains, was most highly correlated with reaching 100.

So what are those ancient Sardinian shepherds eating? You guessed it: goat’s milk and sheep’s cheese — some 15 pounds of cheese per year, on average. Also, a moderate amount of carbs to go with it, like flat bread, sourdough bread and barley. And to balance those two food groups out, Sardinian centenarians also eat plenty of fennel, fava beans, chickpeas, tomatoes, almonds, milk thistle tea and wine from Grenache grapes.

Loma Linda, Calif.

There’s a Blue Zone community in the U.S.? We were as shocked to learn this as you may be. Its members are Seventh-day Adventists who shun smoking, drinking and dancing and avoid TV, movies and other media distractions.

Tofu links sold in Loma Linda, Calif. The Blue Zones research shows that adherents of the Adventist diet, which is mostly plant-based, have lowest rates of heart disease and diabetes in the U.S. and very low rates of obesity.
David Mclain/Courtesy of Blue Zones

They also follow a “biblical” diet focused on grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables, and drink only water. (Some of them eat small amounts of meat and fish.) Sugar is taboo, too. As one Loma Linda centenarian tells Buettner: “I’m very much against sugar except natural sources like fruit, dates or figs. I never eat refined sugar or drink sodas.”

Gary Fraser, a cardiologist and epidemiologist at Loma Linda University and an Adventist himself, has found in studies that Adventists who follow the religion’s teachings lived about 10 years longer than people who didn’t. Another key insight? Pesco-vegetarians in the community, who ate a plant-based diet with up to one serving of fish a day, lived longer than vegan Adventists.

Their top foods include avocados, salmon, nuts, beans, oatmeal, whole wheat bread and soy milk.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

We’d love to be invited for dinner by a centenarian here, where they #putaneggonit all the time. One delicious-sounding meal Buettner was served by a 99-year-old woman (who’s now 107) consisted of rice and beans, garnished with cheese and cilantro, on corn tortillas, with an egg on top.

As Buettner writes, “The big secret of the Nicoyan diet was the ‘three sisters’ of Mesoamerican agriculture: beans, corn and squash.” Those three staples, plus papayas, yams, bananas and peach palms (a small Central American oval fruit high in vitamins A and C), are what fuel the region’s elders over the century.

Here is a visual of the data from three of the earliest discovered Blue Zones (absent Nicoya and Ikaria, though they too meet at the middle):

Source: Wikimedia

So to recap: people in Blue Zones tend to enjoy varied diets made up of fresh and whole foods, particularly greens, nuts, herbs, and seafood; they consume portions that are often smaller than average, with an emphasis on eating only enough to be satiated (rather than stuffed); and they tend to eat little meat proportionally, aside from lean cuts and seafood.

Beyond diet, Blue Zone residents engage in regular moderate exercise – usually walking, gardening, or yard work – and also maintain active social and community lives, especially with their families. They maintain an easy-going and slow pace of life, often setting aside time to relax and de-stress. Smoking is also virtually nonexistent.

In short, the people living in Blue Zones work on all dimensions of a healthy life: not just a healthy diet, but a modest and light one; strong social ties with an even stronger, life-affirming dedication to family and the community; and an appreciation of the finer things in life, like a nice walk or time to unwind, which does wonders for mental health.

Though there is still a lot of research to be done, the evidence seems clear: a long and healthy life doesn’t require anything fancy or technological, but the sort of diet and values that are accessible to most of us — at least up to a point.

It is telling that among the handful of similarities common to all the Blue Zones was strong family and social ties and healthy community life. I think it says as much about the importance of building a good and generous society, and what such a relatively prosperous society may look like, then its does about the importance diet (which is just one dimension of overall health and wellness).

Just as physical and mental health are intricately intertwined, so too are individual and community health. It is much easier and more feasible to live a long and healthy life when your society provides the sort of stability, socioeconomic support, and environment to facilitate it all.

When your economic system requires you to work long, punishing hours at too fast of a pace to relax; when your food distribution system makes fresh produce expensive or inaccessible, and conversely makes less healthy processed food plentiful in its place; and when your society lacks mutually beneficial values of generosity and altruism, it is a lot harder for most people to maximize the potential of their minds and bodies.

Here is hoping that Blue Zones become less of an anomaly and more of a model to emulate and expand elsewhere. We see clear examples of the sorts of behaviors and