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Column - Add years to your life

At the annual convention of the Minnesota Newspaper Association last week, one of the keynote speakers was Dan Buettner, New York Times bestselling author of The Blue Zones.

Buettner teamed up with National Geographic and longevity professionals to identify locations around the world where people are living measurably better, longer lives.

In Blue Zone areas, people live to age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the U.S., and they suffer only a fraction of the heart disease and cancer Americans suffer.

Buettner's book examines all the reasons experts believe the Blue Zone residents live longer and healthier lives.

There are the obvious things, like diet and physical activity. While Buettner's book gets much more in-depth, the basic consensus is what we hear constantly. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, eat natural foods, enjoy some red wine, monitor fat intake, get physical activity daily, and so on.

It was the other two categories that aren't quite as commonly talked about - having the right outlook and hanging out with the right "tribe."

Most of us know about the importance of a positive attitude, even if we don't "live it" as well as we could. We have the choice to let things get to us and cause us stress, or to let them roll off and put them behind us. But along with the attitude, Buettner talks about the importance of having a purpose in life. For many, that purpose is their job or career. So what happens when we retire? Studies show that many people age more quickly or get sick, simply because they don't feel they have a purpose. It's important for people of all ages to feel they have a purpose.

Belonging to the right tribe simply means surrounding yourself with positive people you can count on. It is the relationships we have that give our life meaning. Those relationships are some of the things that can give us purpose when we don't find a sense of purpose in a job or career.

The concern among many medical professionals is that people are isolating themselves more and more from personal relationships because of new socializing methods such as Facebook, texting, e-mail, etc. Even though it is still a form of socialization, it isn't the kind of socialization that will help you live a longer, healthier life. Studies show that people need physical, face-to-face contact, loving hands and hugs.

Buetter explained that people are evolutionarily designed to socialize. He said each person needs at least two good friends who care about you and will be there for you. Don't have that? Remember, to have a friend, you need to be a friend.

It's always overwhelming to think about all the ways we can improve our lives. Because there is so much information out there, and because the information is so overwhelming, we often give it up as a lost cause before we even start.

To make it easier, Buettner gave us 10 quick and easy suggestions that will add at least a few years to your life:

De-convenience your home (lose the remote, buy a light garage door and lift it yourself, use a shovel instead of a snowblower).

Eat a handful of nuts daily.

Drink a glass or two of Sardinian wine daily (it's high in antioxidants).

Play with your children (offers low intensity exercise and strengthens family bonds).

Grow a garden (reduces stress, requires movement and yields fresh produce).

Enjoy a daily hour of power (take a nap, meditate, pray, take a walk to de-stress).

Eat tofu (an all-around healthy food).

Get a tan. Doctors are rethinking too much sunscreen. Nearly half of Americans are Vitamin D deficient, which can double your chance of dying in any given year.

Use smaller plates (eating off 9-inch plates can reduce dinner calorie consumption 20 to 30 percent).

Write down your personal mission. Knowing and putting into practice your sense of purpose can give you up to an extra decade of good life.

Hmmm...drinking wine, playing, napping, getting a tan - now that's a health plan I can live with!

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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