19 Aug Move, Connect, Love: This is All That Truly Matters
A MAN STOOD LOOKING OUT into the darkening pink sky, flipping a set of worry beads around his outstretched fingers.
A faded white and blue Greek flag flapped steadily in the wind. The beads would spin and produce a satisfying clack, which joined the lapping waves and gave the setting sun a voice.
The man had white hair and a disposition that resembled the sea — calm on the surface, yet full of life underneath. I patiently watched, curious of the wisdom which separated our realities.
I was in Greece with four best friends, fresh out of college with the next chapter of our lives ahead of us.
At the time, I didn’t yet realize how pivotal this trip would be in transforming how I view health, happiness, and love for the planet itself.
I don’t know the man’s story on the dock.
I don’t know where he’s been or if his soul is at peace. But he was there, taking the time to savor the fleeting moment when the sun vanishes behind the horizon to bring the day to a close.
The man appeared healthy, content with what he had. Over the years, I’ve realized that health means much more than how one looks, our first instinct when judging another person.
As I saw with this man and practically all older adults in Greece, health is a harmonizing of the mind, body, and soul. What truly matters — love for yourself, your friends, family, and the earth — takes precedence over what doesn’t.
I soon found out that this lifestyle which values an ancient way of living by moving, connecting, and loving without focusing on superficial aspirations leads to the longest, most fulfilling lives on the planet.
The Blue Zones
About a year after the trip, I came across The Blue Zones, 9 Lessons For Living Longer.
In the book, author Dan Buettner travels the globe seeking out communities with the most centenarians, people living over a hundred-years-old, to learn how they’ve done it.
The centenarians of these Blue Zone communities — Ikaria Greece, Sardinia Italy, Okinawa Japan, Loma Linda California, and Nicoya Costa Rica — don’t spend long hours in the gym or Sunday afternoons meal prepping.
Their overall behavior emulates our ancestor’s customs: to move, connect, and love more throughout the day. Everything else seems to just fall in place.
After reading the book, I began reflecting on my time in Greece. It all started making sense.
We were staying with my buddy’s adorable grandfather Pappous, who graciously let four random twenty-two-year-olds crash his summer getaway.
Pappous grew up on the island of Samos in the eastern Aegean Sea, about fifty miles from Ikaria, Greece, one of the world’s Blue Zones.
In Samos, days consist of exploring the dense pine forests covering the coasts, reading a good book, or pondering a simple thought while sipping the ancient Muscat wine native to the island.
The dry, crisp smell of cedar and pine, citrus, and olive trees coalesce to produce the delicious aroma of the earth — freedom.
Seeing the locals in hilltop villages, many well into old age, genuinely enjoying time with friends under the falling leaves of a shady tree made me wonder about what we value as a modern society.
Scenes like these exemplify the core pillars of the Blue Zones communities. Connecting with others, moving outdoors, and enjoying the time just to think mean infinitely more than power, money, or perfect looks.
If you hope for these things like many, if not all of us do, go for them. But ask yourself, why do I truly want them?
It may not even be you who wants these exterior aspirations; it’s what the world tells you should bring happiness.
Having a six-pack doesn’t mean you’re healthy, just as having a Ferrari doesn’t mean you’re happy. One may be far from it if they suffer mentally by sacrificing their peace of mind.
If we prioritize status and prestige over the values that lead to healthy, fulfilling lives, maybe it’s time to ask, what are we doing it for?
It’s impactful looking back at who I was on the trip, but especially who I was in college. While I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me, I know I’ve grown since then.
I pushed my body to its brink in the gym, grinding for hours until my energy had been drained. If my mind could get through the pain, then my body could as well.
I may have looked healthy, but my mindset was far from it.
I maintained the same mentality after I graduated until a little over two years ago when my back broke down.
The injury took away my freedom to exercise with reckless abandon — but it gave me an entirely new perspective on life.
Over the past two-and-a-half-years, I’ve gone through highs and lows, coming back strong thinking my back is better, only to crash and burn once again.
As part of a younger generation striving to get a foot in the door of this game called living, I know how it feels to want what others have.
But our health — not just our looks, but our mental, spiritual, and emotional health — takes a back seat to the struggle for perfection.
There’s so much noise telling us what we should be doing to be the best versions of ourselves. But I’ve learned that health can’t be quantified, it can’t be paid for, and it isn’t found on social media.
It’s engaging your mind and moving in ways that make your body feel good. It’s what connects your spirit with this planet and fills your heart with love.
It’s a balanced lifestyle like The Blue Zones epitomizes, as opposed to short-term goals and unsustainable pressure.
In the Blue Zone communities, the elders are just as active as the young. They often rise with the sun, tending to their livestock or vineyards, hiking in the local hills, planting food, and cultivating their gardens.
They act in the ways our ancestors did, not exercising just for the sake of exercise, but moving in ways that foster mindfulness and joy.
In that same spirit, I find my body feels the best not in the gym but out in the world, where my soul can connect with where I am.
Walking can be a brief respite in our otherwise frenetic lives, allowing us to detach so we might see life for ourselves again, not unlike a child does,
Walking is a time to disconnect from the screen and the artificial world to connect with the real world and your authentic self.
I’m not saying quit your gym membership and start walking twenty miles a day.
But try adding it to your routine and allow yourself more freedom in how you move. If the appreciation for walking is the only thing my injury has given me, then I consider it a blessing.
In each Blue Zone community, they generally cook for themselves, grow their produce, and shop locally.
Food means more than just a means to achieve results. It’s an integral part of each Blue Zone culture, a connection between us as human beings and the planet that nurtures our bodies and souls.
To eat like our ancestors, we should eat intuitively based on how we feel, not by what we’re told. Dan Buettner writes in The Blue Zones Kitchen:
The Blue Zone centenarians don't count calories, take vitamins, weigh protein grams, or even read labels.
While the local foods they eat differ from culture to culture, the choices they make follow the same general guidelines.
See that 95% of your food comes from a plant or a plant product. Limit animal protein in your diet to no more than one small serving per day. Favor beans, greens, yams and sweet potatoes, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Before my injury, I barely thought about long-term health. I strove for short-term results to look good.
I’ve realized what we do now determines our future, no matter how old we are. I consider eating in the same way. I will treat my body with the respect it deserves by feeding it what human beings have for thousands of years.
When we primarily eat natural, clean, whole foods, when we celebrate and connect with food as the centenarians do, eating becomes what it should be — one of life’s greatest joys.
I still eat meat, eggs, and dairy because I’m a human being, one with an insatiable weakness for ice cream.
We’re all unique, and one way of eating won’t produce the same results for all of us.
There is no perfect diet — eat what makes you feel good, eat what makes you happy.
Experience food as it’s meant to be by eating locally wherever you are in the world. Remain open to its magic.
Change, health, and happiness all come from an open mind.
The Blue Zone diet and an active lifestyle undoubtedly play an integral role in why these communities comprise the world’s most centenarians. But without love, what is the point in living that long in the first place?
Love for our mind, body, and soul makes us take the steps to a healthier life.
Love for nature and the planet motivates us to get outdoors, lost amongst the sweet-smelling trees, or listening to the gentle ocean waves.
Love for others is what gets us through the difficult times, such as now. It’s what motivates us to be the best that we can be.
As the world has shut down for the last five months without gyms, restaurants, and constant contact with others, we’ve begun living as they do in the Blue Zone communities by taking the time to do what matters.
We’re cooking at home and enjoying long family meals outside and in parks, where people who thought they might never learn to cook are discovering it’s something they find genuine joy in doing.
All around the world, people can be seen in walking flocks, friends, family, even strangers walking and spending more time together to get some movement and sunlight.
We’ve found ways to see our families and friends, through apps, but if we can in person. That’s what has gotten us through this challenging time, and it’s what will bring a modern renaissance.
Maybe it’s time to redefine health by shifting our priorities and living as the centenarians have been all along.
We walked through the silent streets of the old village for a final dinner with Pappous, his family, and friends. We came across tables set up under dim lights, beautifully strewn from one end of the small plaza to the other.
And so the feast began. Local wine and charcoal-grilled meat and vegetables until we could barely see straight. Food as a celebration, as it’s meant to be.
We quickly became one big family, singing along with the acoustic guitar into the early morning.