Everyone wants to live longer…and be healthier. Modern medicine has made it possible to increase the overall lifespan of the human population. While we can all be thankful that someone can be on their third heart, there is only so much modern medicine can accomplish in the face of deep underlying cultural problems that are acting as a counterweight to these advances. Obesity is probably the most visible problem of modern times. This has in fact led to reduced life expectancy for some demographics.

We here at the Whistling Kettle have always stressed that drinking tea is a healthy habit. Numerous studies over the years support this claim, and you can easily find tons of credible scientific studies. We recently came across the blue zone project. If you haven’t heard of this, it is an exhaustive undertaking that investigates pockets of longevity throughout the world. These zones have a high concentration of people living in their 90’s and beyond while maintaining overall physical fitness and mental acuity.  Dan Buettner founded this project which has turned into somewhat of a movement, with an ongoing program of research, teaching and advocacy. 

We recommend listening to one of his Ted talks:

THE WESTERN FLAW…

As students of history we particularly enjoyed Niall Ferguson’s 2011 Documentary, CIVILIZATION: Is the West History?. There are many great points made in this fascinating documentary, but two areas need attention: Medicine and Consumerism. While these two areas helped Western civilization become dominant, their application in the modern area has created distortions. We have become a world awash in stuff, both material and food. Might we have become too efficient, too quickly?

While the majority of medical advances are great, big problems lurk underneath with the rise of chronic ‘lifestyle’ diseases. The success of capitalism has lowered the cost of many products, from air conditioners to televisions. But it has also greatly lowered the cost of food. In the past, diseases like gout were known as the “rich man’s” disease. Now with costs reduced through factory farming efficiency, the poor now take the brunt of these diseases. It’s ironic that the rich person’s diet now probably has more in common with the peasant diet hundreds of years ago.

As modern medicine has allowed people to live longer, it also makes them more susceptible to chronic age-related disease that requires constant medication, which massively increases cost. Budgets are being busted because of skyrocketing health care costs and we are seeing this borne out in the current Affordable Care Act debate. But let’s put aside the fiscal issues for a moment: does access to health insurance lead to better health? Despite politicians saying otherwise, the evidence suggests no. If healthy means we need to have a cocktail of drugs to survive, or shop in a motorized scooter because we can’t walk, then we need to define what living really means. 

A flaw that has evolved within Western culture, particularly in the USA, is the panacea approach to problems. In both the public or private sector,  it isn’t sexy to “maintain”..rather it seems to take a crisis…train derailments.. terrorism..natural disaster..pensions…you get the picture. Then some miracle comes to the rescue…be it a politician or a pill. Side effects or long term effects are not considered. Ever wonder what will happen to all the ultra-medicated children when they are in their middle age or older? 

Turn on evening news and notice most of the commercial breaks are for cruises and prescription medication. On one side you have advertisements for trips that, let’s face it – will feed you enormous amounts of food, and on the other side – the pills to alleviate the symptoms. We see the rush to gyms after a gluttonous holiday season. How many diets have popped up over the years, or fads like “low carb” or “gluten free” (Note: There is a new fad coming we will discuss about soon) ?

We have a never ending circle of food companies selling us a lot of junk, and other companies developing medicines (with lots of side effects), diets, products to control what is essentially our inability to moderate our behavior.

 

NOT A SILVER BULLET, BUT A SILVER SHOTGUN

One theme of the blue zones is there is no ONE MAGIC secret, but rather a series of areas that when combined, yield a healthier, longer and more fulfilling life. 

Some of these major areas:

SOCIALLY ACTIVE + QUALITY FRIENDS

Choosing friends wisely is a huge. The saying is true: ‘ Birds of a the same feather, flock together’. While Western Culture absorbs itself in social media, real social connections are sacrificed. Surrounding oneself with positive influences, good friends and family has proven health benefits. Social media is simply not the same. Religion also seems to play a positive role. These societies also value the elderly, and don’t throw them as quickly into nursing homes, if at all.

PHYSICALLY ACTIVE

Most blue zones populations don’t go to gyms. They keep themselves fit by incorporating exercise during everyday activity. Whether it’s walking, hiking, gardening – there is constant movement. What they don’t do is sit in cars for long periods of time or remain sedentary for long stretches at a desk. Think of how many developments in the last 50 years were built so you had to drive. Drive to  your destination parking lot, get out of the car and walk inside. Our society formed around car culture, which resulted in far fewer steps taken each day. It’s easy to do the math – more calories consumed, less burned = more obesity.

DIET IS KEY

One of the cornerstones is diet. Meat intake is limited and most food is plant based, with little to no processed food. Lots of fish, legumes, etc. Unfortunately, the USA is awash in garbage food, and the effectiveness of blue zones are being compromised in part because of the infiltration of Western processed foods.

But for many, eating properly is not even an afterthought. Schools don’t teach nutrition, and many children inherit their parents’ poor eating habits. Simply making fruits and vegetables available is only half the answer. People will also need to demand it.

One example of this is taken from the book, Hillbilly Elegy:

“Organized exercise is nonexistent. Eating habits are dreadful. We rarely cook. Instead, there are Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Taco Bell for lunch, and McDonald’s for dinner. New to me was “Mountain Dew mouth”: rotten teeth from a lifetime consumption of soda. The culture is plagued by suicide and heroin overdose.” 

These places, as well as many other parts of America, have dreadful eating habits. And you can see the real results of this by the crisis that is literally killing people.

STRESS

Avoiding stress. Be it a job, your surroundings, money, or a long traffic plagued commute – stress decreases life span. 

TEA….YES…IT’S PART OF THE BLUE ZONE HABIT

From Okinawa, Japan to Ikaria, Greece – tea is a staple of blue zones. Whether it is a steady stream of anti-oxidants via green tea, or anti-inflammatory compounds found in many herbal teas – the populations are literally drinking a natural medicine without even knowing it. Much of age related disease is caused by inflammation, so naturally reducing it will also help control age related diseases. 

USE TEA WISELY

That’s not to say that tea hasn’t been misused to promote the panacea approach. One area we wrote about previously is the scourge of detox and Instagram weight loss tea regimens. It’s all a big scam designed to charge you big bucks for a few grams of tea you can easily buy from any good tea shop. You don’t need any miracle blend to maintain good health. A few targeted teas might help to boost metabolism, help with a cold, cleanse the liver or get things “moving” but good quality everyday tea will have long lasting overall health benefits.

Some sites promote a ‘magic tea’ with a special ingredient found nowhere else on earth. In reality, there are many herbal blends that contain the anti-inflammatory compounds that are chock full of the good stuff we are looking for. We wrote about purple tea and its super high concentrations of anthocyanins, the same antioxidants found in blueberries. There are many different herbal blends with a variety of benefits, from Ashwagandha to Tulsi. 

PROMOTE TEA CULTURE

The key is to try and convince someone to drink tea. Behavior cannot be changed simply making new laws. Some trends take place because they make economic sense – witness the quick demise of the incandescent light bulb or the rise of Uber in a short period of time. Volvo just announced that by 2019 they will only sell hybrid or electric cars. Steve Jobs got flak for eliminating the floppy drive, only to see all computers phase it out within a couple of years after Apple did so. There are countless instances in the real world where things change rapidly for the better. 

One must discover the art of gentle persuasion. You are not going to convert someone over to tea by saying they are an idiot for drinking Mountain Dew. But there are other tactics. One is to get a clear glass tea tumbler and bring it with you to work. Many times it will spark a look of ‘What on earth are you drinking’ – it will often lead into a conversation. Find a tea with a great aroma that will make someone wonder ‘what smells so good?’. Plant seeds. Mention how you like the tea, the antioxidants you consume and how it makes you feel great. Offer to share a cup. It might get them excited about tea, or maybe the topic changes to the latest ‘Game of Thrones’ episode. Regardless – when have you had a bad conversation over a cup of tea? 

Not all first tea encounters go viral, like the dance scene from ‘Can’t buy me Love’. You may not make a difference at that moment, or they may forget. But perhaps a doctor or someone else will mention drinking tea and they will remember that cup of tea they had with you. 

Please take a look at the Bluezones.com website.