Getting Older Can Mean More Happiness
Remember when we were young and thought that getting old was something to try to avoid? Now, studies show that as we grow older we actually tend to get happier. With Hawaii at the top of the list, its just another reason to move to Hawaii.
Based on a survey done by the annual Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being series, people who are 55 and older are doing better than their younger counterparts. According to the findings of the survey, 53% of those 55 and older were financially stable, compared to 33% for those 54 and younger. Not surprisingly, they also scored higher on the parameters of being involved in their community, feeling that they have a purpose in life, having a healthy social circle of friends and family, and living a healthy lifestyle.
The survey reached 115,000 Americans 55 and older over a 15 month period of time. During that span of time the targeted group expressed a high satisfaction level with their current standard of living, they said they worry less about money, and feel secure that they have enough financial stability to do what they enjoy. They also had higher rates for having health insurance and a primary care physician, and, perhaps surprising to some, a lower incidence of obesity and depression than their younger counterparts.
Hawaii Ranks Number One for Happy Residents
The clstudy also showed that health and well-being can very much depend on where you live. Hawaii had the highest ranking of well-being among the targeted group with Arizona, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Colorado coming after. The states with the lowest levels were West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana. Looks like buying a home on the Big Island can actually make you happier than you thought!
Dan Witters, Research Director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, spearheaded the new research that is part of the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-Being series: a study to examine the well-being of Americans aged 55 and older. Witters says,
“The 55 and over crowd in those top states…report always making time for regular trips and vacations with family and friends, reaching their goals in the last 12 months, using their strengths and aptitudes as a human being, in other words, doing things that are a natural right fit for them.”
Factors Determine a Happy Place to Live
The survey shows that there are a broad range of outcomes across the best and worst geographic areas. For instance, there is a cluster of states with high rankings in the Midwest, however, the high and low ranking states are, for the most part, evenly distributed. While New Hampshire ranks third, its similarly-sized neighbor, Vermont, came in at 45th. Arizona ranked second, while New Mexico ranked 28th.
Demography may also play a role in the outcome. The study revealed that Native American populations in New Mexico suffer with a higher rate of obesity, alcoholism, smoking and chronic conditions, which is a major factor in the state’s lower ranking.
State policy can play a role as well. Higher-ranking states were more likely to have policies in place that promotes better health. As an example, Colorado imposed a “sugar tax” levied on processed foods with a high sugar content that has had the effect of deterring some people from purchasing such foods.
Anti-smoking legislation was shown to correlate with the states having higher rankings on the well-being index. Colorado and Arizona, for example, ban smoking in all public spaces including restaurants and bars, while West Virginia and Kentucky have no statewide bans on smoking.
Source: Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index. To access the complete report, “State of American Well-Being: 2015 State Well-Being Rankings for Older Americans,” visit www.well-beingindex.com/2016-older-americans.
Hawaii Takes Well-Being a Step Further
Being the number one state in the poll didn’t stop Hawaii from going a step further to promote a healthy lifestyle and greater sense of well-being among its residents. The Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA) has partnered with the Blue Zones Project®. Their goal is to transform the state of Hawaii into an even better place to buy a home, live, work, and play. To reach that goal, they are implementing ways to help residents and business owners make small changes with the result of living longer, happier, and healthier lives and promoting the same in their communities.
What is the Blue Zones Project®
The “Blue Zone Project” might be best explained by reading Dan Buettner’s book “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.” The book became a New York Times bestseller and was featured on Oprah. Buettner traveled the globe to discover the best strategies for long life that he writes about in “Blue Zones.” He wanted to find places in the world where higher percentages of people were enjoying remarkably long, full lives. In his book he discloses the recipe, blending this unique lifestyle formula with the latest scientific findings to inspire easy, lasting change that may add years to someone’s life. The book inspired the Blue Zones Project® now being taken up by the HMSA of Hawaii. According to their website, 200,000 individuals have pledged to commit to a healthier lifestyle on different areas on the Big Island.
To get his findings, Buettner teamed up with National Geographic to find the world’s longest-living people and studied them. The team knew that most of the answers had to lie within their lifestyle and environment. Then, working with a team of demographers they found pockets of people around the world who had the highest life expectancy, or that had the highest proportions of people who had reached the age 100.
They assembled a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to search for the evidence-based common denominators among all the places studied and they found nine. Here they are as stated from the Blue Zones website.
The 9 Principles of Long Life
The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.
The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy.
Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.
“Hara hachi bu” – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the Blue Zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month. Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of deck or cards.
Wine @ 5:00
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all weekend and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
Loved Ones First
Successful centenarians in the Blue Zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).
The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.
Hawaii and the Blue Zones Project®
The concept of a being in a Blue Zone is to make small changes by getting residents and business owners focused on improving well-being not only for themselves but for their neighbors that can have big payoffs for the community. The goal is lowering obesity rates, smoking rates, and chronic disease rates by creating a healthier, happier place to live, work, and play.
Participation can lead to big benefits in communities across Hawaii, including lowering healthcare costs, having a higher productivity rate among resident, and ultimately, having a better quality of life. The HMSA is working together with organizations, communities, and people across the state to make well-being a priority.
The bottom line, Hawaii, is a great place to live and it’s getting better all the time. Who knows, buying a home on the Big Island might even improve your health and live longer by moving to the Aloha state.
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