Right now, the happiest place in America is Boulder, Colorado. Boasting a sweet combination of healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom and trust, it’s little wonder Boulder residents are such a chipper bunch.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Gary, Indiana, recently outed as America’s least healthy city. Here, crime is high and income levels low, proving the medical journal JAMA’s findings that there is a direct link between poverty and health.
(The city’s recent bid to host Amazon’s new headquarters —along with other plans to lure developers back to the area— will hopefully turn things around for locals.)
While it’s clear that where you live can affect your health, how you live is equally, if not more important. Let’s face it: relocating to another part of the country isn’t easy for everyone.
Most of us have jobs, family and other responsibilities keeping us rooted to our neighborhoods. It’s also financially prohibitive for a lot of people to move. And maybe you actually like where you live, regardless of where it ranks for health and happiness.
MAKE HEALTH THE EASY CHOICE
How long you’re likely to live is largely determined by your lifestyle and environment, with only 20 percent attributed to genes. Wild, right? You’d think it would be the other way around.
Given how easy it is to get your hands on sugary and salty snacks (especially if you’re living in a food desert) and how challenging it can be to find something healthy to eat, perhaps the notion isn’t that farfetched after all.
When junk food is this ubiquitous, self control can only take you so far. Research has shown time and again that willpower is a finite resource.
Drawing on knowledge gleaned from the world’s longevity hotspots, the Blue Zones Project is helping communities across the U.S. transform their environments into places where the healthy choice is the easy choice.
If you’re lucky enough to live in one of the cities where the project is already in place, fantastic. But if you don’t, there is still plenty you can do to ensure you not only live longer, but enjoy a better quality of life as well.
HOW TO MAKE HEALTHIER CHOICES, NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE
Small changes make a big difference, and there are any number of small changes you can make to your environment and routine that, over time, will make a big difference. Ultimately, the easier you make it for yourself to prioritize your health, the better your chance of success.
Blue Zones inhabitants live in a way that encourages them to move naturally. They grow their own food, they chop wood and they do things by hand.
By making it fun to go outside, you’ll be more inclined to leave the car in the garage. One option is to get a dog. However, you should only do this if you’re sure you can commit to daily walks and are ready to add a dog to your family.
Another idea is to start a walking club with your friends, family members or even your colleagues. Knowing you have people relying on you to show up will nudge you off the couch and into those trainers.
Don’t stop there though, see where else in your life you could incorporate more natural movement. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking well away from the mall entrance and getting off a stop or two earlier, if you take public transport, are other ways to get your legs moving.
Find the Right Tribe.
According to Jim Rohn, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. If you’re surrounded by smokers, couch potatoes and junk food addicts, you’re going to have a hard time being healthy.
It’s not always easy to switch up your tribe, but your health depends on it. You don’t need to cut people off outright, but you can slowly start distancing yourself from the ones who have a negative impact on your lifestyle.
At the same time, start looking for new cohorts to spend time with. You could join a hiking group or running club, volunteer or find a like-minded group to join where you’re sure to meet people you are more on your wavelength.
While it’s great to have the choices modern life affords us, it can also be bad for our health. Too many options can easily lead to overwhelm, and when that happens, the chances of making a bad decision in the moment escalate.
By limiting your choices, you make it much easier to be healthy. If you’re prone to late night snacking, leave your willpower at the store. In other words, don’t buy things that you’ll be tempted to eat at home.
Get into the habit of preparing your own food. It’ll save you money, save you calories and mostly importantly, it’ll save you from the risk of an unhealthy choice at the office canteen.
You could also round up your colleagues and make a healthy lunch club. Along with providing some much-needed support, it’ll also give you a sense of connection.
At the end of the day, if you can’t get to Boulder, Colorado, make it come to you. By adopting the Blue Zones practices you will live a longer, healthier and happier life. Take advantage of the wisdom these centenarians have imparted and start improving your life today.