Secrets of Centenarians

In the ongoing fight against aging, researchers have focused in on so-called “Blue Zones,” where people live — and live well — deep into their 90s and 100s. These places, scattered from Costa Rica to Japan, have become a sort of Mecca for longevity for researchers who seek desperately to understand the common denominator. This examination has exposed several constants that define life in each of these diverse regions,  whether it be a suburb of Los Angeles populated by Seventh Day Adventists or a rural Greek island, and provides clues as to what helps a person live wellpast the average lifeexpectancy.

What’s most surprising — and encouraging — is the simplicity that characterizes these keys to longevity. The research suggests that by making small changes in your lifestyle and mindset, you could potentially add years to your life.

How They Eat

Although these Blue Zones are found all over the world, with different cultures and diverse diets, there are several key habits that may play a profound role in longevity.

Moderation is one of them. In Okinawa, Japan, which has some of the longest-living women in the world, people recite an old Confucian mantra, “hara hachi bu,” which reminds them to eat only until they are 80 percent full.

These small meals are seen throughout the Blue Zones, with the smallest and last meal of the day taking place sometime in the late afternoon or early evening.

Across the board, Blue Zoners eat a largely vegetarian diet focussed on vegetables and beans. On average, they only eat meat about five times per month and, even then, in small three- to four-ounce servings.

In most cases, the food comes from personal or family gardens and goes straight to the tables.

For everyone but the Seventh Day Adventists, wine is also an important part of the diet. Wine is enjoyed moderately and regularly, around one to two glasses a day, with food and friends.

How They Work

Researchers have found that in Blue Zones, interestingly, exercise seems to take a backseat to everyday activity. People work around their houses, in the gardens or on their trades. In every case, their lifestyle and their environment push them to be active throughout the day. For instance, many people in Blue Zones walk or use their bicycles for transportation.

Author Dan Buettner, who coined the term “Blue Zones” in his book of the same name, discussed meeting one noteworthy man in Sardinia, Italy with NPR. The man, Giovanni Sannai, was 104 years old when Buettner met him and was chopping wood at 9 a.m. Sannai started his day with a glass of wine and spent the rest of his time doing chores around his house.

But Buettner also noticed something fascinating about Sannai’s lifestyle that was a trend throughout the Blue Zones.

How They Live

As Sannai went about his day, people came seeking his advice as a respected member of the community. This strong sense of respect for the elderly, giving them a purpose, was a cornerstone of the Blue Zone lifestyle.

People who live in Blue Zones enjoy frequent, informal visits with their friends and family. Everyone has a place and a purpose in the community, even as they age.  In Okanawa, this way of life is called “ikigai,” or “sense of purpose.” In Costa Rica it’s “plan de vida.” Throughout all Blue Zones, the idea that you are still relevant, useful, even respected as you age, permeate.

Despite an ethic of hard work and an emphasis on purposeful living, all Blue Zone cultures enjoyed a balance of work and relaxation most Americans can only admire from afar. In Ikaria, people take their time, pay little attention to the clock and take naps every afternoon. Although it takes different forms, including naps, prayer and meditation, each Blue Zone society has a sort of institutionalized relaxation that helps them to slow down and refocus.

It is true that genetics play a major role in life expectancy, but that’s not the whole story, as a diverse Blue Zone community of  Seventh Day Adventists in Southern California attests.

Do you employ any of these Blue Zone lifestyle habits? Please share your experiences with us in the comments.


Staying Healthy on Vacation

Vacation can be a welcome break from the routines of everyday life. Unfortunately, it often also means a break from the beneficial routines of diet and exercise that you’ve worked hard to build. The desire to take it easy may make exercise seem unappealing, or it could just be difficult to fit it into your schedule with all of the other things you want to see and do. Similarly, your inclination while vacationing may be to indulge in foods you’d never eat at home.

With all these pressures working against you, how can you maintain a healthy lifestyle and still enjoy your vacation?

Plan Ahead

When it comes to keeping up your fitness routine on vacation, a little planning can go a long way. Will your hotel have a gym or does it offer access to a local health club? A quick search online will also help you find parks with walking or hiking trails so you can still enjoy the scenery while staying on the move.

If you won’t be able to get to a gym and want to work in some strength training, consider bringing lightweight equipment like resistance bands with you. With some creativity, you may also be able to use the hotel furniture for body weight exercises like tricep dips.

Keep It Positive

Your mindset toward exercise will also have a powerful impact on your activity level while on vacation. Try to think of that morning run as a way to kickstart your day and enjoy the area, rather than an interruption to your vacation.

If you find that you just don’t have the motivation for formal exercise while on vacation, it may help you to think in terms of activity rather than exercise. Take a bike tour around the local city or hike through the local parks.

Bringing a pedometer with you will help give you an added sense of accomplishment, while still allowing you to enjoy your time off. Shoot for the 10,000 steps per day recommended by the American Heart Association over the course of your daily activities.

Everything In Moderation

There’s something about eating out at a restaurant that fills us with the impulse to gorge ourselves. Resist that impulse and try to focus on making healthy decisions when it comes to both the size and content of your meal.

It is important, though, that you order healthy foods that are genuinely appetizing and not just out of a sense of duty. This will stop you from feeling as though you’re depriving yourself and being ultimately unhappy with your otherwise healthy decisions.

An unfortunate part of the vacation mindset is the idea that you should celebrate by eating at every opportunity. Eat only when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re comfortable rather than stuffed to the brim.

Don’t feel like this means that you can’t treat yourself, but keep in mind the need for moderation. Allow yourself one decent treat per day and sample these foods rather than feasting on them.

What tips have helped you stay healthy on vacation? Please share them in the comments.


7 Tips for Running and Biking in Winter Weather

When it’s cold out, running and biking are less pleasant and more dangerous. One solution is to get your cardio on stationary machines all winter long. Another is to quit cardio altogether until the weather warms up. But nothing beats the burn of some good, old-fashioned roadwork. Here are seven tips to help you get on the road even when the weather outside is frightful.

1. Do Some Research

Check the weather report online the night before you exercise, and an hour or so before you go out, so you can dress appropriately for what’s outside. Most smart phones come with a weather app that gives updated weather conditions for your area. If you don’t have an app phone, is an easy-to-remember Internet resource with the same information.  It’s also a good idea to research routes and tracks, so you can work the safest one possible given the conditions.

2. Dress in Layers

You’ll feel colder at the beginning of your run than in the middle or at the end. Wear multiple layers so you can adjust your insulation over the course of your session. Gloves and a hat are absolute musts when cycling in the cold, and a good idea for runners. For your lowest layer, use fibers that wick moisture away from your skin, such as Coolmax or Drymax. Compression garments make good under layers, but not all are made of breathable fabrics, so are less suitable for cold-weather exercise.

3. Run Laps

Hypothermia is a real risk when exercising in the cold, especially after you sweat and take off those first few layers. If you’re doing an “out-and-back” route, you risk getting chilled a long way from the warmth of your home. Running a shorter track multiple times brings you back to “base camp” more often.

4. See to Traction

Whether it’s rain, snow, or ice, traction becomes a problem in winter months. If you’re cycling, swap your street slicks for traction tires. If running, wear shoes with excellent traction, or consider shoe traction devices, which are essentially snow chains for your feet. Choose routes with fewer hills on snowy or icy days. Be especially cautious of black ice, which can be practically invisible and just as slick as any other nasty patch of road.

5. Emphasize Visibility

You won’t be the only person on the road with traction problems. Cars will similarly need extra time to stop or turn, meaning you need to let them know you’re there earlier than during the summer months. Wear brighter colors, and consider a headlamp and reflector vest even during daylight hours. Choose routes with a sidewalk or bike lane, rather than just a shoulder.

6. Eat First

Your body stays warm by burning calories, meaning extra calories are important in avoiding hypothermia. A light, calorie-dense, snack just before going out can make the whole experience more pleasant and in some cases safer. A banana, energy bar or cup of soup are all great options.

7. Keep Going

Perhaps the most important tip for outdoor cardio in wintertime is to keep doing it. When things get cold and drizzly, it’s easy to give in to temptation and stay inside with the TV instead. Ignore that temptation and get out there. Having a workout buddy, or committing to your workout on social media, can help you find motivation when the winter cold tries to suck it away.

Readers, do you have any success stories or tales of terror from getting out in the winter wet? Tell us about them in the comments. 


Active in the Snow: Cross Country Skiing

Cross-Country Skis in SnowWhen snow covers the ground, your activity level could decrease dramatically, and understandably so. Not only can it be difficult just to move in all that snow and slush, but it can be equally hard to find the motivation to do so. The problem is further complicated if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s important, then, to find some winter activity that can keep you active, in shape and possibly even give you reason to be excited about all that snow.

Although many people enjoy downhill skiing and snowboarding during the winter months, these are rarely a substitute for your normal workout since they do not provide the level of exertion or type of exercise you would usually get from your routine. Cross-country skiing, on the other hand, provides a safe, accessible and effective workout in the snow.

The Basics

What is now the sport of cross-country, or Nordic, skiing originated as a mode of transportation over snowy landscapes. It can be done in a wide variety of locations. This means that you don’t necessarily have to travel long distances just to ski, as is often the case with downhill skiing. In fact, many state parks are open during the winter for cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing uses a complex and challenging motion to propel you forward that involves a number of major muscle groups. One of the most noticeable features of cross-country skis is that the skier’s heels are not fixed to the ski. This allows the motion of skiing to very closely resemble walking and involves your calves in the movement.

Two ski poles are also used, for both balance and forward momentum. This upper-body involvement means that cross-country skiing also works your arms, shoulders and back.

A new variation of cross-country skiing has emerged, called skate skiing, with the creation of lighter, stronger materials that allows the skier to travel much faster. As opposed to the traditional forward-and-back motion, skate skiing uses an outwards kick similar to skating. The pole plants are also larger and faster to help you cover more ground with each repetition.

An Effective Winter Workout

As mentioned, both variations of cross-country skiing engage multiple large muscle groups, not just those of the legs. Because the back and shoulders are also involved, cross-country skiing is an effective way to improve strength while increasing cardiovascular fitness.

Cross-country skiing is also easy on your joints since the movement requires little-to-no impact, reducing the risk of injury.

And, let’s be honest, it’s also a very pleasant way to enjoy the great outdoors on a sunny winter’s day and see the sights with friends — all while getting a good workout in.

Both traditional and skate skiing can be a great way for runners to get outside and stay in racing shape during the winter, but skate skiing offers an added challenge. As is true of most challenging activities, though, the risk of injury is increased because of the increased speed at which you would be moving and the complexity of the movement.

For beginners, start out with traditional cross-country skiing until you become comfortable with the pole plants and basic foot motions. If you feel like you need to increase the difficulty of your workout at that point, then consider switching to skate skiing.

Potential Injuries

Even low-impact sports like cross-country skiing can come with some risk of injury and you should always use caution when starting a new sport. Cross-country skiing requires a large range of motion and considerable strength in your quadriceps and calves to keep you moving forward.

It’s recommended that you follow a basic strength training routine for at least a month before hitting the trail to make sure that your legs are up to the challenge. This can consist of just a few body weight exercises and is simply intended to acclimate your legs so that you can maintain proper form to prevent injury and soreness from skiing.

Have you been able to stay active despite the snow with cross-country skiing? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Random Acts of Kindness are Good For Your Health

The dreary days of winter can start to affect not only how you feel, but how you treat those around you. Extend the spirit of the holiday season into the New Year by being generous, thankful and kind to others. Everyone knows it “feels good” to do good, but did you also know that doing so is actually beneficial for both your physical and mental health?

We’ve seen a boost in random acts of kindness as people around the globe have recently been inspired by the New York City police officer who bought a pair of boots and warm socks for a shivering homeless man. When the cop’s good deed was caught on camera and went viral on the Internet, it inspired good deeds among others.

Aviator Amelia Earhart explained the phenomenon: “A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” Doing good often gets paid forward and thus many can benefit from a single act.

In his book Meaning & Medicine (Bantam Books, 1991), Dr. Larry Dossey tells us, “Altruism behaves like a miracle drug … It has beneficial effects on the person doing the helping…; it benefits the person to whom the help is directed; and it can stimulate healthy responses in persons at a distance who may view it only obliquely.”

Scientific studies demonstrate the positive effects of kindness on health, including an increase in energy and longevity, stress and pain reduction, a healthier cardiovascular system, plus inner peace and overall happiness. So in other words, when you do something kind for someone, you and everyone around you reap the rewards. Here are some ways we benefit:

Get “High” From Helping

Researcher Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine says helping a neighbor, volunteering, or donating goods and services results in a “helper’s high” that can lower stress and help you live a longer, healthier life. My mother used to volunteer at a thrift shop and she got such joy by rescuing perfectly fine coats that were headed for the garbage and leaving them on the steps of a nearby church that had a soup kitchen. Her real “high” however came from tucking a pair of warm mittens or a scarf into the pockets of someone in need as a little extra treat.

Giving Feels Better than Taking

Researcher Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia found that those who spend money on others reported much greater happiness than those who spend it on themselves. Who doesn’t love finding just the right present for someone special in their lives knowing what joy it will bring them?

Do Your Heart Good

David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., a chemist who left a career developing cardiac and cancer drugs to do research on the health benefits of kindness and happiness, says that performing a kind act releases oxytocin — the same brain chemical that surges when you snuggle your baby. Oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart by temporarily lowering blood pressure. So, he says, “Kindness is literally good for your heart.” I love the idea of paying the toll for the person behind you or picking up the tab for a nearby diner … how surprised will they be!?

Doing something kind doesn’t have to be big or expensive. I leave my copies of Woman’s Day and People magazines in my doctor’s office when I’m there because their selection is so poor. I feel good when I see someone pick one up because I know it will make the waiting time go much faster for them. Now I know that my act of kindness is actually helping me, too.

Remember, kindness is contagious. What kindness are you doing this season and how will it make you feel?  Tell us about it.


Home Remedies for the Common Cold: Do They Work?

With more than one billion cases in the U.S each year, it’s obvious why they call it the common cold. Sadly, with that kind of prevalence, it’s extremely likely that you or your children will have to deal with the coughing, congestion and aches that come along with the cold. With so many people suffering from this minor virus, it’s also to be expected that many remedies would appear. Some of these treatments have existed for generations, others are based on new theories. But do these remedies really work?


This herb, a relative of the daisy that is native to midwestern North America, has been a stable of traditional and folk medicine for years and is one of the most popular cold remedies. Proponents of echinacea claim that it may both prevent the cold and shorten the duration of cold symptoms.

Studies, however, are mixed. An analysis of all available quality research was conducted by the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, but found no conclusive evidence for either side of the debate over whether echinacea is effective or not. According to the researchers, this inconclusiveness could be caused by the huge variety of formulas used in echinacea supplements. These preparations may contain different parts of the plant or even different species of echinacea or any mixture thereof, making it difficult to judge the effectiveness of the plant itself.

In light of this uncertainty, Mayo Clinic advises that if you have an otherwise healthy immune system and are not taking any prescription medications, echinacea is unlikely to have serious side effects.

In other words, feel free to try it. It can’t hurt, and it may indeed help.

Chicken Soup

Once again, it seems like generations of mothers and grandmothers were on to something when they pushed chicken soup for the cold.

A team of researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that the ingredients in the classic chicken soup recipe has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce symptoms of the cold. The soup may also increase mucus movement, flushing the virus out of your system more quickly.

In addition to this activity, the vitamins and minerals contained in the soup may have an immune-boosting effect. Of course, there is also the possibility of a psychosomatic calm induced by the steam and the positive emotional effects of a warm bowl of soup being served to you by your mother.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a star player in countless over-the-counter cold treatments and is usually included in massive mega-doses in these products, well over the Federal Drug Administration’s recommend amounts of 60 mg.

Like many alternative treatments, vitamin supplementation has had mixed results in the research. The Mayo Clinic reports that, for the average person, vitamin C won’t be of any real benefit in preventing the cold, but for people who are at a constant risk of exposure to the virus it could be useful. Specifically, the Mayo Clinic lists school-aged children among those who could benefit from vitamin C supplements.

It is also possible that taking vitamin C before the cold actually begins could shorten the duration of the illness. This is hard to prove, however, since the virus reacts differently in everyone depending on many individual factors.

In light of the inconclusive findings, the Mayo Clinic classifies vitamin C as something that “probably doesn’t hurt” as a potential treatment for the cold.


Zinc has had a tumultuous history as a possible cold treatment, surrounded by flawed studies and controversial results. Most of the high quality studies on zinc have produced negative results but even the few that showed potential required that zinc be taken in a small window, within 24 hours, before the onset of cold symptoms.

Unlike vitamin C, which may be worth a try, the risks of zinc supplementation outweigh the benefits. Not only can zinc leave you with a bad taste in your mouth and nausea, but even the standard dosage found in over-the-counter nasal sprays can cause a long-lasting or permanent loss of smell. For this reason, the FDA warns against the use of zinc-based nasal sprays.

Warnings and Considerations

It’s true that some of the traditional cold remedies have shown promise in trials, you should always consult a doctor before beginning any self-treatment. Rest and plenty of water are still some of the best ways to care for a cold.

Have you experienced the benefits of any home remedies for the cold? Please share your experience in the comments.


How to Optimize your Pre-run Nutrition

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: I am an afternoon runner and find it challenging to know what to eat before my runs.  I often have stomach upset but I don’t want to skip lunch either.  How should I eat during the day to avoid stomach problems?  Thanks.  ~John

A: That is no fun, John, but the good news is that making just a few changes in your fueling regimen can avoid the pitfalls of stomach upset on the run.

It’s all in the timing

Because running is a high impact activity, anything you have in your stomach will get tossed and turned with each stride. Schedule your larger meals in the morning and evening, and go with a lighter meal for lunch at least two hours before you plan to run. If that is 2 p.m., eat at noon to allow for proper digestion.

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing

The quantity of food also makes a difference. If you eat a large meal too close to the start of your run, all that food sits in your gut during the entire run – playing havoc on your gastrointestinal system. When you run or workout, the blood that normally goes to your stomach for digestion is diverted to the working muscles to help you move down the road (or tread). In essence, normal digestion rates are slowed while you run, which emphasizes the importance of timing and quantity of food eaten.

Find your personal recipe

What you eat is just as important as when and how much. Everyone is different and for that reason I highly recommend keeping a fuel log for at least three to four weeks. In it, you can enter what you eat, when you eat it and how many calories you expend during the day. The value is in being able to determine your best menu for your afternoon running schedule. From there, you can mix and match types of foods during the day.

For instance, you could go with a higher fat, protein and carbohydrate breakfast so it stays with you longer and for lunch go with low fat, fiber and protein and higher in carbohydrates. Fat, fiber and protein foods all take longer to digest, which is great for satiety, but not great for running. Sticking with a higher carbohydrate lunch that is lighter in calories will digest more quickly before your run. And finally you can finish with a post-run snack (fruit and nuts) and a larger, more balanced dinner.

The key is to write it all down or use a fuel log online, time your meals based on your workout, tweak the portions pre-run and modify the types of foods you eat during the day. Here is one example of a menu you could start with:

Breakfast (6 hours Pre-Run):  Eggs with vegetables, cheese and toast

Mid-morning Snack (4 hours Pre-Run): Yogurt

Lunch (2 hours Pre-Run): Small salad with protein (chicken)

Post-Run Snack (Eat Within 20 min of Run): Piece of fruit and a handful of almonds

Dinner (2-3 Hours Post Run):  Fish, rice and vegetables

Give food monitoring a try, not only to help you avoid those stomach troubles during your run, but to keep you fueled all day long. Hopefully you’ll see positive short- and long-term results.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Filling Foods That Won’t Pack on the Pounds

Mixed FruitIt’s the dieter’s dilemma: you’re still hungry, though you just ate. Do you “cheat” and reach for more food? Or do you allow yourself to starve, which may make you more likely to overindulge later?

Neither of these options are truly solutions. In fact, eating more than you should or not eating enough could end up sabotaging your weight loss goals. Your best bet? Eat the right kind of foods to begin with. If you choose foods high in nutrients, you’ll stay fuller for longer – and those unwanted pounds will start dropping off.

The Secret of Low Energy Density Foods

Understanding the concept of energy density can help you stick with healthy eating for good. Energy density refers to the number of calories in a certain food.

High energy density means that there are a high number of calories in a small amount of food. Low energy density means that there are a low number of calories in a large amount of food. Low energy density foods are ideal for weight loss because the volume fills you up, but with few calories. Simply put, eating low energy density foods gives you the biggest bang for your dieting buck.

Most low energy density foods are high in water and fiber. Think fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious foods. Water provides volume and weight without calories, while fiber brings volume and helps you stay full for longer. Protein also helps stave off hunger, so pick foods high in fiber and protein with each meal and snack.

Most processed or “junk” foods and sweets are considered high energy density foods because they’re high in fat and refined carbohydrates. So reaching for a cookie will not only cost you extra calories, but you likely won’t feel satisfied for long.

Note that just because fat is considered high in energy density doesn’t mean you should avoid it. Eating “good” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats), such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado, is essential for good health.

Foods to Fill Up On

The following foods are guaranteed to keep you fuller for longer:

·         Soup. Opt for broth-based varieties that are packed with veggies and low in sodium.

·         Beans, peas and lentils. Add them to soups, salads and pasta dishes.

·         Green salads. Always start dinner with a green salad and you’ll be less likely to need a second helping of the main course.

·         Raw fruits and vegetables. Smear peanut butter on a banana, pair an apple with a slice of low-fat cheese or dip pepper and carrot slices into hummus for added staying power.

·         Seafood. Sauté scallops for dinner or add canned salmon to your salad.

·         Popcorn. Nosh on a few cups of air-popped popcorn to keep you satisfied between meals. Flavor it with a dash or curry powder, cocoa or Tobasco sauce instead of salt, cheese and butter to save calories.

If the idea of energy density seems overwhelming, remember that the key to keeping hunger at bay is to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean sources of protein and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Foods high in saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugar should only be eaten in moderation.

What’s your favorite low energy density food? If I’m still hungry after dinner, I go back for more veggies and drink a large glass of water.