PPH: A Mini Blue Zone for Wellness and Longevity
August is National Wellness Month, but at PPH, residents and staff focus on wellness every day of the year. Maureen Solomon, PPH Director of Wellness, finds inspiration for wellness programming in many different places, including the Blue Zones.
“I’ve read a lot of studies about Blue Zones, places where the largest numbers of people live to be centenarians,” says Maureen. These five areas, where researchers found the highest life expectancy, include: the Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan.
“There are similarities in each of these places with regard to how people behave in their daily lives,” Maureen says. We recreate aspects of the Blue Zones in our own little microcosm at PPH.
These nine factors include:
1. Move Naturally
“The body craves movement,” says Maureen. “We are cellularly wired to move our bodies every day. Residents are training for the daily challenges of living in an aging body. We improve function and promote daily movement so that they can stay independent and vibrant and thriving in their apartments for as long as they possibly can,” she continues. “I try to use the terms ‘daily movement’ or ‘focused physical activity,’ because they sound less intimidating and punitive than ‘exercise.’ We have residents who walk four to five miles a day, swim, garden — it doesn’t have to be a grind session at the gym.”
Maureen also puts exercise into practice herself. “I move my body an hour a day, six days a week, and I rarely deviate,” she says.
The Okinawans call it “ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida.” In English, it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” At PPH, residents find their sense of purpose in many different ways, whether it’s creating stained glass art, volunteering on campus, singing in the choir, serving on committees, or organizing a food drive for the local community.
People in each of the Blue Zones have ways of relieving stress. “PPH wellness holds classes such as yoga and tai chi outside whenever we can in the fresh air and sunshine. After class, friends and companions and colleagues sit and have a green tea and talk about their practice or experience,” says Maureen. “Humans are social creatures — most of us like to be around people and have meaningful connections.”
4. 80% Rule
The 80% rule is to stop eating when you are 80% full. That 20% difference between not feeling hungry and being full could be the difference between losing weight and gaining it. Maureen encourages moderation in portion size. “We don’t want people to not enjoy their life — to be so restrictive that they can’t have fun. That’s not a sustainable model. We want people to be mindful, ‘I can have a small piece of cake — I don’t need a huge dessert.’” People in Blue Zone areas also eat their largest meal earlier in the day, something that PPH dining program is encouraging.
5. Plant Slant
PPH is encouraging a plant-based focus in many of its dining options. Maureen herself also embraces nutrition that focuses on fruits and vegetables. “I eat mostly plant-based healthy foods,” she says. “Processed foods, fast food, work on the body as toxicity and not as energy or medicine.”
6. Wine @ 5
People in most Blue Zones drink alcohol moderately, often with friends and/or food. PPH is no different. “We host happy hours throughout the week with 20-30 people laughing and talking and hanging out,” says Maureen. “This connection is important because it allows the residents to make new friends.”
Nearly all of the centenarians studied belonged to a faith-based community. PPH holds regular services and Bible studies, encouraging participation by people of all faiths, and also promotes mindfulness and spirituality of all varieties.
8. Loved Ones First
Families of residents visit frequently and stay close to their loved ones at PPH. Residents and staff members are very connected, like family, living the PPH motto, “We’re family.”
9. Right Tribe
In Blue Zones, close-knit social circles encourage healthy behaviors. “We see this frequently at PPH, as we encourage camaraderie and socializing in activities where there is good conversation,” says Maureen, citing Ted Talk screenings that feature different subjects every month. But residents’ bonds go farther than that. “Our residents have a unique agreement with each other. And if they don’t see someone within the course of a day, they will reach out and say, ‘Hey, is everything OK? I didn’t see you at breakfast, I didn’t see you in the wellness center,’ so there’s this depth of connection,” she says.
The Blue Zones are just one of Maureen’s inspirations. Wellness at PPH encompasses many different aspects of programming for the 1,000+ group of employees and staff on campus. We encourage every member of our PPH family, whether it is residents or staff, to work towards the best version of themselves and live their best lives. This may be training for a 5K, buttoning a coat or walking up a set of stairs at a relative’s house.
“We’re really mindful of how we can provide very specific overall wellness coaching to each and every person on campus,” says Maureen. PPH truly is a place where wellness is celebrated — not just in August, but all year long.