Some of the most respected dancers in the world didn’t get that way because they had the highest extensions or could do the most turns, but rather because their artistry touched the hearts and souls of their audience, and that comes with age, maturity and experience. Having a long career means taking care of your body and mind. We dancers can learn so much from the spry, healthy, active centenarians who live in the Blue Zones.
Ranked number 43 out of 224 countries worldwide, the U.S. life expectancy of 79 falls short in comparison to most of the developed world. The longest living societies named “Blue Zones”, however, have the highest concentration of centenarians, or those who live over age 100. These are diverse areas including Ikaria, Greece; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and even Loma Linda, California. The secrets of a long, fairly disease-free life has been already discovered by Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, and his National Geographic team. They also developed The Blue Zones Solution, which helps put the following principles into everyday real life.
The Right Tribe Principle
Those who you spend your time with can have a tremendous effect on your health. In the Blue Zones, for instance, it is common to have a tribe of close friends for one’s lifetime, and the healthy habits shared in that social group positively influence health outcomes over time. Dancers know that when we hang out with positive people who also make healthy choices, we, too, naturally make healthier choices. On the other hand, when our social group is the one that always goes out for fast food or buys snacks from a vending machine, that negatively influences us as well. If your friends are stuck in a fast food rut, maybe you can “be the change” in a positive and non-judgemental way.
The Community Principle
Belonging to a faith-based community can add up to four to 14 years to life expectancy. This community does not necessarily have to be stemmed from a particular religion but could simply be something that brings people with similar beliefs together.
Loved Ones First Principle
Centenarians were found to be more committed to their family, friends and life partner compared to parts of the world with lower life expectancies. Don’t let dance become so all-consuming that loved ones seldom see you. Your family and community can be your biggest support, and you will feel good by giving back.
The 80% Rule
This means that after you feel your stomach is 80 percent full, you stop eating and let your body digest. Dancers can incorporate this by eating mindfully and slowly chewing each bite. After eating about 80 percent of one’s portion, wait 15-20 minutes and reflect on how the body feels. If it is still hungry, it’s okay to eat the remaining 20 percent; the body might need extra fuel that day. Often we are surprised, however, to discover that we are actually full and satisfied. This is one way to watch portions and honor the body’s true needs.
The Plant Slant Principle
The Blue Zones regions consume a fairly plant-based diet with beans, soy, lentils, grains and other similar staples being the main protein sources. Although some of the regions consume meat two to five times per month, their overall diet is derived from whole grains, legumes and beans, starchy and other vegetables, fruits, and nuts and seeds. In the field of nutrition, we have mountains of research showing that eating more plants and less meat helps with muscle recovery, fights inflammation, helps with blood flow, and even keeps our skin looking good. People in the Blue Zones make healthy foods the natural and easy choices because of availability and ease of access. We dancers can re-evaluate our food shopping to make sure our homes are stocked with fruits and veggies. We can prepare beans and lentils ahead of time to make them quick, and we can make fruit, tea, nuts and smoothies as our go-to snacks instead of processed fast food. People in the Blue Zones eat a significant portion of their daily calories from starchy veggies and whole grains, so don’t believe the internet myths that these are bad for you.
The Purpose Now Principle
This encompasses the idea of being driven by a sense of purpose and having an overarching understanding of why you are here. Instead of just focusing on our technique, we dancers might reflect on our artistry and what positive energy we can bring to a class, a rehearsal and, ultimately, a performance.
The Downshift Principle
They delegate a time each day to relax, which can manifest as praying, meditating, napping or socializing. It’s no secret for veteran dancers that meditation or visualization improves performance. There are many ways to calm the mind, so each dancer needs to explore what resonates with him/herself.
The Move Naturally Principle
Contrary to common Western belief, you do not need to commit to structured physical activity to experience health benefits. In the Blue Zones, people do not exercise, but rather engage in some sort of physical activity, or movement, about every 20 minutes. They live in environments that encourage regular movement and those of which are absent of technological conveniences. Dancers could incorporate this principle by engaging in yoga, gardening, walking a dog, hiking, swimming or even rock climbing.
Fortunately, dancers do not have to wait until a Blue Zones Project comes into their city to experience such outcomes for themselves by working to implement these principles into their own daily lives.
By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD and Amanda Vasi of Nutrition for Great Performances.
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.dancernutrition.com
“Life Expectancy for Countries, 2015.” Infoplease. 2015, Sandbox Networks, Inc. 27 Mar. 2016 <www.infoplease.com/world/statistics/life-expectancy-country.html>.
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones Solution. Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People. The National Geographic Society. 2015.