Fifty Years of Adventure: Creating Your Own Blue Zone

| June 15, 2013 | 5 Comments

By Lisa Niver Rajna

Frank and Judi Niver on their wedding day: June 15, 1963

Frank and Judi Niver on their wedding day: June 15, 1963

Living to one hundred years old in great health sounds like a scam. Why do some struggle through their years in poor health with little enjoyment, while others enjoy the adventure of life? Even more befuddling, certain people manage only a few days of marriage, while my parents, Frank and Judi Niver, are celebrating fifty years of wedded bliss. They married in 1963 when they were both twenty-one years old. Taking ideas from Dan Buettner’s book, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” here are tips for creating a longer, healthier, happier life in a remarkable relationship.

National Geographic Explorer Dan Buettner visited “the world’s healthiest, longest-lived people” and discovered nine secrets for success from the centenarians. Each person or relationship must build their own recipe from the ingredients, which combine “community, lifestyle, and spirituality.”

Buettner states you can impact the quality of your life as only “25 percent of how long we live is dictated by genes.” The other 75 percent is “determined by our lifestyles and the everyday choices we make.” As one centenarian told him, “Eat your vegetables, have a positive outlook, be kind to people, and smile.” Can it be that simple to enthusiastically skip through your days?

Lesson 1 is to “be active” automatically. Add subtle exercise seamlessly into your day. If you park your car far away from the mall, you will walk more. Natural movement, not being a weekend warrior, is essential.

My parents are active all the time. They both do Pilates several times a week, and work out with weight and cardio machines. Even their vacations are active, as most of my dad’s periodontal patients know, that if he is not in the office, he is with his second love, downhill skiing. I joked growing up that my dad would rather ski than breathe. He has won many NASTAR medals, enjoyed heli-skiing and one season accomplished a five mountain interconnect hike and ski in Utah that men half his age barely finished. To celebrate their sixtieth birthdays a decade ago, my parents and their college friends went to see the big five on an African safari. For their fiftieth anniversary, they are exploring Iceland and Norway. Keeping the adventure alive in your vacations, activities and relationships is crucial to thriving.

Lessons 2-4 are about nourishment. The recommendations include eating less overall, while avoid meat and processed foods as much as possible and drinking red wine in moderation. Eating less is known as “Hara Hachi Bu” by the Okinawans of Japan. Healthy choices include enjoying your meal with family and friends.

Growing up, my family ate together at home every night except Sundays when we went out to eat. Many people thought my parents choices for meals of hearty vegetables, small portions of chicken or fish and no desserts were odd, but many of them are not here to comment any more. For school lunch, I always had healthy choices like apple juice, fresh fruit and vegetables and my mom’s homemade crunchola, like a granola bar. My parents sit down together for dinner every night, as they have for fifty years, which my mom lovingly prepares.

Feasting at a fast food restaurant, standing at your desk or dining alone watching television does not help your digestive system or your relationship. Our bodies and our lives require the sustenance of connections as much or more than calories as the next several secrets share.

Whether you call it “ikigai” (Okinawans), “plan de vida” (Nicoyans of Costa Rica) or “why I wake up in the morning,” a sense of purpose (Lesson 5) can keep you feeling alive. It could be your job,

The Nivers on a recent trip to Iceland

The Nivers on a recent trip to Iceland

hobby, or children, but the meaning that keeps you focused supports your overall success.

While it is crucial to pledge your commitment to both your partner and your ideals, it is essential to  relax regularly. Many centenarians practice their faith with a day off for church.

Lesson 6 is “Take time to relieve stress” with the power of faith (Lesson 7: “belong to a spiritual community”). When you participate in the Sabbath, “you have that as a pattern in your life 52 times a year; it can make a big difference. Some call it a ‘sanctuary in time.’” My parents are active in their synagogue–being part of a community with a regular schedule was noted in many of the Blue Zone areas. My entire family is active in the synagogue and my mom now serves on the Temple Board of Directors. As noted in the Blue Zone book, being part of a community with a regular schedule was one of the key factors for long life and health.

As Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, discovered, having a sense of humor can keep you feeling younger and restore good health. “The Okinawan seniors stood in a circle each morning and laughed.” They explained to Buettner, “It’s vitamin S. You smile in the morning and it fortifies you all day long.” After forty-six years of marriage, Sheila Sauber agrees, “For a long marriage you need to accept each other’s faults and have a sense of humor.”

After forty-two years in the same house, my parents know all the neighbors. With some of the families they have watched both the children and the grandchildren grow up. I taught at the same elementary school where I was a student, and the children of many of my friends from the neighborhood were in my classroom. On Parent’s Night at school, my parents would chat with the grandparents of my students who were their long-time friends from around the corner. At one event where I was speaking on science and education, a man sitting next to my dad said, “What grade is your child in?” He said, “The teacher speaking is my daughter!” They enjoyed chatting about their children and how one’s child loved being in the classroom of the other. My parents have always been very proud of my choices and visited my school often for events, just as they did when I was a student.

Lesson 8 is to make family a priority and (Lesson 9) surround yourself with those who share the Blue Zone values. According to Buettner, a key to a long happy successful life is “strong connections with family and friends.”

My sister and her husband celebrated twenty years of marriage earlier this month on June 5, 2013, and in our family we work hard to live every day to its fullest. We have always focused on each other, whether it was me flying home from college in Philadelphia as a surprise for my sister’s sweet sixteen in Los Angeles, or my parents flying to Thailand, to visit me at my job on a cruise ship. Take every chance to celebrate and enjoy the people in your life. Even with all these lessons, you never know which day will be your last.

At the end of our days, we want to be remembered for our accomplishments. For most in the Western world, that means the status and material wealth of our professions. Yet none of the nine secrets are about these things. I have learned from my parents that real wealth and success is investing in yourself and your relationships. My parents have embraced their son-in-laws, raised two daughters, and would do anything for my nephews, their grandsons. Recently at the funeral for our rabbi’s wife, I said to my dad, “Can you imagine being married for seventy years?” He looked at me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I am on track for that!” I hope the lessons from the Blue Zone and my family’s health and long life success inspire you to create a winning combination for yourself.

Lisa Niver Rajna is a travel writer, teacher, travel agent and speaker who has traveled to over one hundred countries and six continents. She and her husband, George, are spending a sabbatical year in Asia. Follow their travels at We Said Go Travel, on Twitter and on Facebook.


Category: Health

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Comments (5)

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  1. Marcia Metzger says:

    Judi and Frank…I have always loved your style, and, as we get older, I love it even more! You are truly my role models…not Angelina and Brad, not Luci and Desi, not Ronald and Nancy…but Frank and Judi! I would love to be able to say that I, too, can boast a 50 year relationship, but, even if I live another 3 decades, it would be impossible to surpass your milestone. Something tells me that we will be contributing to Lisa’s Blog on your 75th! I would take all the odds in Vegas on that one!
    Love you both…individually you are dynamic, but, as a couple WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Dov says:

    Hi Judi and Frank – Wishing you a big Mazel Tov from Sydney on the incredible achievement of 50 years of marriage. Very few couples make it to this milestone and the fact that you are still very much in love makes it even more wonderful. Hope you spend a least a year enjoying yourselves to celebrate your happiness and good fortune.

    Love – Dov & Rosin

  3. Martin A. Moss says:

    Hi Judi and Frank, I hope you are celebrating in merry old London. I can’t believe I have known you for over 40 years. You were almost newleyweds in 1971. Jill and I both look forward to celebrating appropriately when you return. Who were we way back when that picture was taken? Much Nachas and joy always on this milestone!

    Marty and Jill Moss

  4. Dr. Amrit Sapkota says:

    May God bless you for long life and happiness around this globe. I pray to Lord that you celebrate your 50th birth annivarsary with great pleasure!
    Please keep in touch for ever!
    yours sincerely,
    Prof. Dr. Amrit Sapkota

  5. This is so inspiring. It is great to witness such wonderful people exist in the world! Bless you both and keep traveling!

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