Gratitude adds life to years

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Longevity research represents facts and figures related to one's accumulation of years on this planet.  Hawaiians top the charts in the US with a life expectancy of 80 years while, believe it or not, DC represents the lowest at 72 years.  NC, although known for delicacies like sweet tea and barbeque, ranks 40th with an average expectancy of 75.8.  Even within the triangle, life expectancy varies by zip code, so there has to be more to longevity than geographic location (VCU Center for Society and Health).  Globally, we recognize that women have a higher expectancy than men, so gender plays a role, but it seems that a few pockets of culture, known as Blue Zones have the highest rates of centurians...even 10x more than the US.

What is the recipe for adding years to life, but even more importantly adding life to years?  Dan Buettner (2004) recognized commonalities in behavior;  obvious ones...Blue Zone residents move naturally and regularly, eat a plant based diet accented by meat and wine, foster a sense of community, belonging, and purpose.  Another researcher followed a group of nuns over several decades and made the link between gratefulness, life expectancy, and incidence of Alzheimer's disease in later life (Snowden, 2001).  And thus, the intersection between living long and living well is punctuated by purpose.  A sense of purpose is such a big deal that common to other research on longevity, purpose feeds gratitude and gratitude feeds purpose.  A circuit of purposed gratitude is linked to  a better immune system, feeling less lonely and isolated, better sleep, lower inflammatory markers, and higher levels of positive emotions.

This very important state, trait, virtue, practice, attitude, etc., is associated with a slew of positive outcomes.  I certainly want the benefits of gratitude...so where to begin?  Each journey to the view with rose colored glasses is different, but there are some suggestions that resonate with many individuals including me.  After attending Energy Management, one of SAS's staff training experiences, I had the opportunity to create a new ritual in my life.  This daily ritual included writing down three specific things for which I was grateful in those moments, on that specific day.  Each day is different, and reflecting on the list later helps me to see how my perspective alters with life experiences.   Yet, this simple practice affords me the opportunity to see people, places, and experiences as part of a bigger purpose.   Another practice capable of causing a shift in gratitude is letter writing.  Think of a person that has a significant impact on you.  Take advantage of the opportunity to express gratitude for the influence.  Write them a letter.  Now, dare to share!  Finally, count your blessings.  No, really, it actually works.  For example, some things I'm super grateful for right now...a view with clear skies & sunshine, a husband I love that makes me laugh and makes my lunch, and a co-worker (also a friend) who challenges me and makes me a better me!  As you reflect this season on the years of your life and all that makes you grateful, I challenge you pursue purposed gratitude and continue to find opportunities to add life to your years even as the seasons change.

This blog is adapted from a presentation, Longevity and Gratitude, created by Maria D'Amico, RFC Intern, and Rebecca E Allen, Sr Associate Fitness Coordinator. 

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Photo credit: Hand model, Lisa Hinkle

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About Author

Rebecca Allen

Sr Associate Recreation and Fitness Program Coordinator

Rebecca E. Allen is passionate about helping others develop and nurture practices of well-being.   She earned her BS in Sociology and MA in Exercise and Sport Science and holds fitness certifications from ACE, AFAA, Zumba®, Les Mills™, IFTA, and NESTA.  She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a 500 RYT, and enjoys long walks in the woods with her husband, Chip Davis.

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