The Peloton Effect

We All Know Exercise is Important but That’s Often Not Enough

At least since our awkward middle school PE classes, the importance of physical exercise has been hammered into us. We know that exercise helps keep us fit by burning calories, building muscle and raising our metabolism. In addition, we’re learning of its positive impact of our brain health. Recent studies have pointed to the impact of exercise – even short, low intense workouts – on improving memory. At a Lake Nona Impact Forum, an annual convening of global health leaders and innovators, three prior US Surgeon Generals summarized their advice for aging well in one word: move.

Unfortunately, knowing that physical exercise is important is often not enough. We need established routines that work for us given our interest levels, abilities and limitations. In other words, we’re most successful when we create a custom training program that can evolve with us.

World Class Athletes Not Required

Exercise should not strictly be the domain of people who call themselves “athletes.” It’s important that all of us see exercise as attainable and desirable. That’s not to stay that there aren’t challenges getting involved for those who have not historically been active but there are many onramps and stories for inspiration.

Take Madonna Buder, perhaps better known as the “Iron Nun”. A Roman Catholic religious sister, she decided to try triathlons in mid-life in an effort to help sharpen her mind, body and spirit. She completed her first triathlon at 52, Ironman at 55 and has subsequently completed over 40 Ironman races. Now 88, she holds the Ironman record in the 80+ age category and is the subject of a Nike ad.

Exercise is an opportunity for anyone at any age.

We’re More Likely to Do It if We Have a Human Connection

Exercising with others can help. We’re simply more likely to exercise if we have others that hold us accountable. Or, it can be a convenient excuse to spend time with those we enjoy. In fact, recent studies indicated that sports that are inherently collaborative – such as tennis – as compared to others that tend to be more individualistic – such as running – can lead to greater gains in longevity.

Getting connected to others to exercise has never been easier. Word of mouth and access to friends of friends can uncover opportunities. Online tools like Facebook and MeetUp can help find like-minded people close by. Of course, joining a local gym and working with a trainer is an option; you can get the benefit of a human connection with an expertise to help set up a routine appropriate for you. Exercise classes can be a successful route, too. Curves can be a great option for women and is available in many places across the U.S. with over 10,000 locations.

Building a sense of community through exercise is a growing trend. According to Casper ter Kuille, a researcher at Harvard Divinity School and Executive Director at On Being’s Impact Lab, more people are turning to exercise groups, such as SoulCycle and CrossFit, as their form of church. In her research, she found that people are longing for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface-level relationships. She states “going through an experience that tests you to your limits, especially if you’re doing partner or team-based fitness routines, there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.” These connections are keeping people coming back.

New Models Emerging: The Peloton Bike and Innovative Home Fitness Systems

Making it to the gym can be a challenge. A high-quality gym-like experience at home is becoming an interest to many people. That’s one of the reasons why innovative home fitness systems are growing in popularity.

With over one million subscribers, Peloton has garnered lots of attention. Peloton is a well-capitalized exercise and media company that has blended intense workouts, initially cycling, with fitness tracking and access to world-class instructors. Some classes are live streamed from their NYC cycling studios while hundreds are available on-demand. Instructors for the live classes can see usernames of participants and often make specific shout outs to those participating virtually as a way to help everyone feel like they are part of one, larger community and experience.

Peleton Bike

People love it. Some claim they are addicted, often cycling at least twice a day. Peloton’s success has spawned a slew of other home fitness solutions, such as Mirror (personal training, yoga), Crew (rowing) and Tonal (weight lifting), that promise to be far more engaging than the NordicTrack from the ‘80s.

Combining Exercise with Doing Good – Back On My Feet

There are also opportunities of combining exercise with doing good. Of course, there are many examples of running fundraisers – I have a friend who is a proud repeat winner for his age group of the Helen L. Diller Vacation Home for Blind Children Turkey Trot in Avalon, NJ – but there are also opportunities to do much more. For example, there’s a not-for-profit called Back On My Feet that helps homeless people in about a dozen cities. This program combats homelessness through the power of running, community support and essential employment and housing resources. A key part of the program is a commitment by volunteers to run with homeless individuals three mornings a week at 5:30am. It requires a commitment for all involved, but the program has been enormously successful. It is hard to not show up when someone’s life is on the line.

What’s Your First Step?

If you have an exercise routine that works for you, keep at it. However, if you don’t, make 2019 the year to figure it out. Our awareness of the importance of exercise on our bodies and minds has never been greater and the options, particularly with MeetUp groups, running clubs and home fitness systems, continues to grow.

The key is to take that first step. What’s will be yours?

Block Party

Be Healthy: Host a Block Party

Every Memorial Day weekend, our neighborhood throws a block party. After months of pseudo hibernation from the mid-Atlantic winter and unpredictable spring, it serves as an opportunity to bring people together and celebrate the upcoming summertime.

Anticipation runs high. Planning starts months in advance. Secure the permit. Meet with the “committee” to go over the plans for entertainment, food and drinks. Kids create a flyer and go door-to-door to spread the word. We all hope and pray for good weather.

Whether it rains or shines, lots of people show up. Naturally, there is strong participation on our block but it has spread beyond both intentionally and unintentionally. People come from other blocks and even neighborhoods. I think there is some block party envy and we don’t mind. In fact, we like it.

Our entertainment is curated from the neighborhood. Young and old. Our nine-year old did a drum solo one year and an older neighbor played his fiddle. Our most frequent performer is a band of moms and dads who play folk cover songs. One time, I joined to sing Me & Bobby McGee. Unfortunately, it was recorded. Darn kids.

Not everyone likes the block party. A woman a few blocks away was unhappy with the music and complained. I took a break from the party and introduced myself. She said, “I don’t mind loud music, but I mind your music that loud.” She may have a point. Nonetheless, she later joined the party for the fellowship despite the music being even louder in person.

People stay a while. One year, a couple got in a tiff because she didn’t want to leave and he felt the obligation of other Memorial Day parties to visit. She won. Sometimes, especially in our busy culture, there’s something nice about just being. It’s exceedingly rare.

In our experience, block parties help build community. People have an excuse to get together. It brings together people from different circles, even if our living quarters are geographically approximate. It’s fun to see long-time residents connect with new neighbors. I also enjoy seeing the mix of young and old and everywhere in between.

The benefits of a block party linger. Parents find babysitters and babysitters find parents. Recently, we were away and furniture was successfully delivered to our house thanks to a helpful neighbor.

It builds what social scientists call social capital. Social capital is “the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.” Social capital is a good thing.

The problem is that, as a society, we are suffering from decreasing social capital. As this happens, loneliness and social isolation increase. In his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other – and How to Heal, Senator Ben Sasse identifies loneliness as the number one health epidemic – citing its prevalence and negative impact on life expectancy – and root of our unhealthy political partisanship.

In a recent survey of over 20,000 people, it was found that nearly half of those surveyed reported feeling some times or always lonely. The loneliest group was one of the youngest: people age 18-22. Generation Z – or the “iGen Gneration” according to Jean Twenge of San Diego State University – is the first generation to be raised with – or by – smartphones.

Older people are lonely, too. In another study of people 45 and above, about 1/3 were identified as lonely. This proportion is the same as a comparable study from 2000. The difference now, however, is that with people living longer, there are more people in this bucket. 5 million more, now up to about 45 million.

Part of the challenge is that many neighborhoods are becoming less neighborly. According to a recent study, about 20% of people regularly spend time with their neighbors, down 33% from the 1970s. Sadly, 1/3 of Americans never interact with their neighbors. Not surprisingly, according to another study, for those midlife and older, over 60% of people who are lonely have never spoken to a neighbor.

Connecting with our neighbors is about more than goodwill. It’s healthy. One study found that higher neighborhood social cohesion lowers the risk of heart attacks. Another found that good neighbor relationships lower risk of strokes.

Block parties aren’t the only approach. In Indiana, there is a movement to create porch parties. Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis started the effort in 2014 and it has now grown statewide, including fifty-two counties and seven hundred porches participating. “The one really beautiful thing about porching is that it’s outward facing. Random people from your block can walk by and come on your porch and it creates a closer-knit block,” says Kyle Ragsdale, an Indianapolis resident and porch party host.

In theory, building community should be easier in apartment homes given the close proximity of people. But, it often requires intentionality. At Smart Living 360, “connection” is one of our three anchoring principles and we encourage this through organized events and supporting resident organized potlucks. It has fostered friendships, including intergenerational relationships.

Researchers believe that social isolation can be contagious. When one person disconnects from another, it leaves both people with one less contact.

What if block parties could be contagious? Maybe they are. This year, we got caught up in the busyness of life and the Memorial Day block party didn’t happen. However, a friend from another block stepped in and hosted a block party last month. It filled that sense of connection and neighborliness that we missed this spring.

Now it’s your turn. Go host a block party. You, your block and your neighborhood will be better for it.


An Unlikely Paring that Works

Peanut butter and chocolate. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito. Suffer and festivals? Yes, SufferFest.

SufferFest is a bi-annual gathering that brings together middle-aged men from across the country for a day of nearly unimaginable pain (suffer) and outdoor adventure & comradery (festival). The most recent excursion was to Bryce National Park in Utah. 45 miles and 10,000 vertical feet. All of it. In one day. I did it. I survived. It was great and it was awful. And, if they let me, I’ll do it again.

SufferFest is a creation of two close friends, Rick and Ben. As you might suspect, these are not normal people. In the late 90s, they competed together in the Eco-Challenge in Argentina, an adventure race that spanned multiple days of straight racing involving trekking, canoeing, mountaineering and more. Their stories of joy and pain are bountiful. One might think that now – being in their mid-40s – they moved on from this chapter in their lives. They did not and, instead, they have decided to make ridiculous adventures mildly accessible to others. They’re like a good virus that is a little bit pernicious.

The crazy thing is that it’s getting popular. What started out modestly a few years ago with a few guys hiking the Pacific Crest Trail has now grown into a thing. With each successive trip, the list of interested parties grows. Twenty four of us traveled to Bryce in the spring. Over thirty people are signed up for a trip next month to the Great Range in the Adirondacks.

The Case for Suffering

We’re learning more and more about human longevity. Research tells us that our longevity is largely based on our environment and lifestyle choices. Our genes only account for about 20% of our longevity. Thriving in the Age of Longevity is largely about making smart decisions. Apparently choosing to suffer is among them.

Our bodies are wired to be lazy. One study by researchers in Canada showed how we will subconsciously change our walking gait to save as little as 5% of our energy. However, research also tells us that pushing our bodies to the point of strain and pain (within reason) is good for us. It improves our performance and health in the near and long-term. Interval training can add significant improvements in maximum VO2, a measure of how well our bodies can use oxygen and the most widely accepted scientific indicator of fitness, even at middle age and beyond. Regular, intense workouts have shown to improve health of the heart as well as strengthen the immune system. Middle-aged committed exercisers – those working out at least three to four times a week – have been shown to have a physiological makeup more akin to less active people decades younger than their age cohort.

SufferFest debatably takes suffering to a level beyond what’s necessary. I’ve contested this point quite unsuccessfully with the founders. Personally, I would prefer a little more fest and a little less suffer. How about 30 miles, instead of 45? I think that would be sufficiently painful. They disagree. They see the psychological benefit of what sport psychologist Dolores Christensen describes as “embracing the suck” when the pain hits particularly high proportions and one is able to make it to the other side with a sense of euphoria and accomplishment.

And that’s part of the point. As we look to the future, we’re far more likely to take it easy and underestimate what’s possible and what’re capable of, particularly as we get older. We can all fall victim to ageism and the sense of inevitable decline.

Coming for the Adventure, Staying for the Community

People may initially come for the adventure or to try and prove they haven’t lost it but they stay for the comradery. The sense of community. It turns out this is not unusual and, in fact, It’s a growing trend. According to Casper ter Kuille, a researcher at Harvard Divinity School and Executive Director at On Being’s Impact Lab, more people are turning to exercise groups, such as SoulCycle and CrossFit, as their form of church. In her research, she found that people are longing for relationships that have meaning and the experience of belonging rather than just surface-level relationships and that “going through an experience that tests you to your limits, especially if you’re doing partner or team-based fitness routines, there’s an inevitable bonding that comes from experiencing hardship together.” Sounds like SufferFest.

I also learned that SufferFest is not a one day experience. It takes months of preparation and at least a few days of recovery. It’s in that time of training that people get together at least weekly in Baltimore, Vermont, Santa Barbara and other locales where there are a cluster of participants. Workouts, such as hill repeats and long trail runs, are posted online to demonstrate progress prior to the event.

Playful banter helps add to the anticipation. Email chains with dozens of responses from all around the country is not uncommon. Ben recently encouraged participants to comment on SufferFest in haiku. It’s a creative lot.

SufferFest Group Photo

Choose Your “SufferFest”

Surely, SufferFest is not for everyone. In fact, I’m not sure it’s for me. I hope for a little more fest and a little less suffer. But there are clearly meaningful benefits. Broader research supports the health and relational benefits and we all feel it. Ironically, though one might feel like you may die in the moment, odds are you’re likely on a path to live longer and better.

For those that are curious about SufferFest, I have some good news for you. Rick and Ben have created a website ( for more information and are looking to create a toolkit to help other self-initiated adventure seekers launch their own sufferfests. Helping others suffer. What a legacy.

Designing for Longevity

The Power of Nudge

For a host of reasons, many of us will live longer, in some cases much longer, lives than our ancestors. In many cases, it won’t just be longer lives, it will be healthier lives. Our DNA has a role in our longevity but our lifestyle – the set of decisions we make each and every day – has a more powerful impact. These choices include the friends we keep, the activities we engage in and the places we live. In other words, our choices have a direct impact on the shape and magnitude of what experts call our Longevity Bonus.

So how can we successfully design for longevity?

Behavioral economists have researched how and what habits or practices can help lead to better decisions. The allure is that a small change or impact at the individual level, if multiplied and scaled, can have a profound impact on society at large.

The most well known behavioral economists on “nudging” may be Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. In their best-selling book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, they define ‘nudge’ as a gentle, not mandated, cue, push or other means to encourage a desired behavior.


Our kids’ school has been experimenting with nudging. Last year, as part of a student project, they replaced existing trashcans with three containers across three categories with supportive pictures: landfill, recyclables and compostables. The hope is that this signage would prompt people to think about the impact of their decisions. Indeed, it has led to an increase in recycling at the school.

An Example: Nudging to Greater Physical Well-Being

Earlier this year, I attended the Lake Nona Impact Forum which included a panel of the four most recent surgeon generals. Their collective advice for physical well-being: move.  They advocate making sure that we make concerted efforts to move every day, multiple times a day.

I have been making a more intentional effort to be active in 2017 and I have been using the Oura ring to help. The Oura ring is like a fit bit for your finger and does a great job of measuring general activity and quality of sleep. It detects blood volume pulse, body temperature and general movement though sensors embedded in the ring. The Bluetooth integrated app uses an easy-to-understand graphical interface to display results on activity and sleep quality and offers specific feedback and, often for me, words of encouragement.

App Screenshot

App Screenshot 2

The Oura ring has provided helpful nudges to help me stay moving. It is part of a growing body of wearables that are making a difference in people’s health. In fact, there is some encouraging news about the role of apps along with follow up services to help manage chronic conditions and stay well.

Designing for Longevity at Smart Living 360

At our core at Smart Living 360, we design and operate innovative living environments to enhance well-being. In other words, we create “nudges” to help residents find greater purpose, social connection, physical well-being, financial well-being and engagement in their community.

In the physical domain, we create communal areas designed for supporting planned and spontaneous interactions. These activities may include resident-led reading groups and craft clubs, outside speakers, workshops and potluck dinners and socials in our catering kitchen and club room.  A state-of-the art fitness center makes it easy for residents to stay active, even when the conditions are not particularly accommodating outside. A conference room with infrastructure to support telehealth allows for technology and services to help people stay healthy.

In the apartment home, contemporary design with elements of modern living, such as gourmet kitchens with custom cabinetry, stainless steel appliances and granite countertops, is coupled with universal design features, such as showers with benches, slip-resistant tiles and wider doorways, to accommodate the desires and needs for people of all ages. The ability to customize paint color, fixtures and technology options all add to the sense of creating home.

Nudging to better well-being also means creating a culture that engages and empowers people. With our Lifestyle Ambassador as the catalyst, we help connect people to each other – creating intergenerational relationships along the way, provide access to services on an a la carte basis and provide for greater simplicity in life, so residents can focus on what’s most important.

What Can We Do with this Longevity Bonus?

The Longevity Bonus is a gift of our modern times, but only if we pursue a lifestyle that nurtures this gift. Thankfully, tools to help us lead healthier lives are increasing, including in the realm of our living environments.

The next step is to make full use of these extra years of life. As we will explore in a future blog, the opportunity to live – what can be extra decades of life – can be an exciting but daunting task and requires as much creativity as it does careful planning.


An Era of Accelerating Change

Change All Around Us

Elon Musk may best embody the American Dream among today’s entrepreneurs. A native of South Africa, he has been a trailblazer in the fields of electronic payment (PayPal), solar power (SolarCity), space travel (SpaceX) and electric vehicles (Tesla). Most recently, he founded Neuralink, a neurotechnology company reported to be developing implantable brain–computer interfaces (BCIs). All this and he is only 45 years age. My bet is that he’s not done yet.

The prospect of consumer space travel, autonomous vehicles, and computer-aided brain function can make it feel like we are living in a world of science fiction. But, we are not. These advances are a direct outcome of an era of accelerating change.

Putting Progress in Perspective

It is easy to forget but for millennia not much changed generation to generation. People lived predictably brief and uneventful lives. Then, the Industrial Revolution brought change on a dramatic scale. For example, life expectancy at birth has increased more than twice as much in the last century as it did in the previous 200,000 years. Our global wealth has skyrocketed. The ability to innovate on top of exiting innovations – which is now possible with the reach of the Internet to gain free and instantaneous access to information worldwide – suggests that the steep trajectory of change will only continue.

 From Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg 

Predicting the Future Has Never Been More Difficult and The Recent Past May Not Be the Best Anchor

Our minds are wired to understand linear changes, not hockey stick changes. This is why logarithmic graphs – linear representation of non-linear phenomenon – were created. It becomes even more challenging when multiple non-linear changes occur at the same time. Advances in computing power, machine learning and the proliferation of small, interconnected devices are examples of today’s reality.

Even some of our sharpest minds are struggling to make sense of it. At the recent Berkshire Hathaway shareholder meeting, Warren Buffett commented on the dramatically changing landscape of retail by saying, “I have no illusion that 10 years from now will look the same as today, and there will be a few things along the way that surprise us,” he said. “The world has evolved, and it’s going to keep evolving, but the speed is increasing.”

It’s Not All Rosy

As we have learned, dramatic changes – even if generally positive – create disruption and losers as well as winners. Some of the pitfalls can be predicted but many cannot. For example, our new era of connectivity has, ironically, created a greater sense of isolation and increased anxiety. Studies have found that active Facebook users can be lonely as compared to peers that are not as active on social media. Numerous articles and studies point to the dangers and increased risks of social isolation, including the recent Boston Globe article “The biggest Threat Facing Middle-Age Men isn’t Smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.

How and Where We Live Will Change, Too

Our living environments will increasingly change, too.  These various advances give us new tools to meet people’s needs in new and innovative ways. On demand services, such as Uber for transportation or Task Rabbit for handyman needs, can replace traditional methods. The adoption and ubiquity of the “Internet of Healthy Things” – connected devices that help track personal data for your well-being – can help people stay healthy. I have been using the Oura Ring – effectively a fitbit for your finger – and it has provided accurate and informative diagnosis of my activity and sleep patterns to help me manage my life. Telehealth is being increasingly used in non-institutional settings to keep people from needing to go to the hospital.

These advances will enhance existing residential environments; they will also help spawn new residential models. Specially designed co-living residential options are new and gathering momentum with a multitude of providers. At Smart Living 360, we have seen how the impact of clever design, a culture of personal connection and the ability to coordinate services can resonate with people of multiple generations. Over time, with continued advances, we expect intelligently designed intergenerational living to be the norm, not the exception.

Looking Ahead

Perhaps the only thing we can accurately predict about the future is that will be different than today. Our collective opportunity and challenge will be to use ongoing advances to positively impact the world and humanity. Elon Musk’s ambitious vision of what’s possible should serve as inspiration to us all.

The Future of Health

The Future of Health Care is Staying Healthy

The US currently spends over $3 trillion dollars (or 18% of its GDP) on health care. This is significantly higher than most other countries and is twice the per capita average of other developed countries. Further, partially driven by an aging population, health care is expected to reach 20% of GDP by 2025, representing nearly $5.5 trillion dollars. These are huge numbers.  While health care is a complicated and controversial subject, it is clear that we need to find ways to rein in spending.

The future of health care is staying healthy. This was a theme of the recent Lake Nona Impact Forum, an annual gathering that brings together the nation’s top CEOs, health care innovators and thought leaders. One health expert, Ezekiel Emanuel, concluded that our country is “over hospitaled”, estimating that over 1,000 hospitals, or approx. 20% of the nation’s supply, are destined to close with a shift away from services provided in institutions to those in the community. All agreed that changes ahead are profound.

Not a Triple but a Quadruple Aim -> Consumer Engagement

Back in 2010, the US health care administration introduced the goal of a “triple aim”: (i) improving quality of care, (ii) improving health of populations, and (iii) reducing the per capita cost. Today, some argue it should be a “quadruple aim” adding consumer engagement. We need to find ways for more people to be motivated to stay healthy so we can shift resources from managing sickness to staying healthy. This is a particularly important task for insurers as well as certain states, such as Maryland and Vermont, who have chosen to be accountable for their total health care spend.

Increasing Role of Technology and Personal Data

Just as it has for other parts of our lives, technology and personal data will play an increasing role in our health. These advances promise to improve outcomes and reduce cost. Telehealth is now a common feature among commercial insurance plans, including UnitedHealth and Kaiser, and consumers have appreciated its convenience and effectiveness. Originally of Jeopardy fame, IBM Watson has focused energies on health care and has partnered with various health care institutions to accelerate health research. Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot is a bet on the ability to learn from metadata of millions of people.

Powerful tools are increasingly available to consumers to help stay informed and healthy. Daniel Kraft, a speaker at this year’s Impact Forum, highlights what’s possible with smartphones, peripherals and specialized health apps (“There’s an App for That”). I wear an Oura ring that provides accurate insights on activity and sleep patterns, including periods of light, deep and REM sleep. Internet of health things devices, like the Oura ring, can connect to new data consumer platforms, like Curious, to allow people to share data and learn from others.

Housing as Platform for Improved Health

Particularly as we shift from managing sickness to staying healthy, housing, one of the social determinants of health, plays an increasingly significant role. Work at the Bipartisan Policy Center has highlighted the important interplay of housing and health and the need to promote best-in-class options.  Innovative seniors housing providers, such as Juniper Communities, have demonstrated the positive impact of new housing models, including reduced costs and increased health.

At Smart Living 360, enhancing personal well-being is paramount. This thinking influences location strategies, design sensibilities and community culture.  We target walkable mixed-use locations, typically with a grocer in close proximity. Our design integrates in-unit features that accommodate people of all ages and stages, and common spaces are laid out to optimize interaction and utility.  Fitness rooms include a range of equipment to meet a variety of needs and are technology forward. Community programming, facilitated by our Lifestyle Ambassador, is oriented to increasing purpose, personal connection and physical well-being. Our residents report that it makes a difference.

The Evolving Empowerment of You

There has never been a better time in history to live a long, healthy and productive life. As we progress forward, changes in health care delivery, technology and housing will further empower us to take advantage of our increased longevity.


Lessons from Blue Zones

Lifestyle is the Wonder Drug for Longevity

I recently spoke at an event hosted by the Capitol Hill Village entitled Designed for Longevity. One of my co-presenters was Harriett Jameson, a Landscape Designer at Michael Vergason Landscape Architects. She shared stories of her time studying the impact of environments and longevity in Sardinia, Italy, a place with a reputation for both extended lifespan and vigor of its centenarians. She chronicled stories of these elders riding bikes and chopping wood and even Teresa Melledu, age 85, who walks up seven flights of stairs daily.

Sometimes, we think our longevity is closely linked to that of our parents and ancestors. This is not so. Researchers tell us only about 10% of how long we live is dictated by genes. The other 90% is dictated by our lifestyle. In this sense, lifestyle is the wonder drug for longevity. Harriett witnessed this in Sardinia as she saw how landscape design, including walking paths, access to garden space and linkages to others in the community, influenced daily behaviors and routines and positively impacted health and well-being.

What are Blue Zones?

Dan Buettner, founder of Blue Zones (see TED talk “How to Live to be 100+” and book Blue Zones), identifies Blue Zones as areas where people are living to age 100 at rates up to 10 times greater than in the United States, areas where life expectancy is an extra dozen years or so.  Dan teamed up with National Geographic and the National Institute on Aging to find geographic areas that stood out from others. In the end, they studied three areas: Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan and Loma Linda, California. Sardinia is remarkable in the way the society reveres its elders and models intergenerational activity. Okinawa stands out for its plant-based diet and portion control, sense of daily purpose and ability to maintain very close relationships with a cluster of friends for the duration of their lives. Loma Linda is noted for the importance of their faith (it’s a largely Seventh Day Adventist community), strong social network and connection to nature.

What can be Learned from Blue Zones?

The study of these Blue Zones has led to a number of observations that is informative to those living outside of these marked Blue Zones. Dan and his colleagues have narrowed the lifestyle commonalities across Blue Zones into nine areas, called the Power 9:

  1. Moderate, regular physical activity.
  2. Life purpose.
  3. Stress reduction.
  4. Moderate caloric intake.
  5. Plant-based diet.
  6. Moderate alcohol intake, especially wine.
  7. Engagement in spirituality or religion.
  8. Engagement in family life
  9. Engagement in social life.

Blue Zones Pyramid

Credit: Blue Zones

How Can These Lessons be Incorporated into the Design of Living Environments? 

Both Harriett and Dan speak to the importance of how one’s living environment can nudge someone towards better lifestyle decisions. For Harriett, subtle approaches in landscape design can make it easier for people to be active outside and connect with those around them. For Dan, he points out how certain features in a home can help promote better lifestyle habits.

At Smart Living 360, we feel the same way: designing spaces and environments for enhanced well-being can make a difference. For example, we design fitness rooms that have a wide range of equipment to support uses for people of all ages. Our residents have reported an increase in physical activity. Indeed, research has also shown the impact of convenience on frequency of activity. We design community spaces conducive to social interaction.  These spaces, coupled with a friendly culture facilitated by our Lifestyle Ambassador, have led to increased social engagement, including intergenerational connection. In addition, we provide access to lifestyle and health services intended to make life easier and less stressful, and promote a lifestyle of simplicity which allows people to focus on what’s most important.

The Choice is Yours

Increasing longevity is most beneficial to us if we have a high quality of life in those extra years. The good news is that the choice is largely ours. Each of us can take steps now, like instituting elements of the Power 9, towards a longer and healthier life.

On Physical Well-Being

“Do Your Best and Forget the Rest”

Catch phrases by Tony Horton, creator of the home exercise phenomenon P90X, still ring in my head.  “Do your best and forget the rest.”  “Bring it.”  “Quality over quantity.”  P90X, short for Power 90 Days Extreme, is a series of home exercise videos created in 2003 that have sold 4.2 million copies.  These are intense workouts.

My wife and I got caught up in the P90X phenomenon back in 2010.  We turned our basement into a gym. Strength bands. Pull-up bar.  Some of the workouts nearly killed us, but they positively impacted our moods. We seemed to eat healthier and sleep better, too.

The Basics: Exercise, Food Choices, Sleep

Not everyone is suited for the intensity of P90X.  There is, however, a healthy balance that covers the basics of physical well-being.  Here are three:

Exercising, even briefly, can make a big impact for managing weight, improving mood, boosting energy and improving sleep. It is even helpful in combating disease. In fact, researchers in Cambridge, UK have found that just an hour’s exercise a week can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by almost half. The nature of exercise depends on the age and stage of life. For example, lifting weights may be more important as we age. It helps build bone density.  

We are what we eat.  The merits of the Mediterranean Diet are well documented, and grocery stores, restaurants and food delivery services are making it easier to identify and choose healthy options.

Sleep matters, too. One study found that people who get less than seven hours sleep were nearly three times as likely to develop a cold.  Arianna Huffington has raised the issue of sleep deprivation to the national public with her recent book, The Sleep Revolution.

Power of Healthy Defaults

In combination, these healthy choices make a big difference.  As Dr. Laura Carstensen, Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, notes, “After 70, a mere four factors — exercising, not smoking, consuming alcohol only moderately and following a Mediterranean diet heavy on fruits, vegetables and healthy fats like olive oil — reduce by a whopping 60 percent one’s chance of dying from any cause over a ten-year period.”

Golden Opportunity for the Built Environment to Enhance Physical Well-Being

Your physical environment goes a long way towards making good choices a default choice.  By that, we recognize that most daily choices – upwards of 95 percent – are non-conscious, non-consciously chosen.  They are the product of our physical environment – and we take that into account in promoting well-being.

In the Smart Living 360 model, we invest significantly in a diverse array of physical fitness options for residents, ensuring that each community is embedded with the flexibility for people of all ages and stages to meet their physical fitness goals. We utilize the latest treadmills and StairMasters®, but we also incorporate the Expresso HD cardio bike that allows riders to cover terrain mirrored after real places, such as biking over the Golden Gate Bridge, and compete with other riders.  We have special stretching and strength equipment that are equally helpful for people looking for intensity and others who may be rehabbing from an injury or surgery.  Our lifestyle ambassadors help get people started with our gym.  Then, we bring in fitness instructors to create customized exercise regimens.

We also see an important role to help residents stay connected to physicians and wellness coaches. We have a room outfitted with the capabilities for telehealth. Over time, we expect residents to be able to easily share their key health data real-time with their physicians and other experts to help them stay healthy.

Taking a page out of my experience with P90X, we have also made it easy for people to stream exercise videos on a large TV, such as for yoga, Pilates and cardio workouts and to do so as a group.  In fact, the P90X DVDs my wife and I used have now been augmented by online streaming videos.  Residents can now stream P90X in our fitness gym but they should be warned of a risk.  They might hear Tony Horton talking to them in their sleep!