Longevity Lessons from Loma Linda

 

On my quest to discover the secrets to a long, happy and healthy life, I have been visiting regions of the world including Okinawa, Japan, France and Hong Kong.

Loma Linda in California has been most intriguing Blue Zone for me as it’s less obvious as to why this town of about 24, 000 residents can expect to live at least 10 years longer than the average American where nationally for the last 2 years in a row there’s been a statistically significant drop of 0.1 year, according to a report on 2016 data published by the National Center for Health Statistics.

I had wrongly assumed that all Blue Zones would all be abundant with water resources, natural beauty and clean air, like my experience in Okinawa last year. To my surprise, Loma Linda is not coastal nor as abundant with natural beauty like the other Blue Zones. 

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I honestly thought my Google Maps had malfunctioned after a short drive by expressway through the desert from Los Angeles! I was expecting my end destination to be the idyllic snow capped mountains visible from the town. First impressions, it looked like an American Beauty suburban oasis with homes surrounded by picket fences, strip malls and (vegan!) fast food outlets.

Here’s my top 3 longevity lessons from Loma Linda:

1. Stop to listen to the wisdom of elders 
I had the privilege of meeting a retired Adventist pastor Robert. As we basked in the warm desert sunlight over a typical local vegetarian breakfast (no coffee!), he shared the history of Adventism, and how its spiritual path and lifestyle leads to a 100-year life as a side-benefit. I was struck by his resilience, positivity and focus on others even though he and his wife face some health issues. Although I’m what the locals consider me as 'unchurched', I was greatly moved by his parting prayer for me and success with my longevity learning quest. 

2. Stage of life is irrelevant when it comes to when you should expand your community 

Pastor Miguel

Loma Linda University Church’s Pastor Miguel talks about the importance of ‘community remembrance’. The community supports people throughout their life stages right from the time they are born, and celebrates their major transitions.

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One couple in their 80s are the epitome of a long happy and healthy life in a thriving intergenerational community. They have been married for over 50 years and are newcomers to the church.

Judging by warm vibe at the new member welcome dinner that I was lucky enough to have been invited to as a guest, they will surely find their place and sense of belonging within a short time.

3. Make a positive difference whilst having fun 

At the heart of Loma Linda University and Medical Center there’s a larger than life sculpture of the Good Samaritan to remind students & medical staff "to make man whole." 

Loma Linda has few incidences of lower chronic disease and mental health illness than other parts of the USA. As testament to the longevity research around how mindset and helping others contributes to better wellness outcomes, the locals I met all do paid and/or unpaid work that makes a difference to others. 

Sharon (right) runs the Little White House, a volunteer-run op shop for medical and dental students with economic hardship to furnish their homes with free curated furniture and homeware. 

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Janette (left) is part of the volunteer team of women who lends her visual eye and styling talent to attractively display all the newly donated items based on themes eg Easter, colour-coded or like-objects together at the shop. She says she has lots of fun and laughter with the rest of the volunteer team on the one day a week that she works at the shop. 

This study tour was probably one of the most personally challenging one that I’ve ever embarked on. I had to let go of preconceptions about devout churchgoers and let go of my fear of being different in a group.

I am so glad I ended up following my curiosity. I feel so blessed to have had some of the most meaningful conversations, connections and new friendships with people that I wouldn’t normally get the chance to meet and mingle with. It also has given me the thirst to keep pursuing more experiential learning experiences (another blog about how I started doing improv is coming up!).

I'd love to hear your stories of the lessons you've learned from vibrant older people you know locally or you've met on your travels, please get in touch.

 
Natalie Yan-Chatonsky