How to Live a Longer, Healthier Life

Living to be over 100 isn’t uncommon at all in regions known as the blue zones. In these areas, life expectancy isn’t just higher; centenarians are generally also healthy in mind and body. Author Dan Buettner teamed up with a team from National Geographic to study these groups, and whittled their longevity down to 9 common denominators. We found their recipe for wellness extremely interesting and wanted to share it with you.

Prana Mudra – (Life Force Seal) for vitality!

As yoga and mindfulness teachers, our own blueprint for wellness always needs refining and fine-tuning. Whether we have time for a long yoga practice or a 5-minute mindfulness meditation, there is one daily constant, and that’s our high-energy dog, Lucy. She crosses a few things off the wellness list – she’s the reason we get up in the morning, she helps relieves stress (she loves snuggles,) and keeps us moving!

1. Move Naturally The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it. They grow gardens and don’t have mechanical conveniences for house and yard work.

What do you do to move naturally and stay active? How can you bring more natural movement into your everyday routine?

Soaking up some joyful movement.

2. Purpose The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy A reason for being.” The word “ikigai” is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile.

What inspires you to get out of bed in the morning, what makes your life worth living, or gives your life value? Would you like to find more meaning in your life?

Getting up and taking Lucy for a walk is a great motivator! When she’s happy, so are we.

3. Manage Your Stress / Down Shift Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour.

What do you do to actively manage your stress? Can you add a few new stress-relieving habits like yoga or meditation to your list?

Brian in his Tree Pose, bare feet on yellow steps, arms uplifted.

4. 80% Rule “Hara hachi bu”  – the Okinawan, 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.

When do you eat your biggest meal? Do you continue to eat until you are past full? Can you be more mindful of your hunger levels at the next meal?

Giant sunflowers growing on a small South Philly side street.

5. Plant Slant Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat—mostly pork—is eaten on average only five times per month.  Serving sizes are 3-4 oz., about the size of a deck of cards.

How often do you eat meat, and how big of a portion size do you put on your plate? Can you substitute beans at your next meal?

6. Wine @ 5 People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly.  Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.

Are you able to drink moderately? We cannot condone drinking, as many Americans have a problem relationship with alcohol, but if you are able to enjoy a glass of wine without any negative consequences, cheers!

Shakti Mudra (Power Seal) Shakti is in everything, she’s the innate creativity at the heart of all living things. Rosemary in our garden scents the scene.

7. Belong / Community All but five of the 263 centenarians we interviewed belonged to some faith-based community.  Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.

Have you found a community where you feel you belong? If you have, can you reach out to someone who seems like they might need help finding theirs? If you haven’t, make a list of possibilities.

8. Loved Ones First/Family Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes).

Can you create more quality time with your family? Can you commit more fully to your life partner if you have one?

Brian, my life partner, and our little family member, Lucy.

9. Right Tribe / Social Life The world’s longest lived people chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais”–groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors.

Can you set up a phone call or lunch date with a friend this week? Even casual social relationships are important when it comes to longevity. Who is on your best friend list?

Best wishes for health and vitality from Team Sun Wellness!

We are all our own best teachers, of course. What works for someone in Okinawa might not work for you. So listen to your own mind and body as you reach for new ways to be your best self. We continue to wish you health and well-being, and all the vitality you desire!

Resources: Blue Zones Website

Student Spotlight: Carol

We feel really strongly that yoga is for everybody, and yet the images of people doing yoga don’t tend to represent our own bodies or those we teach. So we decided to start a new blog series highlighting our own students, in an effort to shine light on regular people doing yoga and what that might look like. Plus, we wanted to learn more about our wonderful students outside of the classroom! Our first spotlight is on Carol, who was kind enough to come into our home so that we could get to know her a little better. Carol is so motivated and consistent in her practice, she inspires all of us to show up!

C is for Carol and Consistency

  • Name: Carol
  • Age: 68
  • How Long Practicing Yoga: 4 years consistently, 20 years sporadically
  • Favorite Pose: So many feel good!
  • Most Challenging Pose: Boat Pose
  • Sun Sign: Pisces
  • Pets: 2 cats, Diva and Misty
  • Favorite Sweet Treat: Dried Fruit
Carol holds her plank pose for 2 minutes every day!

I first met Carol L. in the fall of 2017 while teaching a Hatha Yoga series run by the Wallingford-Swarthmore Community Classes organization. Since then, she has attended roughly 115 yoga classes with me and a few workshops!!

“Compared to most other exercises, yoga is the best for allowing you to move at your own pace and accepting your limitations. It gives the best benefits without stressing joints and muscles. And it helps with self acceptance.”

-Carol L.

Carol gets to the mat about 5 hours a week and on top of that, logs a lot of miles on her treadmill for cardio.

“Yoga just makes me happy. Even thinking about doing yoga makes me happy. I’m more flexible, stronger and my balance has improved. I also have reduced much of my stiffness and back pain. I experience sciatica much less often, and when it does come on, it lasts a much shorter time.   My balance has improved.

-Carol L.

See you soon on the mat, Carol! Stay tuned for more Student Spotlights!

Joyful Yoga – All Levels Yoga for Everyday Well-Being

When: 10 Thursdays from 10:00-11:00am from September 19th – November 21st

During this group mat yoga class, we’ll find joyful freedom within our bodies while exploring a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures, with the breath at the foreground of our experience. These gentle hour-long sessions are accessible for all levels, and blocks and straps are provided to help deepen and achieve poses. Reconnect with your natural flexibility, innate strength and core balance – to bring your yoga practice off the mat into everyday well-being!

Where: Wallingford Presbyterian Church 110 E. Brookhaven Road
Wallingford, PA 19086 Free Parking on the premises

Payment Options: credit card, check, cash, PayPal, venmo (@Ann-MacMullan)

“How are we going to spend this brief lifetime?…Could we start to train as a warrior, aspiring to reconnect with the natural flexibility of our being and help others do the same? If we start to move in this direction, limitless possibilities begin to open up.”

-Pema Chodron

Yoga for Stronger Bones

Yoga practiced on a regular basis could help strengthen your bones! Certain poses including Warrior II, Triangle, and Tree are considered weight-bearing exercise, often recommended along with a healthy diet for optimal bone health.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does. By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

-Dr. Loren Fishman, author of study “Twelve-Minute Daily Yoga Regimen Reverses Osteoporotic Bone Loss

Recently, I’ve had several students approach me after yoga class to talk about their bones. “I just got the results from my most recent DEXA scan, and there’s been an improvement in my bone mineral density score in my spine!” says one 73-year old student who started practicing yoga consistently about two years ago in my classes. Another student, who just turned 70, reported a similar result on her latest scan. Both were kind enough to share their results with me, pictured below.

The DEXA or DXA scan is today’s established standard for measuring bone mineral density, and helps to estimate the density of your bones and your chance of breaking a bone. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, “a bone density test is the only test that can diagnose osteoporosis before a broken bone occurs.” If you’ve got osteopenia or osteoporosis, it’s reflected in the numbers.

In fact, more than 200 million people suffer from osteoporosis. Worldwide, 1 in 3 women over the age of 50 and 1 in 5 men will experience osteoporotic fractures in their lifetime.

We reach peak bone density by our late twenties, and then it’s maintained by a continuous process called remodeling, in which old bone is removed and new bone is created. The renewal of bone is responsible for bone strength throughout life. Certain factors like age, genetics, lack of exercise and poor diet can slow down bone renewal, and then our bones might thin to such a degree that we develop osteopenia or osteoporosis. Happily, there are lifestyle changes you can make to maintain and build bone density.

Bridge Pose (Setu bandhasana) stretches the spine

Of course we’d love to attribute the slight improvement in our yoga students’ bone mineral density scores to the practice of yoga. The only real change they’ve made has been adding a regular yoga practice, and neither of them are on medication. So just how effective is a regular yoga practice for building stronger bones?

According to one study, “there is qualitative evidence suggesting improved bone quality as a result of the practice of yoga.”

The study is pretty much the only one of its kind, and its revelations are being touted in Harvard Health and The New York Times. Researchers prescribed 12 yoga postures held for 30 seconds each, practiced on a daily basis by 221 participants. They measured bone density at the beginning and end of the study, and concluded that yoga “actually builds bone significantly in the spine and the femur, the two most frequent sites of fracture.” You can find out more on Dr. Fishman’s site, Sciatica.org.

The 12 yoga poses included in the study:

Image from Dr. Fishman’s Study
  1. Tree (Vrksasana)
  2. Triangle (Uttitha Trikonasana)
  3. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II
  4. Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)
  5. Reverse Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)
  6. Locust (Salabhasana)
  7. Bridge (Setu Bandhasana)
  8. Supine hand-to-foot I (Supta Padangusthasana I)
  9. Supine hand-to-foot II (Supta Padangusthasana II)
  10. Straight-legged twist (Marichyasana II)
  11. Bent-knee twist (Matsyendrasana)
  12. Corpse (Savasana)

We do most of these poses in our classes on a very regular basis, as they were covered extensively in our 250-hour teacher training certification. It’s been eye-opening to learn that not all yoga poses are good for someone with bone loss issues, and could actually increase risk for a vertebral fracture – as in poses with extreme spinal flexion (as in, forward folds.) Yoga should be practiced under the guidance of an experienced teacher who provides safe alternatives to classic poses, with an emphasis on proper alignment.

A gentle modification of Extended Side Angle (Parsvakonasana)

I’m so excited for my students who have committed to a regular practice and seen some heartening benefits show up in the very fabric of their bones! They continue to do the work, and it’s wonderful to witness firsthand what could be part of a relatively low cost and low risk answer to maintaining strong healthy bones and avoiding broken ones. Yoga also comes with some pretty great “side effects,” such as better balance, improved posture and strength, and reduced levels of anxiety. Hope to see you and your beautiful bones on the mat soon!

For best bone health, Harvard Health recommends:

  • eating foods rich in calcium, such as low fat dairy products, sardines, salmon, green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
  • getting more vitamin D from the sun or a supplement
  • doing weight-bearing exercise every day
  • not smoking
  • not drinking too much alcohol

Note: if you are under 30, building bone so that your peak bone density score is as good as it can be could help you tremendously later in life! All of the above recommendations apply to those who are still building bone density.

Resources:

Six Weeks of Summer Yoga in Swarthmore!

There’s a new way to practice yoga – with even more flexibility in our class attendance. Sign up for 3, 6, or 12 classes and attend whichever classes work best for your summer schedule. Stay mindful and strong throughout the summer months as we move our group classes to Swarthmore United Methodist Church, right in downtown Swarthmore. Classes start July 16th and go until August 22nd.

Attend whichever classes work best for your summer calendar! All levels welcome; blocks and straps are provided. Please bring your own mat.

Gentle Yoga Tuesdays 9:00-10:00am “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout our classes. We’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. 6 sessions from July 16th-Aug 20th.

Gentle Yoga Thursdays *10:00-11:00am* New later time for sleepyheads! “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout our classes. We’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. 6 sessions from July 18th-Aug 22nd.

Hatha Yoga Thursdays 6:00-7:00pm Unwind with this gentle but challenging ancient form of exercise. Learn basic yoga asanas or postures to improve strength, balance, and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together. 6 sessions from July 18th-Aug 22nd.

All classes meet at Swarthmore United Methodist Church in the air conditioning. The church is right next door to the public library and borough hall – 129 Park Avenue.  Metered parking can be found right out front and in the Borough Hall lot next door, and there is free street parking nearby.

Payment Options: 3 classes for $42, 6 classes for $75, 12 classes for $120.

  • Pay through PayPal or credit card (buttons below):
  • Checks: Ann MacMullan / 1809 S. Bancroft St. Philadelphia, PA 19145
  • I also accept and prefer Venmo (User: @Ann-MacMullan)

3 Summer Yoga Classes

Attend 3 of any of the scheduled yoga classes meeting at Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

$42.00

6 Summer Yoga Classes

Attend 6 of any of the scheduled yoga classes meeting at Swarthmore United Methodist Church

$75.00

12 Summer Yoga Classes

Attend 12 of any of the scheduled yoga classes meeting at Swarthmore United Methodist Church.

$120.00

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, a native of Swarthmore, is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. For more information, email Ann at info@teamsunwellness.com.

“I have been a grateful student in Ann’s yoga classes for a couple of years. As an older yoga practitioner who has worked with other teachers in the past, I have especially appreciated her non-judgmental and very encouraging approach. Her classes offer increasing challenges for students to stretch their bodies and their repertoire of yoga poses, but always in a compassionate, supportive, and peaceful atmosphere. In addition, her subtle humor and intention to connect personally with her students makes practicing yoga just plain fun. As Ann expands her teaching opportunities, I hope to follow her for as long as I can move my body!” -Judy S.

Intro to Yoga with Team Sun Wellness

We are so excited to announce a new yoga class we’ll be teaching together in our South Philly neighborhood – Intro to Yoga at DiSilvestro Playground! Meets the first 4 Saturdays in June from 10:30-11:30am. Price is $45, which includes a yoga mat! Or drop in to one Saturday for $15, mat not included.

For the first four Saturdays in June (1st, 8th, 15th, and 22nd) join Team Sun Wellness at DiSilvestro Playground’s indoor space for 4 gentle one-hour yoga sessions aimed at beginners, but open to all levels. During our sessions, we’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated, and standing postures and the transitions between these poses – adapted to your level. Our accessible sequences are designed to create balance between mind and body by connecting the movement with breath. Blocks and straps provided to help safely attain or deepen poses. Class size limited to 25.

Registration is being handled through Disilvestro (1701 S. 15th St Philadelphia, PA) and all the information can be found here: REGISTRATION FOR INTRO TO YOGA WITH TSW

About the Instructors: Ann and Brian formed Team Sun Wellness in 2015, joining forces to help people of all ages and walks of life take care of themselves through mindful movement and focused breathing. Both certified yoga instructors, Ann and Brian are passionate about bringing the principles of yoga – physical postures, meditation, and breathing – to populations outside the typical yoga studio space. We offer affordable classes in community and private settings where participants can feel supported while safely finding their own practice…and we have fun while doing it!

Special May Workshops!

We’re bringing you some special offerings in May and hope to see you come out for something a little different! All workshops meet on Saturdays at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall. Click on photos for more.

Full Flower Moon Workshop

SATURDAY MAY 18th: Combine yoga and floral design! Join us in celebrating the Full Flower Moon with a harmonizing yoga flow followed by DIY floral design 9:30-11am / Wallingford Presbyterian Church.

Start by getting grounded, breathing and moving to unlock your creativity during a gentle yoga sequence accessible for all levels. Then design your own hand bouquet to take home using locally sourced flowers and greens, with help from yoga teacher and floral designer, Ann MacMullan Jeans. No experience in yoga or floral design required! Bring your own mat or borrow one from Team Sun Wellness (supplies limited.) Class limit 25. $40 includes floral supplies to take home.

“Generosity is an activity that loosens us up. By offering whatever we can – a dollar, a flower, a word of encouragement – we are training in letting go.”

-Pema Chödrön

About the Instructor: In addition to teaching yoga and meditation classes as a certified yoga teacher (EYT-200) with her company Team Sun Wellness, Ann has a Certificate of Merit in Floral Design from Longwood Gardens and has worked as a floral designer for Merion Golf Club, Falls Flowers, and Egan Rittenhouse. She is passionate about the deep connection between people and plants, and delights in the abundance of Delaware County’s late spring blooms.

Full Flower Moon Yoga + Floral Design Workshop

Saturday, May 18th 9:30-11:00am includes floral supplies / Wallingford Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall

$40.00

Hatha Yoga – New Series

Unwind with this gentle but challenging ancient form of exercise. Learn basic yoga asanas or postures to improve strength, balance, and flexibility while focusing on the thread of the breath that “yokes” the mind and body together. Whatever your age or level of fitness, you’re welcome to join this accessible yoga class with a real group spirit. Come practice with strangers and leave as friends! And we’ll be adding more anatomy to our classes during the months of May and June!

Classes meet at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, an exceptional venue with hardwood floors and stained glass windows, and a feeling of sanctuary for all kinds. Class size limited to 35. Either sign up for all 5 sessions, or drop in for $15 to one.

Hatha Yoga Thursdays -May 9th – June 6th / 6-7pm / $50 for 5 sessions

$50.00

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, a native of Swarthmore, is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. For more information, email Ann at info@teamsunwellness.com.

“I have attended classes with Ann, participated in workshops, and worked with her in private sessions. Ann senses what each individual needs in all of these different settings. She is perceptive, insightful and kind. Yoga has helped my balance and focus. I wholeheartedly recommend her.” – Amy S.

Gentle Yoga – New Series

Gentle Yoga: “Gentle” refers to an attitude of taking exquisite care of ourselves in each moment throughout our classes. We’ll explore a variety of reclining, seated and standing postures and the transitions between those poses, adapted to your level. In addition, we’ll learn more about the limbs of yoga beyond the physical postures, such as meditation and breath-work And we’ll be adding more anatomy to our classes during the months of May and June!

These sessions are accessible for all ages and levels, and blocks and straps are provided to help deepen and achieve poses. Bring your own mat (or borrow one, supplies limited.) Classes meet at Wallingford Presbyterian Church, an exceptional venue with hardwood floors and stained glass windows, and a feeling of sanctuary for all kinds. Class size limited to 35. Either sign up for all 5 sessions, or drop in for $15 to one.

Gentle Yoga Tuesdays -May 7th – June 11th (no class on May 28th) 9-10am / $50 for 5 sessions

$50.00

Gentle Yoga II Thursdays – May 9th -June 6th – 9-10am / $50 for 5 sessions

$50.00

Payment Options:

  • Pay through PayPal or credit card (buttons above):
  • Send a check: Ann MacMullan / 1809 S. Bancroft St. Philadelphia, PA 19145
  • I also accept and prefer Venmo (User: @Ann-MacMullan)

About the Instructor: Ann MacMullan Jeans, a native of Swarthmore, is a certified yoga instructor (EYT-200) and teaches in the Philadelphia area with her company Team Sun Wellness. Ann believes in the healing power of yoga and meditation for everyone, no matter what age, level of fitness, or life circumstance. For more information, email Ann at info@teamsunwellness.com.

“I have been a grateful student in Ann’s yoga classes for a couple of years. As an older yoga practitioner who has worked with other teachers in the past, I have especially appreciated her non-judgmental and very encouraging approach. Her classes offer increasing challenges for students to stretch their bodies and their repertoire of yoga poses, but always in a compassionate, supportive, and peaceful atmosphere. In addition, her subtle humor and intention to connect personally with her students makes practicing yoga just plain fun. As Ann expands her teaching opportunities, I hope to follow her for as long as I can move my body!” -Judy S.