A vibrant social ecosystem is as essential as the Mediterranean Diet to health and longevity.
You might have seen this article The Island Where People Forget to Die a few years ago. I recently re-read this exploration of “blue zones” where people habitually live long, productive lives, and read a companion piece on the “blue zone” author’s discoveries about food and diet: My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner.
What really struck me in this re-reading was the centrality of purposeful work and a robust social ecosystem in the lives of the productive/active elderly.
This is in stark contrast to the conventional narrative of our healthcare system, which focuses on diet and exercise as the sole inputs that affect longevity.
This mechanical mindset leads us to conclude that doing time on a treadmill and being hyper-vigilant about sticking to a strict dietary regime are the keys not just to health but to longevity.
But if we look a bit more deeply at life on Okinawa and the Greek island of Ikaria, we find that spending time with friends over a glass of wine and purposeful work in gardens and vineyards are more central to daily life than time spent alone on exercise machines or obsessively following diets.
The idea that the social ecosystem is as important (or even more important) than the easy-to-quantify-and-measure mechanics of exercise and diet. The idea that our social ecosystem is more important than the inputs of exercise and diet simply doesn’t compute in our system’s worldview for a basic reason:
our system only recognizes what can be measured and quantified. Since social reciprocity, bonds, obligations, etc. cannot be easily quantified, they simply don’t exist in our medical worldview.