Up at dawn, and while waiting for a perfect, crumbling long board wave at Waikiki this past week, I recalled that Hawaiians live longer than the rest of Americans and wondered why. For some reason, life expectancy at birth in Hawaii is among the longest in the nation. Indeed, people born in Hawaii have a life expectancy of almost 81 years, at least three years longer than the US average. Why is this?
While watching rainbows appear and fade as early morning showers give way to the rising sun over Waikiki, I thought that it must be the fabulous and consistent climate. Then, as I saw surfers stream out to the break that I was tending before their workday started, I figured it must be that “island fitness” that pervades the tropics. Taking a large breath, I was reminded of the lack of air pollution and the sweet smell of jasmine, orchid and hibiscus flowers that blossom everywhere on the island. Could this be their secret?
A relaxing evening luau with soothing traditional aloha music and dancing accompanied by light, aromatic, almost Mediterranean dinner fare suggested that reducing stress and eating well and in moderation may also have something to do with it. Witnessing the deep respect held for family elders, for the community at large, and for the beauty and health of their island must also contribute in some way to longevity.
And then it hit me. Balance. The backbone of many older cultures is that they have found and maintain a seemingly harmonious balance as a civilization. They are aligned with others as individuals, with nature and with their place as a society on this good earth. The stress of extremes is present but not pervasive in such self-realized cultures and this is obvious in the genuinely large smiles that greet you at every corner of the island. So, let me propose a formula for staying healthy: realize that it is not life’s moments themselves that define you, but how you choose to live them.