If you’d have told me a few years ago that community has the highest impact on our biochemistry and our internal environment, I would’ve dismissed it immediately. Being a sceptic comes at a cost. It means you miss out on important pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that make us more fulfilled and complete as people.
The definition of community is a group of people who live in a certain locality and interact with one another while sharing common interests and goals. You could dissect this to its components. Let’s look at it from a slightly different perspective and analyse what reactions it actually causes in the body.
Blue Zones are demographic or geographic areas of the world where people live measurably longer lives. Google Blue Zones and no doubt you’ll get the keys to a longer life, predominantly diet based: plant heavy, nuts and seeds, and a whole array of other super-foods. However, from doing much research into the Blue Zone phenomenon myself, it seems apparent that each country or region has different focuses within their nutrition. Some even consume higher amounts of dairy, which puts to the sword many theories on the detriments of that food group.Blue Zones are demographic or geographic areas of the world where people live measurably longer lives.Click to tweet
We can continue to scrummage around and look at every single seed and leafy green these people consume, or we could look at the blooming obvious. They all have one major thing in common, an incredibly strong sense of community! To feel like you belong has a very powerful effect on your internal environment. For obvious reasons, this is difficult for us to imagine in the West.
Let’s put a bit of science behind this concept. One of the most important hormonal ratios, if not the most important, is the Cortisol to DHEA ratio. One essentially being catabolic and the other anabolic, both serving vital roles in our survival and longevity. If this ratio is way off kilter, then numerous functions in the body become deficient. Without going too far into how important this particular ratio is, if we don’t keep it within an optimal range for the majority of the time (5.1-6.1 on a Saliva Cortisol to DHEA test), then we’re essentially speeding up the ageing process.
I can’t as yet provide you with average numbers of Cortisol to DHEA ratios for people in Blue Zone communities. However sometimes we need to use a little bit of common sense. These individuals eat from the land, stay away from chemicals and genetically modified foods, consume small amounts of homemade alcohol with group meals and celebrations, move everyday, and keep strong social bonds that aren’t based on escapism. All these ingredients lower Cortisol levels and reap the amazing benefits of DHEA, which range from factors like good libido in males and females, fertility, anti-ageing, better sleep patterns and improved cognition.
This leads me to the benefits on the brain. The body produces a particular protein called BDNF (Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor). It has anti-depressive benefits and also helps strengthen neural connections, increase production of new neurons and the growth of new synapses. Powerful stuff! The highest elevations of BDNF are found in socially enriched people, meaning less anxiety and depression. And the lowest levels of BDNF have been linked to complications like Alzheimers, accelerated ageing, obesity, depression, neurotransmitter dysfunction and Schizophrenia
We’ve been lead to believe that the best way to increase the production of BDNF is through things like fasting. While I’m not saying there aren’t any benefits to fasting (this’ll be a whole other blog), you need to tread carefully. The fact of the matter is there are many things that increase BDNF that don’t come with the same consequences as fasting. Some of these are things like exercise, curcumin, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D and of course … community!
Being part of a strong community may have a positive impact on many areas within the body: brain function, gut health, hormonal balance and also the heart. Through science we are beginning to understand that the heart to brain axis may be one of the most governing functions in the body. Emotions have the biggest impact on how well this axis operates. Things like appreciation, gratitude, care and compassion. These are all important values of some of the strongest communities in the world, which are characteristics that Blue Zones have in abundance.Being part of a strong community may have a positive impact on many areas within the body: brain function, gut health, hormonal balance and also the heart.Click to tweet
In an earlier blog I wrote about my experience in Greenland and how strong community bonds are what held the Inuit people together in a very unforgiving environment. I have no doubt that if the Inuits had not been infiltrated with Western influences like sugar and alcohol, that they’d still have some of the best health stats when it comes to heart disease and cardiovascular health. Older communities like the Inuits and Sardinians eat together, hunt together, move together and look out for one another.
We need more of this in our modern lives. Love it or hate it, this is why Cross-fit has done so well. They provide something that people today are craving: a sense of belonging, where people encourage you, look out for you, and support the decisions you make. Gyms have become a sterile environment where you’re shoved through the doors, really encouraged not to come, and then left to your own devices. How community-based does that sound to you?
As an Australian male, I once believed that to belong you had to get off your head every weekend, and then by some miracle you’d make a real connection with someone and all your concerns and issues would just disappear. In reality they were still there and you had the extra burden of toxins to deal with.
At 5th Element we encourage people to lift together, move together, ice bath together and ultimately go on this journey together. I could list the amazing benefits of a million exercises and thousands of vitamins and minerals, however, let’s go back to the start and begin with something simple: let’s build a real sense of belonging!