As we start a New Year trying to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to look at all possible means to stay healthy.

To demonstrate, the following three books help illustrate the impact of diet, general physical health, and mental attitude in order to achieve best outcomes. 

Lessons from Blue Zones

I have discussed Blue Zones several times in my past blogs. 

As described by CNN’s Sandee LaMotte in “Live longer with these dishes from ‘blue zones’ in America:” 

“In a few, unique communities around the globe, people live long and healthy lives, up to and past 100. Dubbed ‘blue zones,’ residents of these areas share a common environment and lifestyle that scientists believe contribute to their longevity.” 

Among the blue zones to be identified include Ikaria Island in Greece; the Barbagia region of Sardini in Italy; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California. 

Dan Buettner, who first brought attention to blue zones, is quick to emphasize that for people who live to be 100 years old, it is not just about the diet. It is about sharing a common environment and lifestyle which includes regular walking (or biking), gardening, living with family and close friends, having a purpose in life, and often belonging to a social or religious group.

As part of the blue zone lifestyle, diet is clearly important as Buettner discusses in his new book, The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100. 

The five pillars of blue zone diets are: whole grains, vegetables in season, tubers, nuts, and beans.

The blue zone diet is a variation of the widely recommended Mediterranean diet, but with less fish and meat. Cheeses are from goat or sheep’s milk. Some striking items have been included in some zones such as purple sweet potatoes in Okinawa, which are deemed to be especially healthful. Stews and soups are commonly prepared.

Switching to this type of diet is certainly not trivial. However, moving in that direction step by step will undoubtedly have an impact. Keep in mind the need for lifestyle changes, if possible, as well!

Breathing Properly

A New York Times Bestseller book by James Nestor called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art opens with this advice: “No matter what you eat, how much you exercise, how skinny or young or strong you are, none of it matters if you are not breathing properly. 

Your first reaction might be: “There is a whole book about this?” The answer is yes—and that’s why it’s a New York Times bestseller!

This is really an extraordinary book which emphasizes that you must breathe through your nose NOT your mouth. The reasons behind this are truly fascinating and illustrate how easy it is to not use our own bodies correctly. 

Key points include breathing through your nose filters both the incoming air and warms the air towards room temperature—both very important. In addition, you can control the breathing process, including the depth and length of inhalation for the incoming breath as well as when you exhale, which are also very important.

All these details have impact. I highly recommend reading this book. I am convinced that it is essential to pay attention to how we breathe. It appears that the magic number of a continuous flow breaths in and out is 5.5 (basically 6) per minute, if possible, to achieve maximum benefits. This brings oxygen into your body as much as possible, removing carbon dioxide. 

Research results and rich details of the historical context and deep philosophical roots of the correct processes are truly fascinating and good to understand. We are all very busy, but in this case, focusing on what you do every moment of your life is important!

Enjoying Birds and De-stressing 

This topic may catch you by surprise but is something we can all do. 

A new book by Joan E. Strassmann called Slow Birding: The Art and Science of Enjoying the Birds in Your Own Backyard illustrates how enjoying birds in your own backyard or even out the apartment window can be so rewarding. 

You may not realize how many types of birds are in your neighborhood and may come to your backyard. With the help of a special bird feeder that takes pictures and identifies each type of bird, the author noted 70 different types visiting her backyard. 

The birds may be blue jays, robins, wrens, mockingbirds, and warblers, for example. You’d want to see more and more types of birds as you go along. 

In the book, Strassmann highlights the stories of 20 birds—fascinating reports connecting us to nature, the “wild” right outside our kitchen windows. With our pampered lives, it is sobering to understand the many challenges faced by our tiny precious neighbors. 

Knowing what is going on in the neighborhood is a reality check especially as temperatures, plants, and so many other things are changing.

Again, I strongly recommend getting a bird feeder—even a birdhouse which some birds love. You will not regret this added connection to nature. It will take your attention away from the stresses of the day.

Bottom Line

Keeping your mind away from the troubles of the day and focusing on what can improve your health for 2023 are highly recommended. Eating as many healthy foods as possible, breathing through your nose, and paying attention to the birds in your backyard can be an excellent start to the new year!


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Image of Dr. Brian G.M. DurieProfessor of Medicine, Hematologist/Oncologist, and Honoree MD at the University of Brussels, Dr. Brian G.M. Durie is Chairman Emeritus and Chief Scientific Officer of the IMF. Dr. Durie is also the Chairman of the International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG)—a consortium of more than 250 myeloma experts from around the world—and leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative® (BSRI). 


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