What Do You Have in Common with People in Blue Zones?

by Aimee Wojtowecz

I think we can all agree that we want to live a long life, but have you thought about what that might look like for you? Healthy habits and improving the quality of your life can add not only years to your lifespan but years to your healthspan as well. The Danish Twin Study established that only about 20% of how long the average person lives is dictated by our genes, whereas the other 80% is dictated by our lifestyle.

Maybe you’ve heard of Blue Zones? Blue Zones are regions around the world where the population lives to 100 or more consistently. 5 geographical areas have been identified with the highest percentage of centenarians: Loma Linda, CA (specifically the Seventh-day Adventists population), USA; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan. In these Blue Zones, people reach the age of 100 at 10 times the rate they do in the United States. 

Extensive research in the Blue Zones has identified 9 characteristics each population has in common that are believed to slow the aging process. 

More N.E.A.T. (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
The energy expended for everything you do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking around town, typing on your computer, performing yard work, housework, gardening and fidgeting. People in Blue Zones naturally move more throughout the day. 

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 7 years of extra life expectancy. What’s your why? Sound familiar? You might have been asked that once or twice here at the gym. THERE’S A REASON! We didn’t just make that question up! 

Stress Management
People in the Blue Zones still experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is associated with every major age-related disease. What do the world’s longest-lived people have that most others do not? Routines to manage that stress. What are you doing to manage yours?

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% 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 typically do not eat any more the rest of the day. Try slowing down and eating without any distractions at your next meal!  

Plant-based proteins
Beans, including fava, black, soy, and lentils, are the cornerstone of most Blue Zone diets. When they do eat meat, it’s mostly pork and is eaten on average only about 5 times per month. Serving sizes are 3 to 4 oz, about the size of a deck of cards. Do you regularly include beans in your diet? 

Wine O’Clock Somewhere
People in all Blue Zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers. The trick is to drink 1 to 2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no before you ask, you cannot save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday!

All but 5 of the centenarians interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination does not seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services 4 times per month will add 4 to 14 years of life expectancy.

Family First
In Blue Zones, most families keep aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (it lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.); commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love. Chosen family and pets count too!

My favorite of all and something we’re pretty good at here at Underwood Park CrossFit. The world’s longest lived people choose social circles that support healthy behaviors. Okinawans create moais, groups of 5 friends that are committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies, shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. Overwhelmingly, the social networks of long-lived people have favorably influenced their health behaviors.

How many of these characteristics do you share with the Blue Zones? What habits can you add to your life to increase your healthspan? If you want to learn more about Blue Zones and how researchers are trying to recreate these zones all over the world check out https://www.bluezones.com/ .

The Other Core Strength

by Michael Plank

We all know that core strength – that is, strength in your midsection – is super valuable. When we talk about “core strength” at Underwood Park CrossFit, we’re generally talking about the strengthening the area from just under your glutes to the bottom of your sternum and all the way around your body: abs, obliques, low back, glutes, hip flexors, and pelvic floor. It’s the foundation of solid overall strength, and it’s no secret. We call it “core strength” because it’s strength in your center and because “core” means the most essential. And with that definition in mind, there’s another core strength that is not nearly as well known:

Grip Strength.

If you want to get stronger at anything where you’re holding an object, developing grip strength will help you do it. It doesn’t matter if it’s dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, pull-up bars, or rings; if it’s upper body or lower body; pulling or pushing. When you can improve your grip strength, you will see improvements in nearly all strength movements. It’s hard to believe. But try this while you’re reading: make a fist and pay attention to where you feel tension. Now, make a white-knuckle fist as hard as you possibly can. You’ll feel tension in your hand, forearm, bicep, shoulder, chest, neck, back, maybe even your abs and glutes too. And so here’s the takeaway: when you can build tension, you can spread it everywhere. The more tension you can cultivate, the more muscles you can recruit to do work, which means the more work you’re able to do.

There are all kinds of ways to build grip strength, but one of the best is to treat grip strength work like any other strength work: sets of 5 or fewer. We’ve all seen grippers like this one:

We have a set by the medicine balls at the gym. You can also buy them at stores like Walmart or Five Below. But beware: not all grip trainers are the same. You want one that you can squeeze together until the handles touch. Then do 5 sets of 5 each hand. Here’s the one caveat: strength work doesn’t mean do 5 easy reps, it means do 5 hard reps. It should be hard to do 5. So one of those grip trainers that lets you do 100 in a row won’t cut it. The ones we have at the gym are from IronMind and they’re tough enough to keep even very strong people busy for a long time. And if they’re too tough, you can start with barbell clips.

Find a resistance that works for you. Do your 5 sets of 5, 2-3 times each week for a month and then re-test a couple of strength movements like the deadlift or strict press and see the difference!


5 Steps to Using Visualization to Reach Your Goals

by Aimee Wojtowecz

What do you want out of life? What are your big picture goals? More importantly, how do you intend to go about reaching them?

We all have wants. Some are very simple, such as wanting to lose ten pounds or wanting to be able to run 3 miles. While others, such as changing to a new career, are more complex. What’s interesting is that you can use the very same techniques to reach your goals no matter the scale, big or small.

Visualization is the technique of picturing a goal in your mind in detail so that you can manifest this change in your life. Maybe it sounds a little new agey? Maybe it sounds hard? Not really, it just takes a little time and a little patience. Visualizing your goals taps into your Reticular Activating System (RAS). The RAS is a part of your brain that keeps you alive and sane by automating as much of your behavior as possible. Anything your brain does is saved through neural pathways, the most dominant and frequently used neural pathways aka your thoughts, get stored in your subconscious brain for faster access. 

“The Reticular Activating System just reinforces what’s in your subconscious. So if your thought (belief) in a neural pathway is “I don’t like exercise”, guess what: You’ll battle to get into a fitness routine. Because your RAS will only filter out information that will make you avoid exercise at all costs. To the point where it will block information about any fitness successes, you might achieve.” (https://lifexchangesolutions.com/reticular-activating-system/)

One thing to know about your neural pathways and RAS: It’s an automatic process that cannot distinguish between good and bad behavior. Your RAS does not care whether getting fit is good or bad for you. It only automates what’s in your neural pathways.

By following these five simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to rebooting your RAS and reaching your goals.

Step 1: Engage Fully in the Vision

You absolutely must put yourself into the visualization as fully as you possibly can, fill in all the details. Use all your senses and emotions to experience this vision in a way that is real to you. There can be no holding back here.

Step 2: Experience Different Viewpoints

What does this visualization feel like to you? Experience it first as yourself so that you can connect emotions to actions. You want to feel every part of it. Now, step back and experience it again as if you’re watching yourself succeed from outside of yourself, like watching a movie. Why? This helps you to see details you might miss otherwise.

Step 3: Live the Success

When you’re done with the visualization, it’s time to live the part. Become the person you saw at the end of the vision. How does that person move? Think? Act? What is their daily routine like? How can you implement this in your current lifestyle? 

Step 4: Reinforce the Message

Visualization needs back-up to be successful. The world is full of negative energy, sometimes finding root in your own mind. Keep your self-talk positive, use affirmations, and look for ways to constantly reinforce the vision in your mind without tearing it down.

Step 5: Make the Vision Tangible in a Way You can See it

Creating a dream board or collage will set out your visualization in a place where you are constantly reminded of the experience. Seeing it over and over will also reinforce your goals and strengthen your resolve. Not into crafting? Write it down on post-it notes and stick them to your bathroom mirror, in your car, at your desk, anywhere that you will be able to look at them several times a day. 

By following these steps, you’ll find your goals and dreams becoming more and more solid. Of course, you’re going to have to put in the work to achieve what you want. However, by using visualization and rewiring your RAS, you’ll have a clear path of where you’re going and how to get there. 

The Learning Pit

by Michael Plank

What does learning feel like?

We all know what it is. We all know that it has to happen. But we don’t always map what that process looks like. At our conference this past weekend, I saw it drawn out visually and it was super helpful for me.

Learning, it turns out, is not a straight line. We don’t just know a little more each day until we have mastered the subject. On the contrary, something worth learning takes us down into The Learning Pit. Learning new things – like a new language, or musical instrument, or gardening, or cooking… or CrossFit – involves confusion, frustration, failure, and stalled progress that feels like hitting a wall.

And then it involves dusting yourself off and trying again; and asking for help from an instructor or coach or mentor; and then some clarity; and then excitement, and then finally the acquisition of a brand new skill!

THIS IS HOW LEARNING WORKS. Any skill you can think of that’s impressive always has a learning pit. In fact, the speaker this weekend pointed out that if you can jump over the pit, you probably didn’t actually learn that much. So why does this matter?

Because it means that in your training journey, when you get confused and frustrated, when you miss goals and when your progress stalls, it’s NORMAL. It’s a part of the process. It’s not a sign that you’re failing, it’s a sign that you’re learning. And if you’re learning, you’re growing. And growth, after all, is what progress is all about. Physical progress is why most of us start, but that’s not always completely within our control – there are injuries and accidents, there’s aging and disease – but as long as our minds work, we can learn, and as long as we can learn, we can grow.

3 Underrated Fitness Tips

From the Archives

by Michael Plank

There are no shortage of fitness tips out there: warm-up, cool down, stretch, eat kale, track calories, workout all the time, etc, etc, etc. All those tips can be hard to sort through. These are a few of our go-to tips. They’re kind of boring, pretty underrated, but super powerful!

1. Be Consistently Mediocre

What you do doesn’t matter nearly as much as how often you do it and how many months or years you do it. This is true of strength building, skill building, nutrition, endurance… everything health and fitness! A 4-week chunk of perfection followed by an 8 week tailspin, repeated a few times a year won’t get you nearly as far as doing a pretty OK job a couple of times a week for a year. Just show up!

2. Something Is Better Than Nothing

Sometimes you don’t want to work out. Sometimes you really don’t have time to go to the gym if you also want to keep your job, get some sleep, and make your family happy. No problem. Go do a Tabata of plank holds (4 minutes). Do 30 burpees or 30 bodybuilders off of a box (2-3 minutes). Do 10 squats, or run up a flight of stairs once (<1 minute). If you can’t come 3 times each week, come twice. If you can’t come twice, come once. Maintaining your level of fitness takes way less time and energy than we sometimes think, and sometimes maintaining is plenty!

3. Do Stuff You Like and Skip Stuff You Hate

At least at first. The things you like will be the things you want to do, and if you want to do it then you probably will (see #1 and #2 above). Eventually, you’ll figure out things that you’re maybe not crazy about, but you’ll see how they support the stuff you like, and you’ll add those. And then eventually, maybe you’ll fall in love with the fitness game and just do everything all the time. But if you don’t, and you only ever do stuff you like, it still counts!

Whole sections of the fitness industry are built on convincing you that you don’t know enough, that you don’t have the secrets, that you need to do (and buy) more, more, more. But for general fitness and health, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

Eating for Events

by Aimee Wojtowecz

Murph is coming! It’s basically our CrossFit marathon and is generally the biggest workout of the year at our gym.

Nutrition is the key component for maximizing athletic performance and overall health! When preparing for a fitness event, planning your nutrition is just as important as planning your workouts leading into the event. If you want to perform your best and optimize your recovery there are a few strategies you might want to consider:

  1. Eat your veggies! And your fruits. Fruits and vegetables are full of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients) that are essential for energy production and aid in blood flow, cell and muscle repair and overall recovery. Eat a high quality, nutrient dense diet. 
  2. Get and stay hydrated. Most of the time plain water will do just fine but sometimes in workouts that are more intense, or a longer duration, or if it’s especially hot & humid, you might need a little more. Try coconut water, a pre-made sports drink (we love O2 Recovery), or an add-in like Nuun or Liquid IV. A loss of sweat equal to 2% of body weight causes a noticeable decrease in physical and mental performance. Losses of 5% or more of body weight during physical activities may decrease the capacity for work by roughly 30%. Post-workout hydration is equally as important to aid in recovery. 
  3. Carb load, but do it smart! There’s a lot of misinformation about carbs. Carb loading the night before is actually a big mistake as it takes time for the body to adjust to a sudden high influx of carbs. Keep your meals balanced in the weeks leading up to the event and make sure to include a serving of carbohydrates at each meal. Quality is key! Two to four hours before the event, have a carbohydrate rich meal or snack. Some ideal combinations include cereal with milk (or premade protein shake: The Fairlife Vanilla one is pretty amazing in Life cereal is all I’m saying); Greek yogurt with fruit and some granola; half a peanut butter sandwich and a banana; oatmeal and protein powder; or an applesauce pouch and a small protein shake. 
  4. Don’t try anything new! The day of your event is not the time to try something new. If you want to experiment with your nutrition try out some options you think you will like before a few regular workouts leading up to the event. You do not want to find out as you arrive that oatmeal makes you feel bloated and sluggish or makes you run to the bathroom. 


  • Maintain a healthy relationship with food! Eating should be both healthful AND enjoyable. 
  • Sleep 7-9 hours a night. 
  • Take a rest day! Your body needs time to reduce stress levels and solid nutrition to accelerate recovery. 
  • Add in relaxation and recovery strategies such as:
    • Rhythmic breathing
    • Stress reduction techniques
    • Yoga
    • Massage therapy
    • Meditation
    • Journaling 

Do you typically think about your workout nutrition? If the answer is no, why not?