The Centenarians of Okinawa

The Centenarians of Okinawa

Japan is known worldwide for its healthy lifestyle, clean diet and seemingly impossible preponderance of 100th birthday celebrations. Nowhere is that more true than Okinawa. Theories offered to explain the atypically large number of centenarians are plentiful, but perhaps nothing can give you as much insight into the secret of Okinawans’ long life span as going there and speaking to the residents themselves. Lonely Planet Magazine did just that, and the results are fascinating.

Get plenty of Vitamin D - Residents of the main islands of Japan who want to utilize hours of warm sunshine are usually limited to doing so only in the summer months. However, Okinawa’s tropical latitude allows for locals to enjoy beach activities from April to October. The longer warm season provides ample opportunity to get outside and get active, enjoying the weather as well as soaking up all of that coveted Vitamin D. Making the most of the abundant sunshine in Okinawa is one of the keys to longevity.

Eat well - The medical profession has long been interested in the typical diet in this region of the world.

  • Some of the staples are well-documented: seaweed, rice, tofu and seafood, just to name a few.
  • Other traits are less so, such as fatty pork belly, black sugar, and chopped pig’s ears.
  • However, more important than the “what” being consumed may be the “how much”, known in Okinawa as the principle of ‘hara hachi-bu’, or ‘eat until you are eighty percent full’.

No matter what you’re eating, moderation and portion control is of utmost importance.

Remain active - Another secret a long and healthy life is to stay busy. In terms of maintaining physical activity, Okinawans have no shortage of opportunities.

  • Okinawans continue to hone their crafts and practice their hobbies well past retirement age, which keeps the mind sharper and the body more active.
  • In addition, many researchers have also advocated the Japanese custom of sitting on the floor, believing that the frequent getting up and down has great benefits for bones and muscles.
  • Dance is an important part of their culture, and residents participate in public performances and ceremonies well into their 70s, 80s and beyond.
  • With so much natural beauty and varied terrain on the islands, Okinawans are also able to get out and enjoy all that nature has to offer, whether it’s a stroll on the beach or a hike in the forest.

Taken together, these factors go a long way towards illuminating the biology behind the inspirational longevity found among the residents of Okinawa. Incorporating as many of these principles as possible into our own lives can only increase our chances of becoming healthy, active centenarians ourselves someday.

Read the full article from Lonely Planet Magazine here.