Where are the healthiest people in the world?
Okinawa is made up of 160 islands in the southernmost region of Japan. The Japan National Tourism Organization describes Okinawa as a sub-tropical zone with many rare species of plants and animals, and white sand beaches surrounded by bright blue seas.
But what makes Okinawa special is not its beautiful environment. It is the longevity of the people who live there.
Those who live for 100 years (or longer)
Okinawa is thought to have the world’s highest ratio of centenarians.1 Approximately 50 out of every 100,000 Okinawan people live to 100 or beyond.1 Compare that to Australia, where in June 2014 there were roughly 10 centenarians in every 100,000 people.2
Not only do Okinawans appear to live for many years past the Australian norm, they also enjoy a good bill of health for much of that time. Determined to uncover their hidden secret of successful aging, the Okinawa Centenarian Study (OCS) was set up to investigate how these people remained so healthy.
“They were lean, youthful-looking, energetic, and had remarkably low rates of heart disease and cancer - even stomach cancer, which claimed many mainland Japanese. And they enjoyed the longest life expectancy in the world” said Dr Suzuki of the OCS.
What is the Okinawa secret?
It’s possible the Okinawans just have good genes. It’s thought between 10-50% of our human lifespan is inherited and longevity does tend to run in families.3
Or, it could be because they’re generally happy and laid back people. It’s not uncommon to see an Okinawan businessman wearing a Hawaiian shirt instead of a suit! 4
Exercise could also play a part. The Okinawans enjoy daily activities like “traditional dance, karate and a lot of walking. They also partake in strenuous gardening, which makes them feel one with nature.”5
But most likely, the answer lies in what they eat.
“A typical Okinawa diet includes seven servings of vegetables and fruit a day; seven servings of grains a day, two servings of soy products; fish several times a week and minimal dairy products and meat.”5
According to Dr Wilcox, an American gerontologist who spent many years investigating Okinawan longevity, the Okinawans also eat stacks of tofu, purple sweet potato, konbu seaweed, and squid and octopus - which could reduce cholesterol and blood pressure thanks to their high taurine content.7 Noticeably absent from the Okinawans’ diet is pre-packaged food and takeaway.
Key takeaway for Aussies
No one knows for certain why the Okinawan people live for so long. We’re not going to recommend you start eating tofu at every meal, but here’s a few (realistic) tips you might like to add to your routine.
- Eat more fresh food (and maybe include some sweet potatoes and grilled calamari – allergies permitting, of course)
- Get out in the garden and pull out some weeds
- Stress less… a trip to Okinawa might do the trick.
2 http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/3101.0Feature%20Article1Jun%202014?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=3101.0&issue=Jun%202014&num=&view= AND http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3101.0