Path to a Long Life: Okinawan Style

Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

The Longevity Island

沖縄県日本 ~ 長寿の島

While Japan is known for health and longevity, there is one prefecture that is healthiest of them all: Okinawa.

Okinawa is located below mainland Japan and above Taiwan. It consists of a chain of small islands stretching 1,000 km long (620 miles). The main and largest island is known as Okinawan Island and is only 112 km long (70 m) and 11 km wide (7 m). The capital is Naha city and the population rounds up to 1.5 million people. Despite its size, it is home to one of the most well-kept secrets of health and longevity in the world.

Their longevity and health path can be followed by anyone.

Yet still unknown to many.

okinawa japan on map

Picture provided by Here.com map images

Okinawa is one of 5 areas with a large number of centenarians

Many Okinawans live to and past 100 years old. There are only five areas in the world like this:

  1. Barbagia region of Sardinia
  2. Ikaria, Greece
  3. Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  4. Loma Linda, California- Seventh Day Adventists
  5. And our Okinawa, Japan

The Okinawa Centenarian Study shows the extensive research done on Okinawa’s long-living population.

There are 9 main reasons why all these areas have people living long, healthy lives:

  1. Don’t exercise, just move:

    Centuries ago, people did not go to gyms or join marathons. They moved all day, every day without even thinking about it.

  2. Life purpose:

    Okinawans have a single word for it: ‘Ikigai’, or something one lives for in their lifetime. Without a sense of purpose, most of us would not feel useful or motivated to continue on in life. Okinawan people emphasize importance on having something to look forward to when waking up in the morning.

  3. De-stress:

    Stress leads to a number of diseases and problems within the body. De-stressing from everyday life is vital and yet hard to do. Okinawan people appreciate their surrounding environment and the beauty of the land they live on. Japan even implemented a program called ‘shinrin-yoku‘ or ‘forest bathing’. The Japanese understand the importance of being in and appreciating the beauty of the environment around us and its impact on our health and mind.

  4. 80% Rule:

    The Okinawan people have a famous saying and rule to follow when it comes to eating. ‘Eat until your stomach is an 8th full’ or ‘Hara hachi bu‘.The Okinawans are proven to have less free radicals compared to the average person because of this rule. When you eat fewer calories your stomach produces less free radicals that lead to cancer, heart disease, and other diseases.

  5. Plant diet: 

    The Okinawans are not vegetarians, but they are close to it. Since before World War 2 the Okinawans did not have access to large amounts of meat and only ate pork a few times a year. Their diet consisted mostly of plants, tofu, and fish. They also did not eat rice like most Japanese since the subtropical island cannot cultivate much rice. The main staple was actually a vitamin and mineral rich sweet potato, not part of the potato family but the morning glory family.

  6. Daily and Moderate Alcohol:

    Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. All people in the blue zones, except for the Seventh Day Adventists,  drink alcohol moderately and regularly with family, friends, and/or food. It promotes strong, social networks and lower risks of cancer, colitis, heart disease, and more.

  7. Belonging:

    A sense of belonging to a faith-based group adds years to life expectancy, regardless of denomination. Okinawan people pray to their ancestors and have a history of rituals and beliefs towards multiple spirits and gods of the land (i.e. Ancestral Spirits, Heart Spirit, Tree Spirit, Fire God).

  8. Family:

    Family is prioritized and kept close by throughout the generations. In Okinawa, it is not uncommon to see multiple generations living in the same household or close by down the street. Currently, Japan’s overall population is decreasing, but in Okinawa prefecture, the population is increasing. Okinawa believes in the strength of child-rearing and making families more and has so for centuries.

  9. Social Circles and Habits:

    Being born into or choosing a group to last for a long period of time ties into the strength of social connections. Also, when some people of the group have certain habits, the other members will have those habits, too. Habits are contagious so when healthy habits are practiced among a group, they continue until the group no longer meets. However, blue zones have shown people staying within same social groups for decades. The Okinawan people have ‘moai’ where people meet about once a month for life, keep strong ties, and help each other when one of them is in need.

It goes without saying that happiness is a big factor in living a long, healthy life.

While many of these aspects are being practiced throughout many countries’ people all over the world, one aspect is falling behind:

diet.


additional sources:

Buettner, Dan. “Power 9® – Blue Zones”. Blue Zones. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 Apr. 2017.

Stibich, Mark. “Why Are Okinawans Outliving The Rest Of Us?”. Verywell. N.p., 2016. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

Motomura, Chika. Japan. Osaka: USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2017. Regional Report – Okinawa.