You Can Live to be Over 100 the Okinawa Way

The three leading killers in the West – coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer – occur in Okinawa with the lowest frequency in the world.

In Okinawa (located between Japan’s main islands and Taiwan), it is not uncommon to see a 101-year-old climb up a tree to pick citrus fruit or a 103-year-old go to a judo class.

The island has the highest rates of centenarians and the longest life expectancies in the world. Heart disease is minimal, breast cancer so rare that screening mammography is not needed, and most aging men have never heard of prostate cancer.

How do they do it?

The Diet

Tests reveal that people from the Okinawa have 50 times as much as flavonoids in their blood as Europeans do. The Okinawa diet is a mostly plant-based diet that's rich in complex carbohydrates and high in fiber. The 

traditional Okinawa diet consists of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes 
(soy foods) and fish with limited amounts of lean meats. The Okinawans typically eat seven servings of vegetables, fruit, and two servings of soy products a day. Their diets are very low in dairy and fats. Green tea is the main beverage, with at least three cups being drunk daily.

The Okinawans’ eating habit called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full, plays an essential role. Stopping at 80% capacity is actually a very good strategy to avoid obesity without going hungry because the stomach's stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the body that how full it really is and 20 minutes after stopping you will really feel full.

Researchers gathered a list of 12 functional foods that were eaten regularly by Okinawan elders: 

  1. Sweet Potatoes/Yams (Ipomoea Batatas) The Japanese sweet potato is often referred to as the Yam here in the United States. Packed with vitamins A, B and C, yams are high in fiber, and also are a good source of magnesium, potassium and iron. The sweet potatoes in Okinawa are usually eaten daily, served as a side dish rather then rice as in other parts of Japan, which may partially explain why people in Okinawa live longer then the people in the rest of Japan. According to the researchers “In Japan, sweet potatoes are even prescribed to people with type two diabetes and to help manage cholesterol.”
  2. Soy In the traditional diet, soy was the main source of protein. According to the researchers, “the tofu in Okinawa is lower in water content than the Japanese version and higher in healthy fat.” Furthermore, they concluded, “this not only increases the flavor of the tofu but also increases the isoflavone content, which may possibly be connected to the extremely low rates of breast and prostate cancer in Okinawa.”
  3. Goya which is a type of melon that is bitter in taste. Because of its taste, it is not served as a dessert, but rather in Okawana it is served in main dishes to add flavor. Goya is high fiber andVitamin C. Not only is Goya used as medicine to aid digestion in Okinawa, the researchers explained Goya is “often prescribed as medicinal herb in other parts of the world.”
  4. Konnyaku is a Japanese jelly derived from the starchy tuber of the Konjac plant. Konnyaku is a low calorie, low fat food that is high in fiber and calcium. The researchers explain, “Konnyaku is more than 90% water, and the rest is glucomannan [a type of soluble fiber], making it an effective treatment for constipation.”  They added, ”The Okinawans say that konnyaku ‘cleans your stomach.’”
  5. Shiitake Mushroom Shiitakes, like all mushrooms, are very low in calories,  but are “high in protein (containing all 8 essential amino acids), fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, niacin, B12, C, and especially vitamin D, a nutrient often lacking in the diets of older Americans.” In Japan, these mushrooms are prescribed for their purported anticancer properties, and the researchers claim “it has been reported to increase survival for patients with stomach or pancreatic cancer, particularly when used in combination with chemotherapy immune booster.”  The researchers were quick to point out that more research needs to be done to examine whether the shiitake mushroom does indeed have cancer fighting properties.
  6. Gobo is a root vegetable packed with fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that is not digestible. Fiber is an important part of the digestion process; not only does it help keep bowel movements regular, it also helps maintain an even blood sugar level by slowing down the rate of stomach-emptying.
  7. Hechima is a gourd. This squash is a “low-calorie vegetable that is high in vitamin C, folate, carotenoids, and some very interesting proteins that could  have important health consequences anti-cancer properties.”
  8. Seaweed is eaten regularly in many parts of Asia, and is gaining popularity here in the U.S. thanks to the popularity of sushi. “Seaweeds are very low in caloric density; nutrient-dense; high in protein, iodine, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, and carotenoids; and contain significant antioxidant capabilities.” The researches go on to say that seaweeds “may harbor medicinal properties, as they have been used to treat arthritis, colds, flu, and even cancer (although most of these claims have yet to be substantiated in clinical trials).”
  9. Turmeric (Ucchin) is an herb very popular in tea in Okinawa and is also garnering attention lately in the U.S. because of its potential healing properties. In Okinawa it is taken in pill form to “prevent a hangover.”  It is also used as a spice to add flavor to foods. The researchers say that turmeric may have”anti-inflammitory potential” as well as help with rheumatoid arthritis, it may fight cancer cell growth, prevent leukemia and help stave off Alzheimers disease.
  10. Mugwort (Fuchiba) is used as a spice or found in Okinawan tea. It is also readily used for its medicinal powers in many parts of Asia because Mugwort ”appears to have sedative effects; they are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat neuroses, depression, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and anxiety. More than 100 studies have been done on mugwort, many of them supporting its folk uses…. The best evidence for the Artemisia class of plants, of which mugwort is a member, is for the treatment of infectious disease, such as malaria.”
  11. Hihatsu is a type of pepper, used in cooking or to sprinkle on food just like in the Western world. Okinawans use Hihatsu to “treat stomach problems and gout.”
  12. Fennel (Ichoba) is eaten as a spice, like here, and also as a vegetable. There have been studies that claim fennel may help in “weight loss, and is used to treat upset stomach, heartburn and gas.”
Make Exercise a Daily Ritual
For Okinawans, exercise is a way of life and elders are surprisingly fit. Martial arts, lots of walking and gardening, tai chi, and traditional dance, which many Okinawan men and women learn at an early age, are daily rituals. Exercise also increases energy levels and reinforces a sense of community, connection and purpose. They also exercise in the evenings, relieving the day’s tension and priming the body for a restful night’s sleep.

Learn to Deal with Stress
What many centenarians have in common are coping skills that help them get on with their lives,” according to Dr. Willcox. Through tough times, the centenarians in Okinawa developed “stress-resistant personalities.” Studies on American centenarians have also found them to be flexible, adaptive, emotionally stable, seldom depressed, and assertive when necessary.

Get More Sleep and Take Naps
Okinawans tend to go to bed earlier and report taking short naps throughout the day. This has led researchers to conclude that staying up late and then waking too early could be hazardous to physical and mental health. In addition, studies show that lack of sleep can lead to overeating, reduced cognitive function, and even depression.

Give Meals Personal Significance
Okinawans look for meaning in the foods they eat, not convenience. They enjoy mealtimes as a way to reconnect and strengthen family bonds and believe that eating separately tends to weaken these ties. Eating good food together is social exchange that promotes health and healing rather than a source of emotional gratification.

Foster a Sense of Community
Most older Okinawans have an independent spirit and manage very well on their own. They enjoy strong family and community support and stay in close, significant contact with those around them. About 80 percent of Okinawa's elderly live alone or with their spouse, requiring no hospital or nursing home care. Living alone in Okinawa does not mean loneliness as older people live in a community of mutual care and assistance. There is constant visiting back and forth with children and grandchildren in the cities, attending local festivals, bringing vegetables, homemade treats and healing foods to friends, attending dances and recreational activities.

Healthy centenarians all over the world are usually very socially involved. Ironically, since many centenarians outlive their children, neighbors, friends and community acquaintances become extremely important.

Set and Fulfill Goals
Okinawan elders often refer to themselves as being “gujah”, or having a strong-willed character. This means doing everything in their power to define and achieve their goals, fully aware that they, and no one else, are responsible for attaining them. With this mindset, Okinawans hold themselves accountable for their own successes and failures. It is this fierce determination that helps them succeed and achieve whatever goals they have set for themselves.

Find a Purpose
In the Okinawan dialect, there is no word for "retirement". Instead there is another word, "ikigai", which translates roughly to "purpose" or "that which makes one's life worth living." Okinawans live with a sense of purpose whether nurturing their vegetable garden, working at a pineapple plant, or raising a happy, healthy family. 

New Generation of Okinawa Adopting Unhealthy Western Diet

The famed good health and longevity of Japanese in Okinawa, which has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world, is under threat from a rapid increase in obesity caused by adoption of western lifestyles.
The new generation of Okinawans is slowly becoming the fattest in Japan and prone to a range of obesity-related illnesses that could kill them in middle age.
Experts blame the gusto with which Okinawa took to fast food when the island was administered by the US, from the war until 1972. It got the first fast-food outlet in Japan — in 1963, seven years before Tokyo — and still has more fast-food outlets per head than anywhere else in the country.
Some fear that the "Okinawan Crisis" may presage what could happen all across the country as young people abandon fish and soy products for meat and fast food.

Dr Hideaki Tanaka, of Naha, the islands' capital, has long warned about the threat. "I consider this the second Battle of Okinawa. Our island was invaded during the Second World War and now we are suffering a cultural invasion.
In an attempt to halt the process, the mayor of Naha has begun to offer certificates of achievement and gym discount tickets to successful dieters.


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