Want to Stay Young? Go Okinawan.
I recently read and was inspired by The Blue Zones, which describes the lifestyles of the world’s healthiest, longest-living peoples. Unfortunately, Canadians aren’t among them. In fact, if you want to feel youthful for longer, it’s best not to live like the average Canadian, who is 60 percent likely to be overweight or obese. Rather, you’d be wise to adopt the health habits of the Okinawans of Japan. Not only do Okinawans boast the lowest rates of disease worldwide, including cancer and heart disease, but more healthy, independent centenarians live in Okinawa than anywhere else.
There’s no need to bid adieu to the Great White North, however, to tap the fountain of youth. Adopt the Okinawans’ long life secrets, and repeat after me, “Hara hachi bu”!
Okinawans stay lean:
The scale doesn’t fluctuate much for the Okinawans, who keep a stable weight through adulthood. Although it’s no surprise they eat healthfully (no drive-thrus there), they don’t diet; however, Okinawans consume more food (by volume) yet fewer calories than other populations. Their diet mainstays are veggies, fruit, fish, seafood and legumes, all high-fibre, low-calorie foods. Add to this a philosophy of “hara hachi bu,” which translates to “80 percent full”: they eat enough to feel satisfied, not stuffed. This makes sense, since it takes the body 20 minutes to register satiety.
Okinawans stay fit:
Okinawans aren’t beholden to arduous workout regimes (no boot camp classes for these folks); instead, they weave activity into their day and do activities they enjoy, such as walking, gardening and tai chi. For them, exercise isn’t an end in itself but a chance to connect with nature and others.
Okinawans also tend to do some sort of exercise in the evenings, to prep the body for restful sleep. Speaking of sleep (my favourite topic!), Okinawans hit the hay earlier and have fewer sleep problems than other peoples.
Okinawans go (mostly) meatless:
Okinawans’ seasonal, plant-based diet is a definite key to their longevity. Rich in fibre and antioxidants, plant foods, such as veggies, grains and beans, fortify immunity and prevent free radical damage. Okinawans favour whole soy foods (think tofu, not soy “nuggets”) for protein, and a higher soy intake is thought to be one reason why Okinawan women have an easier menopause, a better bone density and an 80 percent reduced risk of hormone-driven cancers, such as breast cancer. (Okinawan men have 80 percent less incidence of prostate cancer.)
Okinawans rarely eat red meat or chicken, but they eat a lot of fish and seafood, which contain heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3s.
Okinawans don’t sweat the small stuff:
Resilient and adaptive, Okinawans don’t stress over much (though I bet most Okinawans don’t have a neighbour with state-of-the-art subwoofers, but I digress). Okinawans’ positive outlook, strong spiritual beliefs, and sense of community and purpose—all determinants of health—are credited for their low rates of depression and dementia. (Or perhaps their blissful attitudes owe to higher-than-normal levels of the sex hormones DHEA and testosterone . . . .)
And in what is perhaps the greatest difference between Okinawan and Western culture, Okinawan elders are revered for their wisdom, and the aging process is celebrated. Here’s to healthy aging, Okinawan-style!
P.S. Needless to say, Okinawans don’t smoke!