Western Society, right about now, could use some very healthy and long living role models that they can emulate. The people of the west have sort of let themselves go from a physical perspective in the last few decades and by all accounts, it is getting worse – not better with time. Maybe if we could see the results first hand of how proper living and attention to lifestyle can make a huge difference in our longevity, we would be more inclined to take control of our own lives as we age.
As it turns out, we have the perfect role models to pattern our lifestyles after and they just happen to be the healthiest group of people on this big blue marble of ours! The nation of Japan gets pretty high marks for their health and longevity, no question. However, I am speaking about the tiny Island just off the Japanese mainland called Okinawa. If you blink you will miss this little sub tropical retreat, more known for fishing and the movie “The Karate Kid” from back in the eighties. You remember Mr. Miyagi don’t you? Even he was portrayed in the film as a Karate master obviously in great health whose tranquil sense of being and quite capable self defense prowess helped a youngster learn how to defend himself. Anyway, I digress – rent the movie!
The Okinawans are number one in the world for the longest life spans and have amazingly good health with few of the age related diseases that are so prevalent in the west. There are more centenarians living in Okinawa than anywhere else in the world based on population. The thing is, who among us would have a desire to live to one hundred years of age if the last third of your life is wracked with pain and discomfort as you live out your years in physician waiting rooms and pharmacy line ups. The elders in Okinawa are living a life of health and purpose even as they reach very senior, golden years.
Unfortunately the younger generation of Okinawans does not appear to have the same sense of discipline as their elders have for keeping fit and healthy. The senior Okinawan citizens are living the sort of life we all should be following and yet their offspring are not, and this is very telling about the differences in generations and their experiences. These senior citizens in Okinawa are living confirmation that if we follow a similar lifestyle we to will benefit in health and longevity, just like we have been reminded time and again by western pundits.
Now it is time to find out just exactly what the Okinawans are doing to live such remarkable lives. They certainly do their best to steer clear of tobacco smoking; they eat a low caloric yet healthful diet consisting of whole innate foods from island sources along with abundant fruits and vegetables. These folks are getting loads of fresh air and exposure to the sunlight and also avoid alcohol for the most part. Theirs is certainly not an excessive lifestyle by any stretch.
It helps I am sure that these people are living in a tropical region with little or no hustle and bustle of mainland life to distract them. Their diet contains a lot of essential fatty acids no doubt because they are living on an island surrounded by sea and seafood – fish being a huge source of omega 3 fatty acids. The scientific – medical community are only beginning to acknowledge how important this variety of fat is to or health.
Of the numerous reasons why Okinawans have such healthy golden years, the most significant of these would likely be the low caloric intake. One interesting tidbit from Okinawan life is the practice known as hari hachi bu which is essentially “eating until you are eighty percent full.” They never overstuff themselves when they eat. In the book called “the Zone Diet” the author discusses this calorie association relative to their longevity.
The considerable healthful advantages of caloric limitation are evident in some serious anti aging and longevity studies conducted on lab rodents and evidence of a dramatic spike in life span has been verified. Studies on humans are currently being evaluated but the research community is certainly hopeful. One thing is certain, there are not many obese eighty and ninety year olds walking about so there may be something to the theory.
An extended life span, while a wonderful gift to those who enjoy it, also signifies genuine health and an ability to ride that healthy wave to impressive age duration, doing so in the best physical condition. The way the aging people of Okinawa live safeguards them from the deadly diseases so widespread in the west. For instance, cases of heart disease, cancer and strokes are quite rare in Okinawa; the arteries in these islanders are as clean as a whistle!
These folks also have a reduced quantity of the amino acid – homocysteine – which is known to cause damage to the walls of arteries. This is fairly novel as a risk characteristic for heart disease and the risk increases when an individual is lacking in folate, found in leafy green vegetables like spinach. When levels of homocysteine are high in elderly people it has been a factor in the reduction of mental capacity.
Enjoying a stress free and relaxed lifestyle is one more feature of the Okinawan lifestyle and it is noteworthy. Amazingly these characteristics are so obvious to us in western nations as hallmarks for health and longevity; their uniqueness lies in the fact that they are all present in this one society. It makes me think about a number of older neighbors of mine, all of whom lived or are still living long lives and they all had gardens, all of them took long daily walks and all of them were non smokers and teetotalers.
Interestingly, Okinawan females have far fewer issues regarding their change of life or menopause, rarely if ever requiring western style treatments or hormone replacement therapy [or HRT]. The speculation is they eat a fair amount of soy in their diets and this helps though the jury is still out on whether soy is fit for human consumption.
It would behoove anyone interested in extended life and good health to read up on the Okinawan diet and lifestyle. They eat extremely healthy food and oddly some believe that with some minor modifications to their diet they could perhaps live even longer! Dairy products are usually not a staple in many Asian cultures so illnesses associated with this consumable are minimized.
Rather than rushing out and buying up the seafood section of your supermarket, as healthy as the diet is, even focusing on and adapting aspects of their lifestyle will benefit many westerners and essential fatty acids are available in supplement form.
The Okinawan elders are proof that a healthy diet and lifestyle equals extended longevity with great physical condition. Just accomplishing the fundamentals of the Okinawan way of life can improve our chances of living longer with greater health and a positive outlook for the remaining years of our lives.