Okinawa, Japan (the birthplace of karate) is home to a people with one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Not only do Okinawans boast the highest rate of centenarians (people who are 100+ years old), their incidence of heart disease, stroke, and cancer is extremely low. Women in Okinawa experience fewer complications from menopause, such as hot flashes and hip fractures.
Why do Okinawans live so long, and why are they so remarkably healthy into their senior years? Some credit can be given to genetics, but most evidence points toward their lifestyle.
DIET – Okinawans eat a low calorie plant based diet. They eat many colorful veggies (more colorful = more nutrients), fruits, seaweed, soy products, green tea, fish, and some pork. They also practice Hara Hachi Bu. That is, they eat until they are 80% full, unlike American’s who tend to eat until their supersized plates are clean even though they’ve already loosened their belts a notch.
EXERCISE – Okinawans have an active lifestyle. They engage in regular exercise, like walking, gardening, dancing, and practicing karate as a part of their daily life. Just think of the core muscles that are constantly engaged in order to sit on the floor rather than a chair. It’s not as easy as it looks.
IKIGAI – A reason for getting up in the morning. A sense of purpose. Okinawans discover which activities bring them joy and contentment, and engage in those activities. A sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what they are doing gives them a sense of purpose, and brings meaning to their lives. In the US, so much of our ikigai is tied to our careers, and then retirement strips that away. Finding something to retire to will increase longevity, though you don’t have to wait until retirement to find your ikigai. I believe I’ve found mine in fiction writing (even if I never *gasp* get published, writing brings me joy).
FAMILY/COMMUNITY – Being surrounded with a support network increases longevity. It is not unusual for aging parents and grandparents to live with their children. Okinawans also seek out like-minded people to be with, for example, a gardening club, dance circle, or friendship club.
SPIRITUALITY – Faith and religion keep many centenarians feeling balanced and protected from life’s troubles.
LOW STRESS – Whereas punctuality is paramount in Japan and the US, Okinawans believe in an unhurried lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if a task is finished in an hour or three hours, as long as it gets done.
How does your longevity stack up to the Okinawans’? What area (or areas) do you need to improve? Do you have an ikigai? What is it? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
Live long and stay healthy!