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Secrets of Long Life and Health from Okinawans

Knowledge Gleaned from the Okinawan Elders' Way of Life

Who wouldn't like to live longer and healthier? Discovering the habits of the Okinawan elders can help others improve their own health.

An uncanny amount of confirmed centurians make their homes in Okinawa, Japan. A centurian is an individual who is 100 years old, or older. Even more stunning, they have more supercenturions, those aged 110 and older, than anywhere else in the world. As if this were not a feat in itself, they represent only .0002 percent of the world population.
These amazing elderly people have excellent health. They have little or no degenerative diseases that most of the industrialized world, and certainly the U.S., call a common part of aging. In fact, studies have shown that 95 percent of the centurions have no major disease before they reach their nineties. They typically fall ill and decline only during the last few years of life.
In a world where vital health in the latter years seems to be the exception rather than the rule for most of the population, what these elders have achieved seems like a rare, unattainable goal for the typical person. However, studies conducted concerning the Okinawan elders' way of life points to a conclusion quite the contrary. If one observes some key areas of the Okinawan elders' lives and seek to emulate them in these areas, increased health and vitality into the twilight years may become a reality.

Maintaining a Sense of Purpose Contributes to Longer Life

In the Okinawan culture, there is a great deal of respect for the elderly. They are viewed as useful people, not burdens. Great-great grandparents live in their own homes and tend their own gardens. As a matter of fact, there is no word for "retirement" in Okinawa. Thus, keeping active and stimulated, as well as being supported, thought of as useful, and genuinely cared for contributes to long life for the Okinawans. However, since Okinawa has become more Westernized, not all have had such good health and longevity. Certainly there are other factors that are contributing to the Okinawan elders' vibrance.

Clues that Reveal Okinawan Secret

So, just what is the Okinawan elders' secret? Perhaps a glimpse into their culture can provide some insight. There are several Okinawan proverbs. One says, "One who eats whole food will be strong and healthy." Another states, "Food should nourish life- this is the best medicine."
This train of thought is very different from that of the Western world. The industrialized world has advertisements from T.V., computer, and printed media bombarding the population with supersized quantities of unhealthy food which can be obtained at any local fast food restaurant, some which never close. As a result, there is the tendency to eat food that does not nourish the body. The Okinawans do things very differently.

Fewer Calories Lead to Longer Life

The Okinawans eat far fewer calories than the typical Westerner. A typical man in this area consumes about 1,900 calories a day whereas the average American man takes in around 2,650 calories a day. It seems the Okinawan elders truly believe that one should eat to live, and not live to eat.

Whole Foods Nourish the Body

Okinawan elders have eaten a diet of very little processed foods, refined sugar, corn syrup, preservatives, and many other chemicals that make their way into the typical American's food. Instead, they eat a diet rich in good carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. They typically eat what is fresh, in season, and locally grown. Many people in the West shy away from carbohydrates as a result of fad diets giving misinformation. The truth is that complex carbohydrates in their natural state are fuel for the body. They give much needed nutrition, and keep one feeling full longer.

Fat and Protein Choices That are Healing to the Body

The Okinawan elders eat a low fat diet. They typically do not use bottled oils and do not use refined foods such as margarine. The fat that their diet supplies comes from whole food sources such as seeds, nuts, and sometimes fish. The protein in their diets comes mostly from plant sources

Exercise Strengthens and Enables those in all Stages of Life

Finally, the Okinawan elders are far more active than the elderly in our culture. Since they do not even have a word for "retirement," they do not slow down. They remain independent and active. One may think that elderly people should take it easy, but research has found just the opposite. Elderly people, even those up into their 90s and in nursing homes, who have implemented weight lifting into their daily life become much stronger and some are even able to give up their canes.
Robbins, John. Healthy at 100. Random House, 2006. Print.
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