The people of Okinawa, an island southwest of Japan's main landmass, are known for their longevity. Having studied the habits of particularly long-lived people, I've taken nine lessons from the Okinawans that I believe help them live long, happy lives.
1. Embrace an ikigai.
An ikigai is one's reason for being, or one's purpose in life. Older Okinawans can readily articulate the reason they get up in the morning. Their purpose-imbued lives gives them clear roles of responsibility and feelings of being needed well into their 100s.
2. Rely on a plant-based diet.
Older Okinawans have eaten a plant-based diet most of their lives. Their meals of stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu are high in nutrients and low in calories. Goya, with its antioxidants and compounds that lower blood sugar, is of particular interest. While centenarian Okinawans do eat some pork, it's traditionally reserved only for infrequent ceremonial occasions and taken only in small amounts.
3. Get gardening.
Almost all Okinawan centenarians grow or once grew a garden. It’s a source of daily physical activity that exercises the body with a wide range of motion and helps reduce stress. It’s also a near-constant source of fresh vegetables.
4. Eat more soy.
The Okinawan diet is rich foods made with soy, like tofu and miso soup. Flavonoids in tofu may help protect the heart and guard against breast cancer. Fermented soy foods contribute to a healthy intestinal ecology and offer even better nutritional benefits.
5. Maintain a moai.
The Okinawan tradition of forming a moai, or a gathering of people, provides secure social networks. These safety nets lend financial and emotional support in times of need and give all of their members the stress-shedding security of knowing that there is always someone there for them.
6. Enjoy the sunshine.
Vitamin D, produced by the body when it’s exposed on a regular basis to sunlight, promotes stronger bones and healthier bodies. Spending time outside each day allows even senior Okinawans to have optimal vitamin D levels year-round.
7. Stay active.
Older Okinawans are active walkers and gardeners. The Okinawan household has very little furniture; residents take meals and relax sitting on tatami mats on the floor. The fact that old people get up and down off the floor several dozen times daily builds lower body strength and balance, which help protect against dangerous falls.
8. Plant a medical garden.
Mugwort, ginger, and turmeric are all staples of an Okinawan garden, and all have proven medicinal qualities. By consuming these every day, Okinawans may be protecting themselves against illness.
9. Have an attitude.
A hardship-tempered attitude has endowed Okinawans with an affable smugness. They’re able to let difficult early years remain in the past while they enjoy today’s simple pleasures. They’ve learned to be likable and to keep younger people in their company well into their old age.
This is an excerpt from Blue Zones: Lessons For Living Longer From The People Who’ve Lived The Longest by Dan Buettner, Copyright 2008, all rights reserved.
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