You may have heard of something called the blue zones. These are areas marked around the world where higher numbers of people live the longest and suffer from the least amount of disease compared to the rest of the world. There are a total of 5 places on earth where a larger number of people live to be over 100 years old.
One of these blue zones is in the southern island Okinawa Japan. This region is known for the longevity of it's people sometimes called the land of immortals. It is on this island where the inhabitants suffer from less cancer, heart disease, dementia, and other ailments that plague the rest of the world especially in the elderly. Okinawans live longer than anyone else on the planet, even more so the women of Okinawa.
So why do the people of Okinawa live so long and without disease?
Let's explore what the scientist who study the blue zones think are the main causes of this longevity.
In Okinawa people maintain healthy and strong ties with family and friends fro their entire life. The japanese word "moai" means lifelong circle even into old age. In studies it has been found that those who grow old and are alone are more likely to die earlier. Having friends and family in your life tends to extend it.
Another japanese word "ikigai" describes another longevity giving factor that scientists believe help extend lives, purpose. Having a purpose in life is a reason to get up in the morning. This leads to more drive, happiness, and in turn a longer life. This is much different than retiring in the rest of the world. To be needed everyday in life has been shown to lengthen it.
It's important to note that these two things lead to lower stress and more happiness which are crucial longevity components.
2. The Okinawa Plant Based Diet
Plants make up the majority of the food in Okinawa with a small portion of fish (omega 3 fatty acids) and meat included in about 2% of the overall diet. In Okinawa popular items that you will find on the plate of these centenarians are sweet potatoes, rice, legumes, vegetables, and tofu. All of these plant based diet staples are nutrient dense. Even more rare is the consumption of pork as it is only for certain ceremonies in small portions.
You can find a list of benefits from consuming each ingredient in the Okinawa diet. The emphasis on tofu and other soy products allow the Okinawans to benefit from soy flavonoids which have been shown to prevent certain kinds of disease like cardiovascular and some cancers.
The many vegetables and legumes consumed on the island also provide additional flavonols and antioxidants that promote longevity and well being. Some of the popular vegetables consumed are goya, shima rakkyo (Okinawa shallot), purple sweet potato, taro, shibui (winter melon), papaya, turmeric, ginger, and a long list of other nutrient dense plants. There is a large trend with an anti-inflammatory plant based diet and longevity in the blue zones around the world.
3. Staying Active
This doesn't mean pumping iron for those muscles. In Okinawa gardening and walking each day leads to longer lives. It has been shown that the low stress activity and exercise leads to longevity over higher intense workouts. These walks outside in the sun also lead to higher vitamin D levels in Okinawans compared to the indoor dwellers of other regions. Vitamin D can be found in supplement form as to limit too much sunshine though.
4. Green Tea
Green tea is a popular drink in many Asian cultures. Green tea packs a punch when it comes to antioxidant value and preventing disease. This tea also leads to younger looking skin as it fights off free radicals and signs of aging. Okinawans enjoy green tea with their meals throughout the day as they socialize.
5. Sake Or Awamori
Okinawans enjoy drinking rice wines such as Awamori in small amounts with meals. Small amounts of alcohol have been shown to increase longevity while decreasing certain diseases like cardiovascular disease. It's important to note that the health benefits of certain kind of alcohols are found in the small amounts. Larger amounts lead to negative and life threatening effects.
As you start your quest towards a healthier lifestyle it's important to learn from the centenarians of the world. The routines, social circles, and diets in the blue zones of the world are all very similar. It's also important to note that these cultures don't necessarily pursue longevity and health, it just happens to them with their overall lifestyles. Eating a mostly plant based diet, maintaining healthy relationships, finding and keeping purpose in your life, and staying active with low intensity activities will improve your chances of making it to 100 years old.
Making these small changes can be hard if you don't have the culture around you but making these things a priority over time could lead to a healthier and longer life if you choose!