Okinawa: A Study in Longevity
The last fifty years have seen major advances in modern medicine and nutrition knowledge which have extended the number of years we can expect to live, and the quality of life we can hope to enjoy. While retirement age used to be about stopping, now it is about going.
Considerable research has been done to determine the factors which enable some adults to live longer, happier and healthier lives than others. While there is no single explanation, there is one place on earth that has been called the ideal place for aging: Okinawa, Japan.
Okinawa is an island in Japan where the average life expectancy is just over 82 years (almost 78 for men and 86 for women). This is almost 4.5 years longer than the average U.S. lifespan. Okinawans are 3 to 7 times more likely to live to 100 than Americans. As impressive as the long lives lived is, the quality of health most elders of Okinawa enjoy is even more extraordinary. Heart disease, cancer, dementia, diabetes, and other conditions are rare in Okinawan elders. Studies have found that genetic factors only account for about one-third of the extraordinary health and long life spans. Two-thirds of this enviable good health appears to be the result of diet, exercise, low stress levels, familial and community ties, social practices and spiritual beliefs.
Excellent physical health, mental awareness and inner calm are common among the studied elders. Their philosophy can be summed up in two words: moderation and variety.
The following is a summary of the findings of gerontologist Greg Wilcox, who studied longevity in Okinawa for fifteen years:
Dietary Factors. A major factor that results in the extraordinary health enjoyed by Okinawan elders is their diet. It is plant-based, low in protein and high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and flavonoids. It includes low to moderate alcohol intake, plenty of fruits and vegetables and very low levels of saturated fat and sodium.
Exercise Factors. Okinawan elders have life-long routines of moderate exercise and physical activity. They walk most places they go, keep up daily tasks like housework and gardening and practice the soft martial art of tai chi. They report that these physical activities also give them a sense of calmness and psychological wholeness.
Sense of Purpose and Active Social Ties. The remarkable life spans and health in Okinawa can be further explained by the extent to which their lives are also low stress, socially rich, purposeful and spiritual. Their inner calm and desire to remain productive into older age offers Okinawan elders substantial stress relief, a sense of social connection and purpose, and a respected, important role in their community.
We can all learn from these findings as we age, and as we interact with those aging in our community. As noted in the book Happy to 102, with community awareness, we can expect to see bigger birthday cakes or thinner candles in the decades ahead!
Nikhil Mehta is Owner/CEO of Home Care Assistance Palm Desert, a revolutionary in-home care group which offers clients The Balanced Care Method™ developed by professors and medical professionals from Wilcox’s research. For more information visit www.HomeCareAssistancePalmDesert.com or call (760) 345.0001.