Ever dreamed of a haven where the elderly are living longer and are healthier? Well, such a place may exist on earth – and it’s in Japan.
In Okinawa, Japan, there are more than 450 people there that are over the age of 100. Okinawa is the southernmost part of Japan, made up of hundreds of the Ryukyu Islands in a chain that is over 1000 kilometres long.
In 2002, it was recorded that there were 34.7 centenarians (people older than 100 years) for every 100,000 inhabitants – which is the highest ratio anywhere in the world.
It’s because of this high ratio of centenarians that has earned Okinawa the title of “healthiest place on earth”
The people who live in Okinawa have some of the lowest frequency of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
So what makes this place so special that not only do they have longest life-expectancy in the world, but also relatively good health while doing so?
Japan’s Ministry of Health funded The Okinawa Centenarian Study to examine the elderly of the area and find this out. The study began in 1975, and over the years researchers have had access to over 900 centenarians.
What the study found saw was that the locals in Okinawa are not only said to “age slowly” but are 80% less likely to get heart disease. They’re also a quarter less likely to get breast or prostate cancer and have half the risk of getting colon cancer.
It was also concluded that on average they spend 97% of their lives free of any disease or disabilities.
It’s suspected that the reason people are able to live like this is because of a combination of diet, low-stress lifestyle, caring community, activity, and the spirituality of the locals on the island.
Okinawans eat a primarily plant-based diet with lots of stir fry and sweet potatoes. They do eat meat, but that’s generally only on special occasions and not on a regular basis.
Another key food they enjoy is soy, often in the form of tofu or miso soup. Research suggests that flavonoids in tofu may help protect the heart while fermented soy foods offer other nutritional benefits.
Mugwort, ginger, and turmeric are all staples in the kitchen of an Okinawans, and all have proven medicinal qualities.
The other interesting thing is that most of the vegetables they eat are homegrown in their own garden – gardening itself is a great form of gentle exercise.
They are also big on walking outside and enjoying the sunshine. In doing so they achieve optimal levels of Vitamin D, getting stronger bones and healthier bodies.
In most Okinawan homes, they have very little furniture, instead they sit on mats on the floor. The action of constantly getting up and down off the floor to eat or relax everyday actually helps the elderly builds lower body strength and balance, which help protect against dangerous falls
As important as it is to take care of one’s body, Okinawans also take care of their minds too. They embrace something called and “ikigai” which is essentially one’s reason for being, or their purpose in life.
Many senior locals are able to recite the reason they get up in the morning. Being driven by this purpose gives them a sense of responsibility and feelings of being needed well into their 100s.
They also have a tradition of forming a “moai” which is a gathering of people that provides social networks. These gathering are where people can lend financial and emotional support to each other, and by doing this they give each other a sense of security and relief from any stress they may have. Okinawans, especially the elderly, rarely feel lonely or isolated.