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10+ Secrets to Longevity in Okinawa.

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Discover more than 10+  longevity secrets of Okinawa, the blue zone in Japan where centenarians live an average of 10 years longer. 

The island of Okinawa, which was subsumed into the Japanese empire in the late 1800s, has been nicknamed “the land of the immortals” because 100-year-olds aren’t even considering retirement.

Okinawa is one of the world’s five blue zones, known for its high concentration of centenarians who remain vital, healthy, and have a strong sense of purpose.

Genes contribute only 20 percent to longevity, while the rest are primarily influenced by their healthy lifestyle and diet rich in local fruits, vegetables, whole grains, soy products, and physical activity. 

Join me in uncovering the secrets of Okinawa’s longevity, focusing on food and lifestyle habits that experts believe can be imitated.

okinawa blue zone

What is a blue zone?

Blue Zones are regions where residents live longer than the global average life expectancy. Thanks to their lifestyle and dietary habits promoting longevity, these areas experience lower rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Blue Zones originated from research conducted by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, but it gained worldwide recognition through journalist Dan Buettner and his book, The Blue Zones.

Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture comprising numerous islands in the Pacific, is one such recognized Blue Zone. Other notable Blue Zones include Nicoya in Costa Rica, Sardinia in Italy, Ikaria in Greece, and Loma Linda in California.

Why do people on the island of Okinawa live longer?

Why do people on the island of Okinawa live longer?

Among the five prominent blue zones discovered so far, Okinawa stands out for its unique Asian elements of culture, lifestyle, and diet, which contribute to its inhabitants’ exceptional longevity and health.

Despite being the poorest province in Japan and hosting US military bases, Okinawa boasts the world’s highest concentration of centenarians, who often live decades beyond their years.

What’s truly remarkable isn’t just the age these individuals reach but the quality of life they maintain. Okinawans have notably lower risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s, with some maintaining active sex lives well into their 90s. (1)

Okinawan centenarians typically have maintained a healthy weight with a low body mass index (BMI) thanks to their traditional low-calorie, low-glycemic diet. They also practice a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu, eating until they are 80% full, and staying physically active as part of their natural lifestyle. (2)

10+ Secrets to the Longevity of Okinawans

sweet potatoes, tofu, bitter melon — goya, mushroom, seaweed, dashi broth, turmeric, green onion, miso.

You will find a green onion and miso combination in the miso glazed aubergine recipe.

traditional Okinawan diet, plant-based diet

The traditional Okinawan diet primarily comprises whole plant foods, with less than 1% consisting of fish, meat, dairy, and eggs. Most of the diet revolves around vegetables, legumes, and purple and orange sweet potatoes, making it anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich.

Vegetables grown in Okinawa’s volcanic soil are particularly beneficial, packed with vitamin C, polyphenols, dietary fiber, and potassium. Okinawans consume vegetables daily, focusing on yellow-green varieties like soybeans, tofu, and bitter gourd.

This mazesoba is made with tofu and is nutritious and packed with flavors.

Okinawan women also have a high natural estrogen intake from soy, containing phytoestrogens like flavonoids, which help maintain bone density during menopause. (3)

AVOCADO

Okinawa tofu and miso soup – rich in soya

Tofu is crucial in the Okinawan diet because it is versatile and a valuable source of plant-based protein.

Made from soybean curds, tofu lowers cholesterol and, therefore, lowers the risk of heart disease. In some cases, it may even slow the progression of some cancers.

The tofu in Okinawa is unique. It has more protein and healthy fats than tofu from other places, said Dan Buettner, who studied blue zones for the last twenty years. 

goya

Goya, known as bitter melon, is rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, iron, and potassium. It’s commonly featured in Okinawa’s famous dish, goya champuru.

Okinawa seaweed

Mozuku is a seaweed variety found in the waters near Okinawa. It has a slightly slimy texture and is rich in fucoidans, which are thought to offer numerous health advantages. Typically, it’s consumed either as tempura or sweetened with vinegar.

Studies indicate that seaweed might help balance the gut microbiome, leading to better digestion and potentially reducing the risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes (2). 

sweet potatoes

Seventy percent of the Okinawan diet consists of ‘beni imo’—purple sweet potatoes. In contrast, the rest of Japan only derives about three percent of its calories from these nutritious tubers. The reason behind Okinawans’ preference for them lies in their resilience to typhoons as they grow underground.

Purple sweet potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber. Additionally, they boast approximately 150 percent more active antioxidants than blueberries. (1).

turmeric

Turmeric, or ‘uchin,’ is used as a spice in dishes or brewed into tea. The autumn variety contains curcumin, a polyphenol that promotes liver health. Spring turmeric is rich in minerals like calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium.

Soup Stock

In Okinawa, soup is mainly made from dashi, a traditional broth made from fish and kelp. This dashi is usually made with bonito, which provides protein and healthy fats. They also sometimes use pork stock, mostly in rice and noodle dishes. Okinawan dishes often have strong, umami flavors, known locally as “ajikuutaa” (literally “strong flavor”).

Moringa

Moringa, a plant native to Northern India, is grown in Okinawa and is often referred to as a “miracle tree.” Its seeds, stems, branches, leaves, and roots are believed to contain 90 nutrients that support over 300 functions in the human body. Moringa is rich in vitamins, zinc, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, dietary fiber, and essential amino acids like lysine and valine.

Hara hachi bu

“Hara hachi bu” means eating until you’re about 80 percent full, a key factor contributing to Okinawans’ longevity.  

Unlike the average American, who consumes around 3,600 calories daily, Okinawans typically eat just enough to reach around 2,000 calories per day. This practice reminds them to eat to 80 percent full, instead of stuffing themselves.

active lifestyle

Older Okinawans stay active with daily activities like gardening and walking, which help keep them healthy and mobile. The region’s connection to martial arts, like karate, attracts enthusiasts worldwide, adding to the active lifestyle. Okinawa’s pleasant climate encourages outdoor activities, supporting heart health and vitality.

Plant a medical garden.

In an Okinawan garden, you’ll often find mugwort, ginger, and turmeric, all known for their medicinal properties. Consuming these regularly may help Okinawans stay healthy and fend off illnesses.

Plant a medical garden

ikigai

In Okinawa, having a sense of purpose, known as “ikigai,” is crucial for health and longevity. Elders are respected, and strong connections between generations are valued. Older people stay active and engaged in work, contributing to their well-being and longevity.

Moai

In Okinawa, Japan, renowned as one of the original blue zones for longevity, elders lead remarkably fulfilling and lengthy lives. Moai, a tradition deeply ingrained in their culture, are social support network groups formed in childhood and continuing into old age. Originating centuries ago as a village’s financial aid system, moais have evolved into tight-knit social networks offering companionship and assistance. In Okinawan neighborhoods, friends gather regularly as moais to share in life’s experiences, provide support, and even offer financial help when needed. These groups, typically consisting of about five individuals, form lifelong bonds, some lasting over 90 years. Rather than relying on nursing homes, Okinawans embrace the moai system, pooling resources to support each other during times of hardship. This tradition fosters a sense of community and purpose, contributing to the exceptional longevity and well-being of Okinawan elders.

1. Rusu, et al (2022). Antioxidants in Age-Related Diseases and Anti-Aging Strategies.

2. Pinto, et al (2021). Seaweed Components as Potential Modulators of the Gut Microbiota.

3. Fan, et al (2022). Intake of Soy, Soy Isoflavones and Soy Protein and Risk of Cancer Incidence and Mortality.

4. Wang, et al (2023). Association between social activity frequency and overall survival in older people: results from the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity

5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2822182

secrets of longevity in okinawa
Vladka on May 27th, 2024

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