Okinawa has a higher proportion of centenarians than anywhere on the planet – more than four times that of the UK. Not only this, but they remain healthy and active into advanced old age. Compared with people of the same age in the UK, Okinawan elders have an 80 per cent lower risk of heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer, a 50 per cent lower risk of other cancers, including colon, ovarian and lymphoma, a 50 per cent lower rate of hip fracture, and a 30 to 40 per cent lower incidence of dementia.
So what are their secrets?
Secret #1 is maintain a positive, optimistic attitude. Okinawans believe that everything in life works itself out in the long run. With this attitude, there is no need to worry. They intentionally live a calm, peaceful life with little stress. When they work, it is at their own pace, rather than putting pressure on themselves to get things done in a hurry. Experts believe this relaxed way of being is vital for health.
Secret #2 is cultivate strong relationships. Okinawans often meet with friends and family just to chat, laugh or offer support to one another. Endless studies have shown that people are healthier when they have good relationships and an active, positive social life.
Secret #3 is eat a very healthy diet. It is considered especially important that the traditional Okinawa diet is both simple and wholesome. It consists mainly of plant food – whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds – that are high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and fish that is rich in protein and omega-3 oils. They also eat less food than the average in countries such as the UK and USA and have a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu, which means eat until 80 per cent full. Eating a natural unprocessed diet, low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, greatly reduces their risk of health problems related to overweight and obesity.
Secret # 4 is lead an active life. Most Okinawans are physically active. They walk everywhere, work in their gardens, dance and practice traditional martial arts like tai chi.
Secret # 5 is refrain from bad habits. There are very few older Okinawans who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol