When it comes to major age milestones, few reach more than the Japanese. According to the UN, they are most likely to live to 100, with the largest proportion of centenarians in the Okinawa islands. Researchers, including American gerontologist Dr Craig Willcox, have found diet is crucial to their longevity. Co-author of The Okinawa Program, a book based on the 25-year Okinawa Centenarian Study, Willcox concludes we should “eat as low down the food chain as possible”. Willcox says other factors that influence our lifespan range from our DNA to climate. But the elements we can control, diet and lifestyle, are the most important. Several years ago, former National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner studied five “Blue Zones”: areas with a large concentration of centenarians. He identified nine commonalities among long-lived populations in Italy, Costa Rica, Greece, California and Okinawa. The “Power 9”, as he calls them, are: eating mindfully, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, moving naturally, strategies for stress reduction, a sense of purpose, drinking moderately, faith-based participation, family time and a supportive community. Today, groups in the US are adopting these principals to improve their wellbeing – and perhaps see them through the next 100 years.
Less is more
The Okinawan diet has fewer calories – with 30 per cent of the sugar and 15 per cent of the grains – of the average Japanese intake.
They eat fewer total calories, less polyunsaturated fat, significantly less wheat, barley and other grains, less sugars, more legumes, moderate consumption of fish, less meat and poultry, less eggs and dairy, much more sweet potato (67 per cent of their daily intake is said to come from sweet potato), less fruit, more tofu and seaweed (konbu or wakame) and no pickled vegetables.
In addition to their high life expectancy, islanders are noted for their low mortality from cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.