How to live to be 100, the Japanese way
EVERYONE WISHES to postpone the signs of old age and it seems that on Okinawa, a r e mote J a p a n e s e island, the residents have done just that. For decades, their g o o d h e a l t h a n d longevity has been appraised and recognised as extraordinary — this is a place where happy, healthy residents over the age of 100 exist in abundance. The locals attribute their longevity to “hard work, partying, vegetables, and stubbornness”.
One 103-year-old told National Geographic magazine: “I used to carry 60kg (132lb) of rice on my back. I drink sake every night and then I sing karaoke.”
But why do the inhabitants of this island live so long? It has been attributed to an active social life, low stress levels, a strong sense of community, lots of exercise, respect for older people, moai (a traditional support network, retaining a strong sense of purpose), working into the 80s or 90s, and having a lust for life, summed up by the expression: “That which makes life worth living.”
Transferring these ideas across the globe may seem difficult. But we should try. Figures published by Third Sector Foresight reveal that life expectancy in the UK is rising and birth-rates falling. By 2034, 23 per cent of the population is projected to be 65 or over while 3.5 million people will be over 85.
Certainly none of us relish becoming older unless, that is, we are in good health. Then the opportunities for travel, free time to enjoy grand- children, friends and new hobbies are all within our reach. So how to achieve this glorious state? And can we learn something from the Okinawans? The good news is that providing we are in reasonably good health, it is possible to make minor changes for a better, longer future.
Okinawans eat far more vegetables than any other people — mostly green and yellow, and at least seven servings a day — plus an equal amount of grains in the form of noodles, bread and rice — many of them wholegrains.
Add to this two to four servings of fruit, plus tofu and other forms of soya, green tea, seaweed and fish rich in omega 3 three times weekly. Sweet potatoes, beansprouts, onions, and green peppers are prominent in the diet, whereas meat poultry and eggs account for just three per cent of their diet and fish approximately 11 per cent. The emphasis is on dark-green leafy vegetables rich in calcium. Okinawans have very few dairy foods in their diet, if at all. They do drink alcohol — the men more than the women.
It has also been claimed that the quantities eaten by Okinawans might be as significant as what they eat. The prevailing culture is to eat until they are “80 per cent full”. This makes this community one of the few around the world to practise calorie-restriction. There is a theory, backed up so far only by experiments on mice, that a diet restricted to 1,800 calories a day may promote longevity.
To take the lessons from the Okinwans would mean adopting a vegetable-based diet with extra grains or pulses — this could take the form of a good vegetable soup accompanied by a slice of pumpernickel or grilled oily fish with spinach or kale flavoured with a little soy sauce.
Try investigating the oriental shops in your neighbourhood where you will be able to buy soba noodles, made out of buckwheat and instant miso soups — add a handful of chopped pak choi leaves and some chopped shitake mushrooms for extra nutrition.
Tofu is regarded by many with disdain, yet when the large blocks sold in most supermarkets are cut into strips and baked in a mixture of vegetable stock and Moroccan or Cajun spices, the result is a delicious meal full of calcium and minerals.
Most Okinawans exercise enthusiastically. Many practise forms of martial arts, including tai-chi, and traditional Okinawan dance. They garden, they walk — even at the age of 100 they look healthy. They live comfortably and most enjoy their hobbies right up to their deaths.
So make a daily walk part of your routine, and add another form of exercise. Improve emotional well-being by enjoying friends and making new ones. And remember not to over-eat and then maybe you too will join the
centenarian club one day.
A varied diet full of colourful fruits and vegetables forms the basis of a healthy life on Okinawa