How to live to be 100, the Ja­panese way

The Jewish Chronicle - - Life/health - BY RUTH JOSEPH ‘Healthy res­i­dents over 100 ex­ist in abun­dance’

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

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