The secret to immortality might be closer than we think. Okay, maybe not immortality, but certainly a long and healthy life. Okinawa is a group of islands in the south of mainland Japan, and is known to have the highest rate of centenarians, or people who live to be a hundred years old, in the world.
This proverbial secret to their good health lies predominantly in their diet and lifestyle choices, while genetic and environmental factors are still under research. A study conducted by the Okinawa Prefectural University’s College of Nursing states “82% of individuals were still functioning independently at a mean age of 92 years and almost two-thirds were still functioning independently at a mean age of 97 years.”
The local diet is rich in vegetables, soy products and seafood, with very little processed foods, reducing the environmental impact. Rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin E and lycopene from fruits, vegetables, legumes and proteins, this diet reduces the risk of heart disease, dementia and even some kinds of cancer. This, along with smaller portions during meals, seems to be one of the most influential factors in the region’s longevity.
Diet alone, however, is not the answer. The Okinawans live a physically active life with deep community bonds. Humans are social animals, and positive mental stimulation—being part of a larger community—also plays a huge role in overall good health.
But as is true with most places, globalization in Okinawa has proven to be a double-edged sword. Automobiles are slowly replacing walking or cycling, and younger generations are eating more processed meats and fast foods. As a result, the number of people living to be a hundred is dwindling.