Okinawa which is an island located south of mainland Japan, has been recognized as having the most number of centenarians in the entire world. it is not unusual to find Okinawans who are at least 100 years old. To this day, the incidence of cardiovascular disease and lifestyle diseases are still rare among people living in this island. Okinawa is also known as the site of the largest U.S. military amphibious operation during the Second World War.
Today’s growing problem of being obese and prone to other types of lifestyle diseases has made the Okinawan diet very appealing. Now their diet and lifestyle is under continuous study to find out the correlation of it to their health and longevity.
Diet of Okinawan people
Basically Okinawan people followed a disciplined approach to eating, which is based on the confucian teaching “Hara hachi bu” that instructs people to stop eating when they are 80 percent full.They were also mindful about the quality of the foods they consume on a daily basis, They eat plenty of plant-based foods which include large quantities of tofu and locally grown vegetables. This eating plan also include the consumption of different varieties of fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, seaweed, and other organic products that are high in protein, rich in calcium, and low in fat.
Okinawans rarely eat meat. For this reason, weight gain is hardly a problem among them. Overweight or bulging Okinawans are rare to see. Most of them have retained the short but slim physical appearance of their ancient ancestors who were mostly fisherfolk and farmers.
The key to the effectiveness of the Okinawan Diet is the philosophy that is best encapsulated in the phrase, “food as tonic, food as medicine.” Islander’s eating habits have been strongly influenced by the food culture of Mariland Japan, Korea and China. — all which emphasized the medicinal and therapeutic value of certain food groups.
In many Okinawan homes, the mother or the person who prepares the food usually serves the meal by saying, “Please eat this. This food is good for healing this or that illness. Eating is good for you.” After the meal, the people who ate the food would say, “Kusuinatan!” The word “kusuinatan” is an Okinawan term which means, “The food is good. My body feels good. Food is like medicine.”
The Active Lifestyle of Okinawan People
Aside from eating healthy food, Okinawans are also lead very active lifestyles. Island residents, young and old, practice some sort of martial arts, engage in folk dancing, and tend their own gardens. These activities provide them the opportunity to break out a sweat and release toxins from the body. By being active, they are able to improve their cardiovascular health.
Many centenarians in Okinawa engage in karate and traditional dancing called “rojin odori” because they see these activities as sources of “ikigai” or sense of purpose. Unlike their Western counterparts, the senior citizens of Okinawa have maintained personal care through individual exercise while also remaining physically active in their community.
In the west, it is a common practice that senior citizens tends to stay in nursing homes, living comfortable yet sedentary lives. Their inactive lifestyle and fat-rich, high-carbohydrate foods have contributed to the rise in heart disease and other ailments among them. Weight control is still a hurdle for most of them.
It is never too late to turn back from unhealthy eating habits. Like Okinawans, every one must consider to get back to a healthy and active lifestyle which entails eating the right food in the right amounts; and by being passionate about an art, activity or event that can provide you your own sense of purpose in life.