The World’s Best Souvenir: The Secret to a Long and Happy Life
Okinawa has a long history of people with long histories.
Once referred to as the land of immortals, this group of Pacific islands still boast some of the world’s longest-living people. There are five times more Okniawans that live to be 100 years old than their counterparts elsewhere in Japan — and Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world. The islanders also have the longest disability-free life expectancy, which means they are significantly less likely to have cancer, heart disease and dementia. Studies have also found that Okinawan women live longer than anyone on the planet.
How has this group of tiny islands off the coast of Japan managed to become a Blue Zone, an area in the world where people live measurably longer lives?
Visit Okinawa and take home one of the islands’ most coveted souvenirs: the secret to a long and happy life.
Look at these photos and you’ll understand why Okinawans tend to be less stressed than their global counterparts. I mean, how could you look at this and not feel relaxed?
Many of Okinawa’s centenarians focus on their ikigai, or “reason for being” every morning. By articulating their purpose in life, Okinawans achieve a clearer sense of responsibility and awareness. Most importantly, the practices helps Okinawans feel needed, even when they’re well into their second century.
The oldest Okinawans have a simple, vegetable-based diet that likely consists of more nutrients than a cabinet full of your best everyday multivitamins.
Take the island’s native goya, for example. This bitter melon is found in popular dishes like champuru and is known to lower blood sugar levels and improve the liver, muscle and other vital tissues. It is also packed with folates, which help reduce the incidence of birth defects; vitamin-C, one of the most powerful natural antioxidants; and flavonoids, which play a role in fighting aging, cancers and other diseases. It’s easy to digest, vitamin-rich and has next to no calories.
Yeah, it’s pretty much magic.
Even the most senior Okinawans manage to maintain an unusually active lifestyle. In addition to walking and gardening, they make lifestyle choices that encourage small, yet powerful physical exercise. For example, many residents have very little furniture, so meals and relaxation takes place on tatami mats on the floor. The act of getting up and down from these mats may not seem physically demanding, but when someone is doing it dozens of times a day, it leads to a stronger lower body and ability to balance.
Okinawa’s subtropical climate means that 60 degrees is pretty much the coldest the islands get, even in January and February. That year-round warmth and sunshine make it easy for even seniors to spend more time outdoors and achieve optimal vitamin-D levels year-round, which helps them build stronger bones and healthier bodies.
The tradition of moai has been practiced in Okinawa for centuries. A moai is a small, informal social group that commits to offer emotional, social and, in some cases, financial support to one another. These social cooperatives meet one another’s practical needs and contribute to each other’s overall well-being. Moai members live longer, happier and less stressful lives because they know that there’s always someone who has their back.
Okinawa, known by many as the “Galapagos of the East,” has a singularly unique ecosystem that gives its residents constant opportunities for the mental and physical exercise that comes with new discoveries. Okinawan islands such Iriomote offer residents the chance to hike through primeval forest, cruise through mangroves and spot endangered plants and wildlife, while the ocean around the islands gives natives the chance to swim with some of the most beautiful sea creatures in the world.
Ultimately, Okinawans eat right, but they also eat less – an average of 1800 calories less. Okinawans have a practice called hara hachi bu, which translates as “8 parts out of 10, full.” Basically they eat to feel good, not full. So no, they probably have never heard of the concept of a food baby…
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