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    Why women live longer in Okinawa, Japan

      |  Nov 07, 2023

    Off the southwest coast of Japan, in the East China sea, you’ll find Okinawa, the largest island of the 150 that make up the Okinawa prefecture. The island is rich with history — the first human settlements date back as far as 22,000 years ago — but today, the island may be most well known for its status as one of the world’s five Blue Zones. 

    Blue Zones, as coined by researcher Dan Buettner, are places where inhabitants live on average longer than other people anywhere else on the planet. In Okinawa, residents are less likely to develop cancer, heart disease, and dementia than Americans, and the women of Okinawa have an average life expectancy of 87.44 years, nearly 10 years longer than the average American woman.

    So, what’s their secret? There’s no magic ingredient that lends itself to longevity in Okinawa, but a variety of factors that can be adopted by almost anyone around the world.

    A balanced diet

    Although Okinawans are considered Japanese, their isolation from the mainland and differences in soil have led to a unique but nutritious diet. Rich in vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, the Okinawa diet is nutrient dense and high in antioxidants that protect the body’s cells from inflammation and degradation. And unlike Japan, where rice is a key staple of meals, Okinawa centenarians main source of calories are sweet potatoes, which are a rich source of antioxidants and fiber. According to one study, sweet potatoes make up over 60% of an average Okinawan diet. 

    A closer look at the science of the Okinawa diet reveals that Okinawans have a high intake of unrefined carbohydrates and moderate protein intake. The protein they do consume is from fish, lean meats, and tofu, which contain a healthy fat profile rich in omega-3. Healthy fats reduce cholesterol, while the low glycemic load of unrefined carbohydrates reduces oxidative stress. Their diet also consists of moderate alcohol consumption and very little dairy.

    Lifelong community

    Friendship and social connection is an often unconsidered aspect of longevity, but it can play a key role in how well and long a person lives. Some studies show that loneliness is a contributing factor to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, and stress, especially in older people.

    Community in Okinawa is centered around a concept called Maoi, a social, financial, spiritual, and health related support group. The concept began hundreds of years ago as a financial support system that would pool together resources for town projects or individual financial emergencies. Today Maoi is a social support network. Groups gather on a daily or weekly basis to socialize, share advice, and offer support — typically emotional but sometimes financial.

    While you might think this is nothing out of the ordinary (you probably see your friends during the week, too) most Maoi are formed when the group members are as young as 5 years old and continue throughout their lives. These life long bonds ensure social connection into older age, and reduce the stress of aging.

    Physical activity in daily life

    The studies are clear: regular physical activity is key to longevity. Those who exercise regularly are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease, chronic illness, and even cognitive decline, as one new study suggests

    Okinawan women live longer because they remain physically active their whole lives and integrate regular movement into their daily routine. Whether they’re working in the garden or going on a walk, Okinawan women avoid a sedentary lifestyle. It helps that homes in Okinawa also have very little furniture. People sit and relax on tatami mats. The consistent practice of getting up from a seated position on the floor strengthens your lower body, improves balance, and reduces the risk of falls later in life

    Live your life in the Blue Zone

    You don’t have to move to Okinawa or Sardinia to experience the benefits of Blue Zone living. Many of the practices that Okinawa women implement into their daily lives are adaptable to Western culture, too. If you want to invest in your longevity, start at Modern Age. Our Aging Wellness Assessment provides a 360 degree picture of your health and the root causes behind aging-related symptoms. We’ll work with you to create a plan to live a healthier, longer life — no passport required.