This is the first in our 5-part series on life in the “Blue Zones,” where people live longer, healthy lives. Each part will look into the diets and lifestyles of the areas where longevity is a normal part of aging better. Who doesn’t want to know their secrets?
Okinawa has a population that has been researched in-depth due to the fact that it’s been ranked as one of the top life expectancy locations in the world for several years in a row. The island of Okinawa, off the coast of Japan, is considered a “Blue Zone” which is a geographical location where the population has exceptional longevity. Researchers have found some commonalities amongst Okinawa’s centenarians (people who live to be 100 or older), which shares similarities with those of other Blue Zones:
Okinawans have a long history of eating a primarily plant-based diet. Eggs, dairy, meat, and fish make up less than 5% of the diet. Okinawans view nutrition as a form of preventative medicine which is showcased by an overall diet being high in phytonutrients and antioxidants. “Hara hachi bun me” is a Confucian teaching instructing people to eat until they are 80% full. This teaching is commonly recited by some people in Okinawa, reminding them to practice mindfulness during meal time.
Prior to World War II, a large portion of the Okinawan diet consisted of purple sweet potatoes but has since changed due to influence from the U.S. and other parts of Japan and Asia. According to an epidemiological study, some of the most frequently consumed foods in Okinawa today are bitter melon, pumpkin, okra, soy foods, algae, ginger, turmeric, burdock, daikon radish, and beverages including green tea, jasmine tea, and Awamori — an alcoholic drink originating from Okinawa.
Many herbs and spices are used in Okinawa to add flavor and additional health benefits to commonly consumed foods and dishes. Here are some of the herbs and spices used in this region:
Much of daily life in Okinawa is tied to community and Ikigai — a reason for being. This region has a strong sense of collective identity and pride, with a predominantly equalitarian social hierarchy. Social and family support are prioritized with strong inter-generational relationships, clear family roles, and supportive relationships. The elderly take care of the children and are woven into the community and family dynamic as much as younger adults are.
Daily movement is incorporated into the lifestyles of Okinawans through gardening, walks, and activities like tai-chi, karate, and dance. The moderate climate and low pollution levels allow a variety of activities to be enjoyed outdoors.
Consider implementing a thing or two from Okinawan people into your own life by focusing on a community-based lifestyle and experience some of the many benefits the people of this region experience every day!
Buettner, D. (2021, April 30). The Okinawa Diet: Eating and living to 100 – blue zones. Blue Zones – Live Better, Longer.
Canelada Fernández, A. (2021). The Blue Zone of Sardinia: An intergenerational epidemiological study on nutrition and its application in Public Health. Retrieved January 21, 2022, from http://docplayer.net/221590417-The-blue-zone-of-sardinia-an-intergenerational-epidemiological-study-on-nutrition-and-its-application-in-public-health.html
Green, C. M. (2021, May 1). Longevity Blue Zone Centenarians: An expository paper. Inquiries Journal.
Lehman, S. (2021, April 1). What we can learn about nutrition from the people of Okinawa. Verywell Fit