In terms of longevity, the world saw two milestones in July 2018. Chiyo Miyako, the world’s oldest woman passed away at 117. And the world’s oldest man, Masazo Nonaka, celebrated his 113th birthday.
As you may have guessed by the names, both these “super-centenarians” are Japanese. Japan has more people over 100 than any other country. Last year, Japan boasted 67,824 people over 100.
Japan doesn’t just have the highest percentage of citizens over 100, either. The country enjoys the longest average life expectancy of any major industrialized nation.
Perhaps even more important, Japanese citizens generally enjoy 75 years or more of robust good health. Japanese seniors are healthier and more active on average than their peers anywhere in the world.
And science is beginning to unravel their secrets.
Okinawa – Japan’s Anti-aging “Blue Zone”
Perhaps you’ve heard of Blue Zones before. They’re spots where people tend to live much longer than average. Okinawa – a string of Japanese islands – has long held a place of honor among blue zones. Because Okinawans held the record for long, healthy lives for many, many years.
Okinawans have a mealtime tradition somewhat different from other cultures. Before each meal, Okinawans traditionally said, “Hara hachi bu.” It’s a reminder to eat only till you’re 80% full.
Calorie restriction is linked to longevity in some animal studies. So scientists believe the tradition of not eating till your full may contribute to the long life Okinawans have enjoyed for centuries.
The traditional Okinawan diet is also different from most other parts of the world.
Okinawans eat fish about 3 times a week. They rarely eat red meat. And their local vegetables are remarkably nutrient-dense.
According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, “their purple sweet potatoes are rich in flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin E and lycopene…” They also eat bitter melons and bitter cucumbers that are nutrient dense. Their diet includes lots of green tea and the spice turmeric. And at least two types of seaweed are a regular part of their diet.
But scientists have seen a change in the health status of younger Okinawans. Since the arrival of U.S. troops – and the fast food outlets that come in their wake – the life expectancy of Okinawans has begun to drop. Western foods may be erasing one of the world’s Blue Zones.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow Japan’s example.
This “Health Backwater” May Prove to Be the World’s Newest Blue Zone
Nagano Prefecture sits at the heart of the Japanese Alps. And at the heart of Japan.
Nagano is best known as the home to the 1998 Winter Olympics. But, in Japan, Nagano was also known for many years as the home of some of Japan’s shortest-lived citizens. If you lived in Nagano, your chances of a long life were pretty slim.
Then all that changed.
You see, Nagano is land-locked. Mountainous. And offers very little land suitable for farming. Men here had fairly high rates of stroke, heart disease, and other health problems.
Throughout the winter, Nagano’s residents ate lots of pickled vegetables – which are extremely high in salt. In fact studies showed people in Nagano ate 2 to 3 times the “safe” amount of salt in their diets.
So the government stepped in to change the local diet. And more.
Today, men in Nagano work well past the U.S. retirement age. And when they “retire,” many work on family farms – remaining active well into their 70s and 80s.
The people of Nagano eat far less salt then before… and focus their diet on healthier options. The result is a huge boost in life expectancy.
Women in Nagano now live an average of 87.2 years. Men average 80.9 years. And most of those years are healthy years. The turn-around has been so dramatic, the average life expectancy in Nagano is greater than in Okinawa.
AARP showcased an example of this dramatic turnaround in 2014.
When Takami Kuroiwa retired, he began working on the family farm. But, by the time he was 66, Kuroiwa had rejoined the workforce, and began working in the tourism industry.
But he still devoted 12 hours a day on weekends to the family farm. “It’s part of the lifestyle here, says Kuroiwa.” You work in an office and then you retire to the farm. It’s just the next stage in life.”
The combination of diet and activity seems to work. As I said, Nagano now outpaces Okinawa in terms of longevity.
But one Japanese researcher hopes to answer the longevity question once and for all.
Decades of Data Reveal Keys to Longevity
Professor Manami Inoue has been following the health of more than 100,000 Japanese adults since the 1990s.
Prof. Inoue’s volunteers were between 40 and 69 at the start of the study. And they’ve been checking in every 5 to 10 years since.
So far, the study has found – among other things…
- Smoking boosts your risk of early death by 50%.
- Drinking green tea lowers your risk of all-cause mortality.
- Lifestyle is far more important than genetics when it comes to longevity.
Needless to say, the lifestyle discovery is the most significant. Because it shows you can make a big impact on how long you’ll live.
As younger Okinawans embrace Western habits, their life expectancy drops. But the people of Nagano have made the opposite change. Proving you can turn a dark future into a bright one… just by making a few simple changes in your life.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
“World’s oldest person Chiyo Miyako dies at 117 in Japan,” CBS News. Jul 27, 2018.
Mellen, R., “The world’s oldest man just turned 113. His secret? Eating candy,” The Washington Post. Jul 25, 2018.
Booth, M., “The Okinawa diet – could it help you live to 100?” The Guardian. Jun 19, 2013.
Spitzer, K., “Secrets From the Longest-Living Place on Earth,” AARP Bulletin. May 2014.
Dumé, B. “Unlocking The Secrets of Longevity in Japan,” Scientific American. Jul 12, 2016.
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