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Okinawa: The Real Fountain of Youth.

"At 70 you are still a child, at 80 a young man or woman. And if at 90 someone from Heaven invites you over, tell him: 'Just go away, and come back when I am 100.' "

Photo of Alex Freeman
9 19

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Okinawa has the highest instance of centenarians in the world with 34.7 per 100,000 residents, compared to the US average of 10 centenarians per 100,000 residents. Not only that, elderly Okinawans suffer far fewer cases of dementia and hip fractures than the rest of the world. How does this happen?

A lot of it is based on a healthy diet and copious exercise. However, there is another factor that seems to have a huge impact on Okinawan's longevity that can'r be measured quantifiably: self-sufficiency and positive outlook. There are stories of a 105-year-old woman hunting down a poisonous snake and killing it with a fly swatter. Or an instance of a 96-year-old man defeating a thirty-something in a marshal arts competition. 

Self-sufficiency and a purpose in life seems a powerful indicator in how long someone is going to live. Multiply this outlook by the entire community and it is easy to see why Okinawa has such a thriving elderly population.

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Photo of T. Annie Nguyen

Great inspiration! I've read about Okinawa and their diet is very much based on a lot of vegetables and active lifestyle such as gardening, which brings people together. Their future generations are facing the same issues with more Western cultural influences, which is interesting. We can definitely learn a lot and also help continue healthy living.

Photo of Daniel Latch

So well said and represented. Agreed that purpose, positive outlook, exercise, and diet go together with genetics to promote healthier and longer and happier, more satisfied lives. Makes me curious to know the distribution of health, longevity, and satisfaction with life situations in elders across socio-economic and religious-tribal populations. There are deep factors, e.g. religion, that may forstall productive change until loosened appropriately. Certainly, thre is a clear difference in the guiding precepts of the people of Okinawa and the U.S. with respect to their religion and how it dictates their behaviors. I fear it is true of the long lived people around the world that they will have more in common with one another than any of them have with the U.S. The suggestion hangs out that these cultures of the healthy aged have better overall health records than the U.S. What does that tell us that we can use?

curious

Photo of Alex Freeman

I don't know if I fully agree with the assertion that American seniors are worse off than other seniors around the world. I think it's difficult to compare these cultures in this sense as there are some fundamental differences, religion for example, that prevent a direct comparison on outlook.

I think it would be difficult to assume that an elderly religious Christian American has a less healthy outlook than an elderly religious Shinto Okinawan.

I think much of the success of the Okinawan's outlook comes from the family. Japanese culture is extremely family-centric, often with multiple generations living on the same plot of land (though not necessarily the same house). I think in many European-based cultures (America included) the institutionalization of the elderly into care homes has become the norm. Do you think that the pervasiveness of sending aging parents to care homes has created a stigma and fear of aging to the American public? Some food for thought.

Photo of Arjan Tupan

Interesting discussion. It would indeed be valuable to understand more about the longevity of Okinawans. Family might be a factor, but maybe the self-sufficiency and sense of purpose have more impact. In that light, the fact that the elderly are put in homes in some cultures might have an effect. Maybe it's better to find ways to keep them independent for as long as possible?

Photo of Meena Kadri

Thought you might like this too – from a seasoned OpenIDEATOR: http://www.openideo.com/open/mayo-clinic/inspiration/-add-more-life-to-your-years-and-years-to-your-life-/

Tip: If you hit the Update button on the right of this page you could go in and add that post to your Build Upon feature. That way the person who wrote it will get an email notification and is likely to come and join the brilliant conversation you've started here as well. Creativity loves company, right? :^)

Photo of Meena Kadri

Way to go, Alex – this is bringing back great memories of my days studying Anthropology. An interesting aspect which also contributes to the longevity of Okinawans is their practice of eating till only 80% full (hara hachi bu) Contrast this to high obesity stats elsewhere and our tendency to eat way past feeling full. Food for thought...

Photo of Alex Freeman

Wow, I've never heard of that Meena, but it definitely seems like a healthy habit to partake in. Healthy outlook paired with a healthy diet seems the key to longevity!

Photo of Ashley Jablow

Fascinating!

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

I didn't know this about Okinawa before and am now totally intrigued to learn more! Thanks Alex. I wonder how we might be able to encourage positive outlook in retirees who don't feel positive?