Blue Zones Part 4: Okinawa

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Once called the land of immortals, the islands at the southern end of Japan have historically been known for longevity - especially among women.  Okinawans have less incidence of cancer, heart disease and dementia than western nations, and women living in Okinawa live longer than any other women on the planet.

What we’ve seen throughout this series of Blue Zones is there are a number of factors that each zone has in common.  Okinawa is no different.

One of the greatest things Okinawa has in common with other Blue Zones is a strong dedication to family and friends.  The elderly are cared for and are respected central members of the family and the community.  

A plant based diet is common among older Okinawans.  Their meals consist of vegetable stir-fries, sweet potatoes and tofu.  These are all high in nutrients and low in calories.  Meat (usually pork) is consumed, however it’s mostly reserved for ceremonial occasions and only consumed in small quantities.

Flavonoids in soy products may protect the heart and guard against certain types of cancers.  Fermented soy products contribute to a healthy gut flora and offer great nutritional benefit.

Gentle exercise is key to good health, and Okinawans get their fair share.  Most centenarians in Okinawa still tend their own vegetable gardens.  This gives them fresh air, wide range of movement, and the end product is an abundance of fresh and healthy vegetables.

Walking is the most common form of transport in the islands of Okinawa.  Houses in this region are often lacking in furniture - with residents sitting on mats to consume meals.  The act of getting down on the ground and up again several times daily builds and maintains lower body strength.

Common themes are coming through as we look at these Blue Zones.  The key to longevity seems to be strong community and familial ties, plant based diets, regular gentle exercise and low amounts of stress.  Additionally, all the Blue Zones we’ve looked at so far are by the sea.  It could be argued that salt air plays a part - and maybe it does. 

The final Blue Zone we’ll look at in this series is Loma Linda, in California.

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