What We Can Learn About Life from the Oldest People on Earth



There is no single explanation for how and why some people live much longer than others. But there is a place where more people live longer and healthier lives than anywhere else on earth: Okinawa, Japan. Scientists have been studying this group of seniors to see if we can learn how to live longer and more productive lives. The study, called The Okinawa Centenarian Study, spans over two decades, and the findings are remarkable. They imply that, with some basic lifestyle changes, we folks in the West can increase our lifespan, and ensure that our extra time here is active and fun. Many gerontologists believe that up to two-thirds of our lifespan is in our control. This means it’s not just genetic makeup that controls individual health, but for many of us, it’s also the choices we make.

By learning about the Okinawan lifestyle, we may be able to positively influence our own lives. Let’s look at some of these choices.

Dietary Factors
A major factor in the extraordinary health enjoyed by Okinawa elders is their distinctive diet. It is plant-based; high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and flavanoids; and low in protein. It includes low to moderate alcohol intake, plenty of fruits and vegetables and very little saturated fat and sodium. In addition to eating like the Okinawans, we also can adopt their philosophy of ending the meal once we feel 80 percent full. In other words, eat slowly and stop early. The traditional diet also indicates to eat fish three times a week, add soy, eat seven servings of vegetables and fruits per day, drink plenty of water and switch to green tea. Try a meal of delicious wild salmon, tofu, some vegetables and blueberries, for example.

Exercise Factors
Okinawan elders have lifelong routines of moderate exercise and physical activity. They walk most places they go, and keep up daily tasks such as housework, gardening and working well past the age of “retirement” in North America. Many also practice the soft martial art of Tai chi and traditional dance.

Stress and Lifestyle
The remarkable life spans and health in Okinawa can be further explained by the extent to which their lives are low-stress, socially rich, purposeful and spiritual. Most practice a spirituality that combines the nature-revering aspects of Taoism, the communal respect emphasized by Confucianism and a native belief that celebrates women as connectors between present and past and also reveres elders. To apply these principles to your own life, simply slow down, take a breath and become more involved with family, community and religion or spirituality.

A Westernized Approach
Adopting the Okinawan lifestyle is a way of approaching aging as a rich and meaningful part of life. Each element—eating in a healthful way, maintaining social ties, remaining active—supports and reinforces the others. The best lesson we can learn from the elders of Okinawa is to embrace and celebrate aging and approach it with a sense of balance and reverence.


To learn more about The Okinawa Centenarian Study, visit OkiCent.org.


Margalit Tocher is the President of Home Care Assistance of Greater Chicago in Kenilworth, whose compassionate caregivers, trained in the Okinawan lifestyle, help seniors remain safely in their homes and enjoy a high quality of life. For more information, call 847-853-7777, email : Margalit@homecareassistance.com or visit HomeCareAssistance.com or BalancedCareMethod.com.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from Natural Awakenings

Eat Right to Sleep Well

Rather than popping a pill, eating certain foods can kick-start hormones that help us get a long, deep night’s sleep.

We Need Clean Waters

Efforts are underway around the country to make polluted waterways clean again and to instill local appreciation for their many helpful roles.

Peter Gros on Preserving Wild Nature

The wildlife expert explains why we should appreciate wolves, snakes and bats and what he finds encouraging about an enlightened focus on wildlife protection.

Running with the Kids

Families with children as young as 5 easily bond when they mindfully run together at a fun pace.

Livable Communities We Love

Across the country, cities from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to Portland are finding fresh new ways to create engaging street life for residents while eco-upgrading their green spaces, services and infrastructure.

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags

See More »This Month

Amitabul Restaurant Offers Vegan Fare for Health

The Choi brothers' Amitabul is an all-vegan restaurant known for serving healthful foods based on their family’s recipes combined with Buddhist philosophies of cooking.

Enviro Groups Release Green Growth Platform for Chicago’s Next Mayor

In January, 17 leading Chicago environmental and conservation groups issued their Green Growth Platform for Chicago’s next mayor.

Five-Minute Breaks Restore and Rejuvenate

Winter’s shorter days and colder temperatures can be physically, mentally and emotionally depleting. Take five minutes for yourself to recharge with these tips from several local experts.

Children Grow, Connect and Heal Through Yoga

Many places now offer yoga for a younger crowd, and children as young as preschoolers are taking advantage.

Grayslake Designer Is Guest Blogger for Natural Home Magazine

Move Fully into Life This Year

Discover what keeps you from stepping fully into your life and move beyond negative beliefs, bad habits or unhealthy relationships. Shamanic practitioner Kathleen Rude will help you discover how in her Cord-Cutting Workshop.