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RICHARD BÉLIVEAU’S COLUMN

Monday May 19, 2014

RICHARD BÉLIVEAU’S COLUMN Healthy Aging – the Exceptional Longevity of Okinawa Inhabitants

The Japanese island of Okinawa has been a fascinating case for scientific researchers for a long time, given the extraordinary life expectancy of its inhabitants. Okinawans live a very balanced lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, regular physical activity, minimal stress and highly developed social relationships, including with seniors. They enjoy life, and reap exceptional benefits from it:  not only does Okinawa have the highest number of centennials per habitant (40 per 100,000 people, compared to 17 in Canada), but these 100-year-old seniors are healthy and live an active lifestyle very late in life. Many Okinawans continue to practice martial arts or underwater diving well into their nineties, a feat made possible by a strong bone structure and excellent heart health.  
 
The quality of the Okinawans’ diet is one of the main reasons behind their exceptional longevity. The Okinawa diet features a lot of plant-based foods (sweet potato, tofu, algae, green vegetables, etc.), few meats (fish & pork), very little sugar and an abundance of green tea.   In addition, one of the main principles of the Okinawan diet is called hara ichi bun: according to this principle, the stomach must never be more than 80% full, and one must always stop eating before feeling satiated. Consequently, no Okinawans are overweight and the frequency of heart disease and cancer is a lot lower than in the Occident.
 
Despite our cultural differences, what the Okinawans’ lifestyle teaches us, is that a diet that mainly includes plant-based foods, combined to regular physical activity and a stimulating social climate, is one of the best formulas to live a long and healthy life. It’s up to us to live by their example, by applying these same principles in our daily lives to improve our overall quality of life.  

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