It is in this chain of exotic coral-fringed islands in the Pacific that you will find not only the longest-lived people in the world, but also the healthiest, happiest, most sprightly centenarians and super-centenarians.
The visitor to this longevity paradise is likely to find 90-year-olds up trees picking fruit and people in their 80s and 90s having races, group aerobics sessions, flirting, dancing and partying. Young and old mix together to ‘push the happiness’, drink guava juice laced with rice wine, play 3-stringed guitars, and dedicate themselves to their carefree way of living, loving, and being…even up to their 100s and beyond.
When a Japanese doctor called Dr Suzuki came to Okinawa in 1975 to open a medical centre, he went to look for a famous centenarian woman he had heard of. He stopped a woman, apparently around 70 years old, striding down the street and asked her if she knew where the centenarian lived. You can probably guess her reply: ‘I am her’, she said.
Dr Suzuki went on to find 40 centenarians on the small main island and discovered that they were not only numerous but unusually healthy. Today, there are thirty four centenarians per 100,000 people in Okinawa, compared with ten per 100,000 in the United States, with an uncommonly high number of people aged over 105. Not only that, but Okinawans have the lowest levels of the West’s top killers – heart disease, stroke, and cancer – on the planet.
Dr Suzuki and gerontologists subsequently studying old Okinawans have found them to have freakishly youthful arteries, low homocysteine levels, high levels of sex hormones, vibrant immune systems, excellent bone health, and tip-top mental agility. Many elderly Okinawans claim never to have had a day’s sickness in their lives, and when they do eventually die, they tend to be ill only for the last few months.
Researchers have also found – and this is good news for the rest of us mortals – that Okinawan longevity is due not so much to genes as to certain diet and lifestyle habits. The Okinawan Centenarian Study, which looked at 600 centenarians, concluded that a diet based mainly on plants and some protein from fish and fermented soy products, plenty of exercise out in the fresh air and sunshine, close social networks and strong spiritual beliefs make up the formula for their prolonged youth and exceptional vigor.
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