A team consisting of Makoto Suzuki, a cardiologist, geriatrician, Bradley Wilcox, a physician-investigator in geriatrics and Craig Wilcox, an expert in aging conducted The Okinawa Centenarian study which is the longest living study of centenarians and has examined over 900 centenarians, as well people in their 90s, 80s, and 70s. They are considered the oldest concentrated living population in the world.
How to Increase Your Health & Longevity Like the Okinawans
The researchers found common factors among the Okinawans that contribute to their health and longevity. Okinawans have healthy arteries, low cholesterol, and maintain a healthy blood pressure. Their body mass index ranges from 18-22 meaning they have a low fat percentage. They also have a low risk of hormone dependent cancers. They have less breast and prostate cancer by 80 percent compared to those in North America and less than half the ovarian and colon cancer rates. They have a youthful level of sex hormones such as didehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), estrogen and testosterone and the menopausal women do not use hormone replacements and have very few complications such as hot flushes and hip fractures.
The longevity of the Okinawans is a result predominantly of their diet, although their environment, moderate and regular exercise, a community focused lifestyle, lifelong learning and sound spiritual framework also contribute towards their health. The study also revealed that Okinawans ate 40 percent less calories than North American’s and 20 percent less calories than the Japanese. They followed a low calorie and low glycemic load diet, practicing a cultural habit called hara huchi bu (only eating until they are 80 percent full).
10 Key Diet Lessons from the Okinawans
1) Eat healthy foods, mostly plants. The Okinawans eat more veggies than most people (mostly green and yellow ones), as well as whole grains, tofu, fish and other legumes. They eat very little sugar, and very little meat, dairy or eggs.
2) Eat lots of legumes and beans,
3) Eat moderate amounts of fresh wild fish,
4) Ensure a low consumption of meat and meat products,
5) Eat dairy in moderation,
6) Drink moderate amounts of alcohol,
7) Keep you caloric intake low and stick to moderate size food portions. Okinawans have low body fat and are fit. Body mass index ranges from 18 -22,
8) Your diet must be rich in omega-3 fats,
9) Ensure a high monounsaturated-to-saturated-fat ratio, and
10) Ensure your diet contains low-GI carbohydrates.
Interestingly, the authors of the study found that prior to 1949 the Okinawans derived most of their carbohydrates from high nutrient sweet potatoes which have a low glycemic index. This changed after the Second World War when more wheat and rice were introduced into their diet and it may well start having a negative impact on the future longevity of this population.