5 Health Lessons I Learned From The Okinawans

5 Health Lessons I Learned From The Okinawans

Secrets to a Long and Healthy Life

If you want to learn how to live a long and healthy life, you should take a cue from the Okinawans. This unique culture has some of the most extended living people on earth, and they have some secrets to keeping themselves healthy and happy. This blog post will discuss five lessons that we can learn from the Okinawans. Keep reading for tips on how to improve your health!

What is a Blue Zone?

In the 1980’s I was in the Marine Corps and stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for seven years, one of the so-called ‘blue zones’ of the world.

A National Geographic expedition led by Dan Buettner to uncover the secrets of long life revealed five places around the world where the people who live there tend to live longer than anywhere else.

Dan and his team distilled the evidence-based commonalities of these Blue Zones by identifying nine commonalities that they call “The Power 9.”

They’ve since taken these principles into their communities across the United States, working with policymakers, businesses, schools, and individuals to shape the environment of the Blue Zones project communities.

What has been found by the Blue Zones Project is that putting the responsibility for creating a healthy environment on individuals doesn’t work. Still, through policy changes and environmental changes, the Blue Zone communities have been able to increase longevity, reduce obesity, and make healthy choices more accessible for millions of Americans.

After conducting this study, Dan and the team found the five geographically defined areas with the most centenarians. These were Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rican; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan.

While there, here are some of the health lessons I learned first-hand from the Okinawans.

Reduce stress

People in the Blue Zones still experience stress. Chronic stress causes inflammation, which is associated with every significant age-related disease.

What the world’s longest-lived people seem to have that we don’t are routines for shedding that stress. Okinawans take time to remember their ancestors; the Adventists pray, Ikariaans take naps, and Sardinians do Happy Hour. You can reduce stress by socializing with friends, family, and your community.

Meditation can also be a great stress-reducer. Try spending a few minutes each day in silence, focusing on your breath.

Follow the practice of Hara Hachi Bu

The Okinawans say “Hara Hachi Bu,” a 2500-year-old Chinese proverb, before meals to remind them to eat until they feel 80% full. The 20% gap could be the difference between successfully losing weight or failing at it. They also eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening, and then they don’t eat anymore for the rest of the day.

Science has shown us that our brain is about 10-20 minutes behind our stomach. So, when you stop eating when you feel 80% full, you are full. By practicing Hara Hachi bu, the average Okinawan man consumes only 1,800 calories a day, compared to an average American who eats closer to 2,500 calories.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

Eat healthy foods, mainly plant-based. The Okinawans consume more vegetables than most people, primarily green and yellow vegetables, whole grains, and tofu. They also eat fish and other legumes and eat very little meat, dairy, or eggs.

They eat a moderate amount of fresh wild seafood and avoid processed foods and refined sugars.

Centenarians in Okinawa eat 60 percent of their calories from Okinawan sweet potatoes, a purple or yellow type different than our typical orange one. They eat a diet high in soy—about eight times as much as Americans—and foods like bitter melon, garlic, turmeric, brown rice, green tea, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed. 

People who follow a primarily plant-based diet have been shown to have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

Have an Ikagai

Google translates ikiga from Japanese to English as “reason to live.” 

The Okinawans refer to it as ikigai, and Nicoyans call it their life plan. Knowing why you get out of bed every day makes you healthier and happier and adds up to seven extra years of life expectancy.

Older Okinawans can articulate the reasons why they get up in the mornings. Their purpose-driven lives give them clear roles of responsibility well into their 100s, and they feel needed.

Living a long life seems to require having a sense of purpose well into old age. A recent international study has shown that people who feel they have a sense of purpose are less likely to die from diseases like cancer and heart attacks. People who feel purpose often live healthier lifestyles. And, they’re more motivated and resilient than others, which helps protect them from stress and burnout.

The Japanese concept of ikigai is described by the intersection of four essential qualities:

  • What you love.
  • What makes you good.
  • What the world needs.
  • What you can get compensated for.

You may be able to discover a sense of purpose in your life by setting some life goals and thinking about what makes you unique. You can also look for ways to make a difference in your community or the world. Consider what you’re passionate about and what skills and talents you offer.

Develop a moai

The Okinawan tradition of forming a moai provides a secure social network. These safety nets lend financial and emo­tional support in times of need, and they give all of their member’s stress-shedding security by knowing that there is always somebody there for them.

Moai means a group of lifelong friends in Japanese. A social support group provides financial, health, and spiritual interests.

Small communities across Okinawa often meet up for a common purpose—gossiping, experiencing life, sharing advice, and even offering financial assistance when needed.

You might not be capable of having a moai in the most literal sense, but you should strive for a close-knit set of friendships and meet regularly.

A great way to find a close-knit group of friends would be to join a club or organization that shares your interests. You can also look for opportunities to volunteer in your community. Spending time with friends and family and being active in your community can help reduce stress and improve your overall health.

Takeaways

Remember, to live a healthier life, follow the Okinawan traditions of:

  • Reducing stress
  • Not overeating
  • Eating a primarily plant-based diet
  • Have a definite life purpose
  • Have a tight support network that meets regularly

 These are just some things we can learn from the Okinawan lifestyle that can help us live longer, healthier lives. Try incorporating some of these lessons into your own life and see how it goes!

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