The Okinawans eat a plant-based diet full of vegetables with lots of colour in them, and consume local fermented soy products. Researchers believe that the women don’t struggle with the changes of menopause, because their diet is high in soy. (Taking soy supplements may have disappointing results: in order to receive the benefits, phyto-oestrogens must be ingested naturally, through foods rich in soy.2)
More significant is how they eat. They have all sorts of strategies that keep them from overeating. They eat small servings from small plates, served at a counter and brought to the table. They also have a 3 000-year-old adage, one of the principles of a diet invented by Confucius known as the hara hachi bu diet. It’s a simple saying that they recite before a meal, to remind them to stop eating when their stomach is not yet full – a self-imposed habit of calorie restriction.
The health of the people in this region revolves around their gardens! Locals spend a lot of time tending (and eating) their herbs and vegetables, rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. Being out in their gardens also gives Okinawans exposure to the sun, giving them ample opportunity to absorb their daily dose of vitamin D, which is good for bone health.
What they have in common with the Sardinians is social acceptance and integration. They have seven to nine people with whom they travel through life, their ‘moais’, lifelong friends who provide social, emotional and financial support networks. Research shows that friends share similar health behaviours, which can have a long-term impact on our health. And, as we all know, social isolation kills.
The Okinawans maintain a positive outlook on life, much like the Sardinians. They live for their ikigai, reason for waking up in the morning. What is your ikigai? Do you instantly know, and are reassured by, the reason you wake up in the morning? In Okinawa, like Sardinia, almost all the people who reach their 90s and above, do so as physically and mentally functional members of society, who can take care of themselves.
A supercentenarian is someone who has reached the age of not just 100, but 110!
The oldest authenticated person was Jeanne Louise Calment of France, who died at the age of 122 years and 164 days. She ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin. She also drank port wine, and ate nearly 1 kg of baker’s chocolate every week – baker’s chocolate consists almost entirely of cacao!
During the research into this article, the official oldest man in the world, is Saturnino de la Fuente García, of Spain, aged 112 years. At 118 years (on 13 May 2021), Kane Tanaka of Japan is the oldest living person on the planet today and she occasionally plays the board game Othello, solves arithmetic problems and does calligraphy as a hobby.
If Bolivia’s public records are correct, Carmelo Flores Laura is the oldest living person ever documented. They say he turned 123 in July 2013, but birth certificates did not exist in Bolivia until 1940. Like most peasants in the Bolivian highlands, he has been chewing coca leaf, a mild stimulant that staves off hunger, all his life. ‘I walk a lot, that’s all. I go out with the animals,’ says Flores, who has herded cattle and sheep for a very long time. He says he has never been seriously ill.
In Xinjiang, Northwest China, lives Almihan Sayit, who says she is 134 years old and has never been to a hospital. She said she has always tried to keep an optimistic view of life: ‘There is nothing in the family that makes me upset. My children treat me very well and they love and respect me.’ She loves singing songs – especially love songs.
According to David Wolfe, who’s been called the rock star of longevity and nutrition, longevity foods include rainbow-coloured foods rich in phytonutrients. But don’t ignore foods with dark pigments (purple and black), such as black rice, black chia seeds, black potato, red grapes, dark berries, black maca, seaweed, dried schizandra berry, blueberries, dark chocolate and olives – all rich in resveratrol, a natural compound shown to favourably alter genes implicated in the ageing process. David’s list also includes foods such as cinnamon, olive oil, garlic and honey.
ADD YEARS TO YOUR LIFE – AND LIFE TO YOUR YEARS
So the secrets to longevity from around the globe can be summed up as follows:
- Move naturally.
- Walk or garden every day. Have the right outlook on life – a purpose for living.
- Eat wisely, in moderation, and mostly plant-based foods. Enjoy a good red wine – and black foods!
- Very importantly, connect with loved ones and have a sense of belonging.