Longevity Secrets from Japan

Rely on a plant-based diet.

Plants have essential nutrients that you cannot get from other foods. The vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants in plants help keep your cells healthy and your body in balance so that your immune system can function at its best. Older Okinawans have eaten a plant-based diet most of their lives. Their meals of stir-fried vegetables, sweet potatoes, and tofu are high in nutrients and low in calories. Goya, with its antioxidants and compounds that lower blood sugar, is of particular interest. While centenarian Okinawans do eat some pork, it is traditionally reserved only for infrequent ceremonial occasions and taken only in small amounts.

Get gardening.

Almost all Okinawan centenarians grow or once grew a garden. It’s a source of daily physical activity that exercises the body with a wide range of motion and helps reduce stress. It’s also a near-constant source of fresh vegetables.

Eat more soy.

Soy is a particularly good choice, she says, because it’s a complete protein, which means it has all the amino acids your body needs, as well as fiber, potassium to help regulate blood pressure, magnesium to help protect against insulin resistance, copper for immunity, and even omega-6 and -3 fatty acids. Some studies show it can even help lower cholesterol. It’s also a top source of isoflavones, a type of flavonoid that has estrogen-like effects and may help lower the risk of certain cancers. The Okinawan diet is rich in foods made with soy, like tofu and miso soup. Flavonoids in tofu may help protect the hearts and guard against breast cancer. Fermented soy foods contribute to a healthy intestinal ecology and offer even better nutritional benefits.

Enjoy the sunshine.

Vitamin D, produced by the body when it’s exposed on a regular basis to sunlight, promotes stronger bones and healthier bodies. Spending time outside each day allows even senior Okinawans to have optimal vitamin D levels year-round.

Stay active.

Get outside and move in some way, whether that’s a more traditional type of exercise — like running, biking, or walking — or simply playing with your kids by tossing around a Frisbee. Older Okinawans are active walkers and gardeners. The Okinawan household has very little furniture; residents take meals and relax sitting on tatami mats on the floor. The fact that old people get up and down off the floor several dozen times daily builds lower body strength and balance, which help protect against dangerous falls.

Plant a medical garden.

Mugwort, ginger, and turmeric are all staples of an Okinawan garden, and all have proven medicinal qualities. By consuming these every day, Okinawans may be protecting themselves against illness. 20 Medicinal Herbs to Grow in Your Healing Garden (Make Your Own Herbal Remedies with Plants You Grow!)