Okinawa Centenarian Study examines habits of world’s longest-lived population

The secret to longevity may be found on a tiny Japanese island. The residents of Okinawa have one of the longest average life expectancies in the world, and they also suffer from far fewer aging-related diseases than other populations, giving them the world's longest "health expectancy" as well.

The Okinawa Centenarian Study, which began in 1975, is the longest-running continuous study of centenarians in the world and has collected data from more than 900 people who lived to be 100. There is a much higher concentration of centenarians per capita in Okinawa than anywhere else in the world, and their lifestyle and habits may hold the key to discovering how people elsewhere can live longer.

One of the biggest contributors to Okinawans' longevity is their diet. They practice a culturally sanctioned form of calorie restriction, which has been shown in studies to increase the lifespan and overall health of mice. This practice, called "hara huchi bu", involves eating only until you feel about 80 percent full, rather than going for the all-American full-stomach feeling. As a result, Okinawans eat about 40 percent fewer calories on average than North Americans and 20 percent fewer than other Japanese people.

The building blocks of the Okinawan diet are a good deal of vegetables including seaweed, fish, whole grains and legumes like soy. On the other hand, Okinawans consume almost no meat or dairy products. They consume a moderate amount of alcohol per day and maintain an active lifestyle. This leads to lower rates of aging-related diseases while extending the lifespan.

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