Most of you reading this may have heard of the Okinawans. The Japanese Islands of Okinawa are very small and would normally be unheard of in our part of the world but the people of Okinawa are making a big splash due to their longevity and quality of life. Our conventional way of thinking is that the richer and more developed nations should have the best health but this is far from the truth. The Okinawan islands are among the poorest parts of Japan and yet have more people living over 100 per capita than anywhere else in the world!
In this blog I want to talk about some of the habits the inhabitants of the island have to be able to keep such an exceptionally long and high quality of life that each of us can use in our own lives. I will show you how Okinawans approach life limiting the three T’s of stressors that limit your genetic expression as taught in the Chiropractic philosophy: traumas, thoughts and toxins.
1. Okinawans and Toxins (chemical stressors)
As we say at Stout Chiropractic, what you put in your body is a HUGE part of maintaining good health. Okinawans enjoy meals full of mostly colorful veggies and fruits, healthy fats, limited high quality meats, very little grains, very little dairy, good fermented soy and legumes. (Note: I say good soy because a lot of the soy found on the market here in America is not good for you and very different from the soy eaten in Japan). While some people believe that some of the unique fruits and veggies found on the island could be the secret, it is more likely that the balance of nutrients consumed keep Okinawans living healthy lives past the century mark.
Okinawans not only eat certain healthy foods, but also have a practice in how MUCH they eat. “Hara hachi bun me” roughly means “eat until your belly is 80 percent full”. This seems to be an efficient but less exact way to calorie count and based on some evidence could decrease oxidation in the body which leads to cell death and accelerated aging.
Not only do Okinawans avoid certain foods and calorie count, but they use food and plants as medicine. Many Okinawans grow their own gardens that include turmeric and ginger that have proven medicinal properties. This is a staple in the Okinawan diet and may be a good way to prevent illness and keep all around health.
2. Trauma (Physical stressors)
Everybody, no matter the culture has physical trauma in life. Some people are more able to adapt to those stressors, especially if they’re regularly engaging in physical activity. This is another huge reason that the Okinawans have such great health into old age. You may not see tons of P90X DVDs floating around or CrossFit gyms on the island, but even in old age, Okinawans are constantly moving, climbing trees, walking, playing in the communities, working on their own gardens and even sitting on the floor instead of furniture. The act of squatting low regularly improves mobility and can also help with balance to decrease the risk of falls in the elderly which is a huge problem in the States.
One of the biggest physical stressors in our society right now is the accumulated stress of us sitting down for long periods of time and looking down at our phones, tablets and laptops. This seems to be a non-issue because of less technology usage on the Okinawan islands than in the States. In our defense, they have a much nicer year round climate to enjoy the outdoors than we do here in the Midwest especially. Regardless, the point is that we could make a great impact on our lives just by being more active regularly.
3. Thoughts (Mental stressors)
Not only do Okinawans have a longer life on average, they also report having a higher quality of life and much lower rates of dementia than the elderly in the States. While this more than likely has something to do with nutrition as well, another possibility is because people on the island keep a clear purpose in life. They live to serve their communities and give to others, rather than put themselves in a rat race to gain more as an individual. When they have this mentality, no matter how old they are they have a place to serve in some way shape or form and therefore feel needed and valued until they pass away.
Okinawans also have tight knit groups of friends that they socialize with on a deeper level. We all know that humans are social creatures and the quality of the friendships in our lives can have a huge impact on our mental health and happiness. That is why these close friendships are part of the culture and not just something that is secondary to everyday life.
Lastly, they stop to smell the roses. Living simply in our society tends to get labeled as lazy and unambitious. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more in life and having dreams, but make sure you always enjoy the ride.
If you want to live a long and healthy life, it takes work and habits that aren’t very common in our society. The good news is that there is a group of people who we can learn from that are accomplishing this and don’t spend nearly as much as we do in health care costs. Limit the accumulated trauma of sitting and looking down at your devices, limit the toxins you put in your body and use food and plants as your medicine and supplementation, and finally, keep good thoughts and positive people around you at all times. This is how we can live more like the Okinawans. For most of us in America, some of these stressors are harder to limit which is why it makes it important for you to get your spine and nervous system checked at least a couple of times a year by a Chiropractor.