A Lesson on Aging from Okinawa

Edward Skillen, DO

Edward Skillen, DO, FACC, cardiologist with Bon Secours Heart & Vascular Institute

People in Okinawa live to be old – very old.

This tiny Japanese island has the highest concentration of 100-year olds on Earth. It is also home to 15 percent of the total world population of people age 110 and older. Okinawans enjoy humanity’s longest life expectancies and suffer 80 percent less heart attacks than Americans.

What’s happening here?

Well, actually, a lot. Okinawans thrive for several reasons. Chief among them is diet. They eat a lot of whole foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains) and only a little animal protein. They also keep their portions small.

The good news is that we can take a lesson from Okinawa, and if we do the results will almost certainly be less heart disease and generally healthier and happier lives. It’s time we made a change.

By now, it’s not secret that Americans eat poorly and it’s killing us. About 70 percent of us are overweight. Heart attacks claim more than 400,000 lives every year. In fact, heart attacks are the top cause of death in the United States. In addition, thousands of people suffer from heart ailments that keep them from living robust, active, and fulfilling lives.

So what should we do? The answer, I believe is simple. Regardless of age, consider embracing a few ideas:

  • Exercise.
    Okinawans are active. They keep moving – and having fun – well into their 80s, 90s, and even at 100 plus. Find an activity you like. Dozens of options exist including walking, swimming, and even training for the Senior Olympics. Be sure to get a vigorous workout for 45 to 60 minutes five to six days a week.
  • Build your menus around whole foods.
    You don’t have to give up great tasting meals. Thousands of cookbooks now offer superb vegetable-based recipes, which are naturally low in fat. You also don’t have to abandon meat. Just consider cutting back. About 25 percent of the typical American meal is animal protein. In Okinawa , it’s close to 5 percent. And, yes, it’s ok to have the occasional cookie. I do too.
  • Watch your weight.
    You don’t have to be skinny as a super model, but you shouldn’t be carrying around an extra 50 pounds either.
  • Get medical checkups.
    A good healthcare team can help you watch your weight, diet, blood pressure, sugar levels, and cholesterol. They can also help you monitor your medical conditions.

In short, I’m suggesting you take to heart – pun intended – a simple philosophy from Okinawa: “Food should nourish life. This is the best medicine.”

+ Learn about the Bon Secours Heart & Vascular Institute
+ Read other articles about cardiac health and cardiac care
+ Find out about upcoming cardiovascular seminars and events

Edward Skillen, DO, FACC, is a cardiologist with Cardiovascular Specialists, a Bon Secours Heart & Vascular Institute specialty practice. If you want to learn more about what makes Okinawans robust, he recommends the book, Healthy at 100, by John Robbins.

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