For every 100,000 inhabitants on the island of Okinawa in the south of Japan, there are 24.5 people over the age of 100—far more than the global average. In particular, there is one small rural town within Okinawa that boasts the highest life expectancy in the world—Ogimi.
There, in the north of the island, is a community that dramatically outlives people from other regions of the world and manages to have far fewer incidents of chronic illness (including dementia), for the portion of its population that is advanced in age. So, what is their secret? Authors Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles traveled to Ogimi, determined to find out from the centenarians themselves. What they discovered was not some magic tea that everyone consumes, but rather a way of life that we can each adopt.
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1. Don’t worry
The people that Garcia and Miralles interviewed during their research stressed the importance of not stressing. The residents of Ogimi said they enjoy the small things, don’t sweat the big stuff, and above all, they stay calm. They also prioritize getting enough sleep and having lots of fun.
2. Be sociable
Nurturing friendships, helping the community, volunteering, spending time with family—for the centenarians in Ogimi, life is not meant to be lived alone, but rather together. “Talking each day with the people you love, that’s the secret to a long life,” shares one resident.
3. Celebrate something every day
Celebrations are part of everyday life in Ogimi. It’s not just birthdays that are cause for social recognition—the people in Ogimi find a reason to celebrate each day. Dancing, singing, laughing, smiling, and welcoming every day as a gift were all tips shared by the inhabitants of Ogimi for a happy and full life.
4. Stay busy
There is no word for “retire” in Japanese. Indeed, Ogimi’s residents were found to have full schedules of walking, gardening, karaoke, playing shogi (Japanese chess), helping in the community, and spending time with friends and family. “Do many different things every day, but one thing at a time without getting overwhelmed,” recommends one centenarian.
5. Skip dessert
One of the most common sayings in Japan is “hara hachi bu,” which roughly translates as “belly 80 percent full.” The Okinawans consume about 300 to 500 less calories than the average American, and they also have a very varied diet—eating many different fruits and vegetables and grains each day, with little meat, little sugar, and less salt than elsewhere in Japan. And all of Ogimi’s residents grow their own fruits, vegetables, and tea.
6. Get out of your chair
Ogimi’s residents don’t take part in vigorous exercise, but they do walk a lot and engage in other low impact exercises through gardening or dance. The sedentary lifestyle of the West has been found to lead to obesity and hypertension. Walking, yoga, qigong, tai chi are all gentle movement practices that can keep our bodies mobile and healthy as we age.
7. Find your Ikigai
According to the Japanese, everyone has an “ikigai”— a purpose, or reason to get up in the morning. Rather than some grand ambition, ikigai is the thing that makes your heart sing, the actions that give you a sense of flow, or simply something that sparks your curiosity. For many of the residents of Ogimi, ikigai is seeing friends, gardening, laughing, and engaging with the community. “So, do what you love,” Garcia and Miralles say. Perhaps it plays the greatest role of all when it comes to leading a long and healthy life.
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