I gaze up in surprise at a tiny Japanese man who has scaled a tree to select some native fruit for me to strive.
Silhouetted towards the solar and a cloudless blue sky, he steadily climbs down, grinning ear to ear, earlier than presenting me with the citrus fruit. Nothing particularly uncommon, proper? Apart from the truth that the person who has simply shimmied up the tree trunk and again down once more is seven years shy from celebrating his one hundredth birthday.
I’m on a tiny island referred to as Taketomi within the archipelago Japanese prefecture of Okinawa and right here, tree climbing geriatrics are par for the course.
Actually, not solely is it widespread to see 90-plus-year-olds harvesting fruit within the tree tops, you’ll additionally spot them ploughing the fields, biking, dancing, and all the pieces in-between. You see, Okinawa — additionally aptly referred to as the Land of the Immortals — is house to the longest-living inhabitants on earth.
South of mainland Japan, with the Pacific to the east and the East China Sea to the west, the 55-strong island chain has develop into an even bigger and greater blip on the worldwide journey radar just lately (Expedia reported that demand for Okinawa is up 50 per cent year-on-year), because of its tropical local weather, white seashores and turquoise seas.
However for hundreds of years the idyllic vacation spot was well-known for a wholly completely different purpose: having the best charges of centenarians on the planet.
Japan has the best life expectancy of any nation normally with the typical age on file as 90 for girls and 84 for males.
The nation can also be house to the world’s oldest particular person (a supercentenarian who, at 116, was confirmed because the oldest particular person alive earlier this 12 months), however in the event you delve additional you’ll see that the nation’s chief declare to fame is definitely derived from Okinawa.
Okinawans are famously lengthy lived — there are extra centenarians right here than anyplace else, 5 occasions greater than in the remainder of the nation. Not solely that however charges of most cancers, strokes, coronary heart illness and melancholy are nicely beneath the typical, and almost two-thirds of locals are nonetheless functioning independently at age 97, which means residing in their very own properties, working and cooking their very own meals. Astonishing.
Definitely it’s the case for Shosuke Matsutake, the afore talked about native Okinawan who picked me fruit from his backyard. Each farming and dealing day by day in his handicraft studio for the final 70-plus years, on the age of 93 he nonetheless hasn’t stopped. His fingers could also be sun-spotted and his face closely lined, however he’s as sprightly as a schoolboy. Watching him at work making intricate handicrafts utilizing pure plant fibres, which he deftly braids into skinny ropes, I can see first-hand proof of the famed longevity.
“I’ve been maintaining to similar day by day ritual for all of my life,” he says. “I get up early, have breakfast, exit to farm my fruit and greens, after which make my handicrafts. I additionally all the time be sure that to eat three meals day by day. I assume these are my tricks to keep younger!”
Dr Bradley Willcox from the Okinawa Analysis Heart for Longevity science has been a longtime researcher of the explanations behind the native inhabitants’s shocking lengthy life and he says there’s one exceptional physiological distinction between us and the Okinawans: they age extra slowly.
“The calendar might say they’re 70 however their physique says they’re 50,” says Dr Bradley Willcox, a longtime researcher on the Okinawa Analysis Heart for Longevity science. “It’s probably the most spectacular half.
The seek for the fountain of youth has been a continuing virtually for the reason that starting of humankind and evidently this far-long cluster of islands might have stumbled upon the successful method — and it positively isn’t a “superfood” or costly cream.
Although specialists are nonetheless collating their findings, there may be some preliminary settlement on the primary components which have allowed so many Okinawans to succeed in their one hundredth birthday and past.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
Maybe unsurprising in relation to extending your innings, it’s the age-old adage of “you might be what you eat” that’s key. The weight loss plan within the area is in stark distinction to what’s on the menu within the west, and certainly on the mainland.
Conventional Okinawan fare is low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, and focuses on entire meals. Then there’s the truth that the majority of produce is grown and harvested on the island itself with many islanders harvesting their very own meals, paddock to plate fashion.
“Okinawans have had a self-sufficient way of life from outdated occasions,” says Shosuke. “We eat entire grains like wheat and millet, and beans like soy, and we develop our personal greens and fruit.”
Indigenous vegies embody the nutrient-heavy purple candy potato — wealthy in flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin E and lycopene — and the bitter “goya” cucumbers which have been proven to decrease blood sugar.
Islanders additionally eat extra tofu and extra seaweed than anybody else on the planet (each of that are packed filled with minerals) and drink cup-loads of antioxidant-endowed inexperienced tea.
Simply as what you eat is vital, so is how a lot you eat. Already there’s a raft of proof from the scientific neighborhood that reveals consuming much less and fasting has well being advantages — although they’re nonetheless not solely positive the way it works.
Exercising moderation with meals has been a long-held follow in Okinawa because of the tenet of “hara hachi bu”; a Confucian educating that implies solely consuming till you’re 80 per cent full.
Whereas we’re loading out plates with American-sized parts — and upping our threat of weight problems, diabetes and coronary heart illness within the course of — Okinawans are solely consuming round 1200 energy day by day, whereas the typical Aussie male consumes round 2300 and the typical feminine round 1700, based on authorities well being surveys. You do the maths.
LIVE WITH A PURPOSE
Quiz any native in Okinawa on the secrets and techniques to residing a protracted life and so they’ll undoubtedly cite “ikigai” as one of many principal ones. This historic Japanese way of life loosely interprets to your purpose to reside, or your sense of function.
Whereas we — and the remainder of the western world — undergo our working life with our eyes set on a soft retirement, in Okinawan tradition the idea of retirement doesn’t even exist — there isn’t even a phrase for it.
So, paradoxically working longer might really assist you reside longer. You simply have to adapt your interpretation of what constitutes “work”.
For 93-year-old, Shosuke, work is taking care of his farm and making handicrafts: “There’s nothing actually particular to it,” he says. “My way of life is straightforward. I eat breakfast, then attend to my greens after which go to my workshop to work on my handicrafts.”
Findings from Tohoku College researchers confirmed that from a examine involving greater than 50,000 contributors, those that reported having ikigai of their lives had decreased dangers of cardiovascular ailments and decrease mortality charges.
Talking of … avoiding stress is believed to be one other shortcut to longevity. It’s mentioned that Okinawans don’t topic themselves to the stresses that their mainland counterparts do, particularly these residing in fast-forward cities reminiscent of Tokyo.
“On the island there’s no actual supply of stress,” says Shosuke.
“We seldom have anybody trigger bother — even after we maintain a gathering of the villagers. I assume, as a result of most Okinawan individuals are farmers, as soon as we’ve labored within the fields we will spend the remainder of out day doing no matter we like.”
One other key discovering from analysis into the world’s so-called “blue zones” (areas on the planet the place the inhabitants lives for much longer than the typical) is that individuals who have sturdy social networks endure considerably much less from age-related ailments.
In Okinawa, each household and communities or “moai” (casual social teams of people that have widespread pursuits and look out for one another) are cornerstones of life.
This sense of belonging can also be what Shosuke partly credit for his personal vitality: “My family and friends preserve me younger,” he says. “My three youngsters have returned house to the island and everyone seems to be doing nicely, so I’ve nothing to complain about — my life is excellent.
“Do I need to reside longer? Sure, I’d like to succeed in 100, nonetheless being human none of us is aware of what’s going to occur. However proper now I’m happier than ever.”