On the Japanese island of Okinawa, nicknamed “the island of longevity”, the inhabitants refuse to die. Women here live longer than women elsewhere on Earth, and residents suffer from low levels of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. The robust social life of the Okinawans and the strong sense of Ikigai, a once-in-a-lifetime goal, often keeps them alive and well after the age of 100.
As one of the five longevity “blue zones” in the world, Okinawa is also unique because of the close ties between residents. Most join one or more moai, an informal group of friends and peers who meet regularly, bond on common interests, and pool monthly contributions to help members in need or support public works.
According to the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, Okinawans eat a diet rich in vegetables and antioxidant foods, consume only a third of the average Japanese sugar intake. and eat their meals on small plates. They regularly exercise their bodies in low-intensity exercise and eat only until they feel 80% full, which is old wisdom against overeating. Okinawa’s Kitanakagusuku Village even hosts an annual contest to celebrate women aged 80 and over.
The key to the joy and good health of Okinawans is their ikigai, the core of their true nature that does not need to be focused on a high goal, material or motivated by power. Discovering and pursuing your ikigai every day, the authors write, will keep you busy doing the things that make your life meaningful. But also, they say, it’s important to reconnect with nature, surround yourself with people who love you, and stay active.
The secret to a long life, it seems, begins where our curiosity, intuition and friendships meet.
(Video by Shiho Fukada and Keith Bedford, text by Yasmin El-Beih)
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