3 life hacks the Japanese use to live beyond 100 (and thrive!)

If you asked a handful of people whether they’d like to live to be 100, you’d probably get mixed answers.

Some might say, “Sure, the longer the better.”

But just as many people would be afraid to live that long, watching their friends and loved ones die before them, leaving them lonely and frail.

Yet on a Japanese island less than one-third the size of the tiny state of Rhode Island, people live to see the century mark all the time.

In fact, more people live to be 100 on this island than in any other place in the world.

And these are healthy centenarians! The rate of cardiovascular disease on Okinawa Island is only about twenty percent of ours here in the United States.

Last year, I talked to you about the plant-based Okinawan diet and the staple foods that help the Okinawan people live such long, disease-free lives.

But what they eat is only one of the secrets the Okinawans know…

3 ways to grow old and healthy

Naturally, taking care of your physical health is important. The Okinawans know that this means eating well.

For starters, 82 percent of their diet is plant-based. When they’re not eating fruits and vegetables, they’re eating lean fish, legumes (especially soy, found in tofu and miso) and seeds. Dairy, meat, and grains are virtually never eaten.

We already know that a diet centering around fruits and vegetables can prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome, adding good, healthy years to our lives by saving us from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

And, the Okinawans know that being just a little hungry after a meal is a healthy thing. They don’t stuff themselves silly like we do here. This principle is known as hara hachi bu.

But there are two other secrets the Okinawans know. They don’t have to do with food, but they are a deep-set part of their culture.

Ask any Okinawan why so many of them live to be so old, and they’ll surely talk about one of these cultural principles.

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Ikigai: What’s your purpose?

“Happiness” is a loaded word. We can feel happy one moment, then something can happen (or fail to happen) and we are plunged into a dark or dissatisfied state.

Okinawans understand the difference between happiness and purpose.

They know that, while happiness can come and go, your purpose is what keeps you healthy. Purpose is about other people and connects you to the world. It’s not dependent upon outside circumstances.

We have research to back this up. Studies have shown that people who have a sense of purpose to their days sleep better and are at lower risk for heart attacks and early death.

It’s been said that if you combined the ideas of purpose, passion, meaning, mission, vocation, and drive, you’d get the essence of ikigai.

And unlike here, where we look to retire as soon as possible so we can start “enjoying” life, an Okinawan’s sense of purpose only seems to grow as they advance in years. In fact, the Japanese language has no word similar to our “retirement.” The concept just doesn’t exist!

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to help you find the ikigai in your life:

  • What do I love?
  • What am I good at?
  • What can I be paid for?
  • What does the world need?

The intersection of these can be your ikigai.

Another way to look at it is this: “If money were no object, what would I regret not having done with my life?

Go do it. Even in some small way.

Moai: A lifelong tribe

Loosely translated as a tribe, the concept of moai is much more. It’s a social safety net that Okinawans form not by accident, but quite intentionally.

Often in childhood, four or five children will be grouped together and make a commitment for life to be there for each other. Some of these groups have lasted 90 years or more!

For us, the way to try and replicate this is to find that sense of purpose, look outward, not inward, and connect with people who have common interests or beliefs.

Going through life with a social “safety net” of family and friends reduces anxiety about what life might throw at us. And less anxiety over the course of years means better health, and more years to enjoy it.

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  1. The Land of Immortals: How and what Japan’s oldest population eats — CNN
  2. Do what you love and live longer, the Japanese ikigai philosophy says — CNN
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.