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THE BLUE ZONE IN OKINAWA 

David Kelly | Owner, Hawaiian South Shore 

 

 

Most of us have heard of “blue corduroy” (the wave lines that stack up on the horizon during major swell events), but not as many have heard of blue zones. Blue zones are specific areas around the world that have been identified as places where people live much longer than average. According to research by Dan Buettner, blue zones have been identified in several places around the world and includes Loma Linda, California, Icaria, Greece, Sardinia, Italy and Okinawa.

Having grown up in Okinawa, I found it interesting to learn that my childhood home had one of the longest-living populations in the world. In fact, with the area’s propensity for natural disasters (Okinawa is getting hammered by two major typhoons this week), you’d think that the population would actually live shorter-than average lives, not longer! But it turns out, there are measurable reasons why people live so long in the islands of southern Japan and a lot of it has to do with diet. The men in Okinawa tend to live to an average age of 84, while the women live 90 years on average. This is well above the global average and is impressive, in its own right. They also suffer far lower instances of diseases that are prevalent in the US. Only 20% the rate of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer and only 50% the rate of dementia. But even more impressive, is the large number of Okinawans who live past the century mark. These are the survivors who are the most interesting when it comes to lifestyle and particularly diet.

Okinawans who were born before 1914 and lived the first third of their lives before 1940, when specific dietary factors were widespread, ended up internalizing these dietary practices and turning them into habit. Most notable among these, is the fact that they get most of their calories from Okinawan sweet potato (one of the world’s healthiest foods) and sprouted brown rice and tofu, versus the modern staples such as bread and white rice. They also ate fish a few times a week instead of the modern dependence on fast food meats. In fact, dairy and meat only made up a very small percentage of their diets! In addition to this basic diet, most Okinawan homes have their own gardens where specific vegetables are grown. I can remember growing up in Okinawa and seeing these gardens everywhere. I also remember how often we would run out to get sweet potatoes for mom and not knowing that these simple things were helping people to live longer!

Scientists have identified a number of foods that are eaten by Okinawans that directly lead to increased health and longevity. This includes a number of foods that are grown in these gardens. These foods include: bitter melon (hard for some people to get used to the taste, but extremely high in nutrients); tofu (Okinawans eat nearly eight times as much tofu as Americans); sweet potatoes (high in flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin c, slowburning carbs, and sporamin, which is a strong anti-aging agent); turmeric (as a powerful anti-inflammatory); brown rice (sprouted in water before being cooked); shitake mushrooms; miso soup and seaweeds. Growing up, I never thought of how healthy these foods were for me.

But today, looking back at my childhood in Okinawa and learning about why the people there live so long, it all makes a lot of sense. It also gives me a nice dose of nostalgia as I remember the food and lifestyle I grew up with. It’s a lifestyle that helps keep people healthy and in the blue for longer. That’s something we surfers can really appreciate! Photo by David Mclain Please check out his work, since I feel it’s some of the best work. www.davidmclain.com

 

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