Saturday, February 23, 2013

Okinawa- The Healthiest Place on Earth

The average life expectancy in the United States is 77 years old, 75 for the average male and 80 for the average female. Those numbers can seem pretty good until you take a look at the 39 countries that rank above it. So which country ranks number one for the longest life expectancy at birth? It probably doesn't come to a surprise that Japan, with an average life expectancy of 80 years old- 79 for the average male and 86 for the average female-ranks number one on the list created by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. 

This placement on the chart has given Japan the titled of the healthiest place on Earth. Although Japan as a whole has been recognized for their long life expectancy, there is one specific part of Japan that truly stands out as the healthiest place on Earth-the Japanese island of Okinawa. The life expectancy of Okinawa stands at 78 for males and 86 for women, about the same as Japan as a whole, so what makes this island stand out from the rest of the country? 

In addition to the lengthy life expectancy, Okinawa also has about 457 people over the age of 100 living on the island! And their lives are not just long, but also active and healthy. So, what is Okinawa's secret? The people of the island will tell you that the key to living a long, healthy life is no secret at all, it comes down to two things- the food you eat and the attitude you have towards life. 

The people of the island stress the importance of being happy and remaining optimistic. They believe that feelings of anger, pessimism, and stress are toxic to one's life and can actually contribute to disease and death- an idea that many psychologists are now beginning to agree with. When observing the islander's daily lives and philosophies towards them, it is evident that stress seems to just be a foreign concept. It is common in other countries to see elderly people awaiting death, looking at their life as something that is behind them, but that is not something you'd see during a visit to Okinawa. They are happy and eager to have more years in front of them to spend with friends and family, instead of just sitting around waiting for death to come knocking. 

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The Okinawan people's other "secret" to their long lives- a healthy diet. Unlike many other countries, especially the United States, their main diet is not based on red meat, but on rice, vegetables, and fish. Many of their meals consist of sweet potatoes, tofu, vegetables, and- surprisingly- pig ears, which are said to be low in fat and high in calcium. As a special treat, many of them will drink a cup of Awamori, locally brewed red wine, each night before bed. 

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