On Japan’s Okinawa Island, nicknamed the “island of longevity”, locals refuse to die. Females here live longer than women anywhere else on Earth and residents suffer from low levels of heart disease, cancer and dementia. Okinawans’ robust social life and strong sense of ikigai, a unique purpose in life, often keeps them alive and healthy past the age of 100.
As one of the world’s five “Blue Zones” of longevity, Okinawa is also unique because of the close bonds between residents. Most join one or more moai, an informal group of friends and peers who meet regularly, bond over shared 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 just a third of Japan’s average sugar intake and eat their meals on small plates. They regularly exert their bodies in low-intensity exercise and only eat until they feel 80% full, which aligns with ancient wisdom advising against overeating. Okinawa’s Kitanakagusuku village even holds a yearly pageant in celebration of women aged 80 and older.
The key to Okinawans’ joy and good health is their ikigai, the core of one’s true nature that needs not be centred on a lofty, material or power-driven goal. Discovering and pursuing your ikigai every day, the authors write, will keep you busy doing the things that give your life meaning. 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 & Keith Bedford, text by Yasmin El-Beih)
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