Diet, weight loss and longevity with The Okinawa Diet

Dr. Craig Willcox on CNN, ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

2005-11-16

COOPER: The last hour we set off around the globe to discover the secrets of living longer, a journey inspired by the cover story in this month's "National Geographic" magazine on newsstands now. In "The Secrets of Living Longer," writer Dan Buettner visits three continents, in search of answers. Our first stop is Okinawa, a Japanese island where people have the longest life expectancy in the world. And it seems none of the usual fears of growing old. So what are their secrets? CNN's Atika Shubert found out.

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ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Zenei Nakamura has been fishing for most of his life. This is no leisurely hobby. Fishing on Okinawa means swimming in the open sea and diving about 12 feet under water to chase fish into wading nets. He then hauls the heavy catch aboard his tiny boat, a process he repeats over and over until mid afternoon every day.

He sees no reason to give it up now just because he's about to turn 90 years old.

ZENEI NAKAMURA, 89-YEAR OLD FISHERMAN: My children tell me to stop fishing, but it's fun. I feel more powerful doing it. I think they're pleased that I'm still fishing. I deliver fresh seafood to every family member. I should hope they like it.

SHUBERT: Doctors have warned Zenei that fishing like this is too strenuous for someone his age and say he should stop. But his family says if you take away his fishing, then you take away his ikkiguy (ph), a Japanese word that means reason for living.

Instead, family members have painted a telephone number on the side of his boat. If he's lost at sea, they say at least he'll have been doing what he loves best.

Zenei has plenty of company his age in Okinawa. The island has the world's highest ration of centenarians -- people who live to 100 or older -- and the longest life expectancy anywhere.

DAN BUETTNER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC (on camera): Okinawa, we call the longevity hotspot of the world.

SHUBERT: Okinawans have low rates of heart disease, cancer, bone loss, memory loss and other problems associated with old age.

BUETTNER: If you want to live a long healthy life, I believe you emulate the lifestyle of Okinawans. SHUBERT: Some believe genes determine longevity, but studies show that lifestyle, exercise, friendships and activities can play as great a role.

Case in point, Ushi Okushima, who lives in another village nearby. She's 103 years old and still showing up for work every day, selling the island's famous tropical fruits, small green oranges to tourists. Ushi is something of a tourist attraction, herself. Visitors ask to touch her snowy hair and marvel at her good health. Everyone it seems wants to know how she does it.

USHI OKUSHIMA, 103 YEARS OLD: We worked for long hours in the fields. We grew and ate our own vegetables. We never spent our money on extra food. I think that's why I live so healthy.

SHUBERT: In fact, that is part of Okinawa's secret, says Dr. Craig Willcox, co-author of a 20-year study on the island's centenarians.

CRAIG WILLCOX, AUTHOR, THE OKINAWAN WAY: They eat a lot of vegetables, these green leafy vegetables which are very high in antioxidants which help control the aging process.

SHUBERT: Also important, keeping active.

WILLCOX: And these people are active. They're out in their gardens, they're out walking, they're out socializing.

SHUBERT: Ushi's social life is plenty. She even has a new boyfriend, who at 76 is 27 years her junior. The ability to find romance at any age could factor into Ushi's longevity. The Okinawan Study shows that elders here often have higher levels of sex hormones, suggesting that romance can help you live longer.

Ushi's advice to aging gracefully, get a young man -- the younger the better. I can set you up with some good candidates, she offers. It turns out her cheeky humor is another secret to long life.

WILLCOX: I noticed here in Okinawa a kind of a very, how would I say it, optimistic, almost a happy-go-lucky sense of (inaudible).

SHUBERT: Optimism is everywhere. And Zenei's family celebrates a new great-grandson with more than 60 relatives. Singing, dancing and tasting Zenei's freshly caught fish. The youngest here is just a month old; the eldest are in their 90's. Both get a place of honor at the table, which it turns out is yet another factor when it comes to living a long life. This is a society that does not turn away its elders.

BUETTNER: In America we have this culture of youth. You know, we celebrate young, beautiful bodies and new rock 'n roll. Here it's sort of the opposite, that the older you get, the more respected you are.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to live like my grandparents, doing something I really want to do, enjoying life. Looking at them, I think that is the secret to longevity.

SHUBERT: Okinawa's secret to long life seems simple enough -- healthy food, exercise, a little romance, a sunny outlook. Then, find something you like to do. Zenei's been practicing that for years. And it looks like he'll have lots more ahead. Atika Shubert, CNN, Okinawa, Japan.

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