Several epidemiological studies have found that the traditional diet of people on Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands seems to confer amazing life-lengthening benefits. In general, the Japanese population has about half the heart disease rate, about a third the breast cancer rate, and a quarter the prostate cancer rate of Americans, as well as lower rates of diabetes and Alzheimer's-related dementia. In Okinawa, the rates for most of these chronic diseases are even lower.
The Okinawa Centenarian Study looked at the habits of elderly Okinawans and found that they eat a diet fairly high in carbohydrates, but their carbs come mostly from vegetables, whole grains, and fruit (in other words, they aren't packing away lots of baked goods and other junky carbs). They also eat a lot of tofu— even more than in other parts of Japan—and their other mainstay protein is fish. Red meat isn't regularly on the menu, and if it is, it's generally not the main dish. The types of fat the Okinawans consume are healthful, something else that sets them apart. "These people aren't living longer because they have fabulous genes," says D. Craig Willcox, PhD, coprincipal investigator of the study. "They're living longer because they eat a healthy diet and stay active and lean." It's as simple as that.
A few years ago I was waiting to board a plane when I noticed the man standing next to me, a guy who appeared to be in his late 60s, wearing a really cool pair of glasses. I complimented him on the glasses, and just as he was telling me they were a gift from his daughter, I glanced down at his boarding pass and saw the name "LaLanne." I immediately thought back to how, growing up, I had watched my mom exercise along to Jack LaLanne's TV show. I was surprised I hadn't recognized him right away, but once I realized who he was, I knew that he couldn't be in his 60s. When I got home, I looked it up and confirmed it: Jack LaLanne was in his early 90s.
A champion of combining cardiovascular exercise and strength training for good health and fitness, LaLanne was way ahead of his time. And it obviously paid off. The man I met that day in the airport not only looked way younger than his years, he was strong, healthy, and had a youthful way about him. If ever there was an advertisement for the antiaging benefits of exercise, I was looking right at it. When it comes to reversing the aging process, nothing touches exercise.
—All selections adapted from 20 Years Younger (Little, Brown and Company), by Bob Greene with Harold A. Lancer, MD, Ronald L. Kotler, MD, and Diane L. McKay, PhD.
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