okinawan longevity

Secrets of a Long Life



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Amid the tall citrus trees of Okinawa, Japan, Tusne Ganaha is busy picking fruit, as she does eight hours every day.

It’s not what she does, but who she is that’s remarkable.

Tusne Ganaha, age 90: “I just turned ninety.”

Age ninety. Climbing tree after tree, hauling down bags of fruit and doesn’t remember a day she’s ever been sick in her nearly 70 years on this farm.

Ganaha’s 54 and 61 year old daughters say good luck trying to get her to retire.

Masae Oshiro, Daughter: “We can’t stop her.”

And why would they?

She’s the best climber in the family.

Ganaha is just one of many very active seniors in their nineties and one-hundreds in the town of Ogimi, defying the physical odds of age.

Here they run. They dance. In a culture where Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease is unheard of among these elders.

We met 96-year-old Toyohide Taira who loves to flirt with the ladies. He tells young people, “Don’t get married. You’ll get sick of your spouse when you’re ninety.”

Craig Wilcox, Gerontologist: “If you’re looking for a mix of factors, then you’ve come to the right place.

Gerontologist Craig Wilcox has been studying longevity in Okinawa for fifteen years. The island has the highest percentage of centenarians anywhere in the world.

He points to a number of factors: the Okinawan diet, very low in fat, salt and sugar. This traditional lunch plate is filled with papaya, tofu and dark-leafy vegetables.

At this weekend event, they snack on citrus fruit and sip unsweetened green tea.

They exercise and work — well into old age.

There’s a good, affordable health care system that focuses on prevention.

A strong sense of community that values optimism, where older people remain active and respected.

Wilcox says any community can replicate this.

Craig Wilcox, Okinawa International University: “We still refer to these types of diseases as ‘age-associated’ diseases back in North America. Well, people don’t do that anymore here.

There’s a tremendous amount of control that people have over these diseases, if they live the right lifestyle.”

Tusne Ganaha’s family swears by a daily dose of Okinawan citrus — it’s sour — but more importantly, working and being close to family, a recipe she says will keep her hiking these hills for more years to come.

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1. Tusne Ganaha works. True or false? Does she want to retire?

2. Does she have an office job? Is her job easy?

3. She regularly visits the doctor and occasionally goes to the hospital. Is this right or wrong?

4. Is Ganaha rare individual, an exception, or is she an average person in her village?

5. Cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s is a major problem in the village. Yes or no?

6. What are the secrets to a long, healthy life?

7. Does the health care system in Okinawa emphasize prevention or cure?

8. Is this way of life, this lifestyle only possible in Okinawa?


A. There are many elderly people (senior citizens) in my community, town or city. Yes or no? Are their numbers increasing?

B. What are some common health ailments?

C. Do you often see, hear and read advice from experts about how to live healthily?

D. Who are the oldest and healthiest individuals that you know? What are their secrets?

E. What will happen in the future?






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