Thursday, January 9, 2014

Never Say Die

Sometimes when I’m feeling dark I’ll grab a pack of Airheads and curl up in my bed to think about my own mortality. It was in one of these existential crises that I made it my life’s goal to never die. I know, I know, it’s lofty, but as they say, “If you’re going to dream, dream big.”  And hey, I’m in the right place for it. I live in Okinawa, Japan, one of the healthiest places in the world and home to the highest concentration of centenarians (people over 100). Okinawans have some of the longest life expectancies and lowest rates of disease, meaning not only do they live longer but healthier lives.

How are they doing it? What is their secret??

As it turns out, Okinawans have a three-tiered system for kicking time’s ass. The first is diet. Okinawans practice hara hachi bu, which is eating until you’re 80% full. I can’t really imagine never eating a meal that required the unbuttoning of my pants, but I’m open to trying new things. In addition to their caloric moderation, they eat lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, plenty of fiber and very little meat. (And if you’re my 87 year-old neighbor, a nightly shot of sake…or five.) 

The second step in living forever is staying active. Okinawans walk, ride bikes, do tai chi, kick my ass in yoga and spend a lot of time outside gardening, fishing, snorkeling and generally looking like a commercial for 5 Hour Energy. The island is littered with popular athletic centers, which usually consist of some combination of athletic fields, batting cages, ice skating rinks, bowling alleys, pools, arcades, gyms and sushi bars.  (Yes, American gyms, you’re basic.)

The last step in eternal health is happiness, which Okinawans have in abundance. In his documentary “Happy”, filmmaker Roko Belic explores the islands of Okinawa and the extraordinarily healthy inhabitants therein. He notes that throughout life the cultural emphasis is on family and community rather than status or wealth. Simple hobbies and pleasures are encouraged and enjoyed to the fullest. An easygoing people, I’ve lived here for almost two years and have never heard a car horn besides my own. I’ve cut people off, seen drivers sit unaware through green lights and even witnessed a couple near-accidents and yet I’ve never seen a rude gesture or heard the blare of a car’s horn.

I’m actually a little disappointed. I was secretly hoping there would be some sort of “Death Becomes Her” elixir of life. In reality it’s actually just common sense.  Eat more plants, eat less of everything else and do more of what makes you happy. 

*Snuggles cats, bites into a cucumber and whispers, “I’m gonna live forever.”