Living Long, Living Well: Lessons from Japan

Japan’s centenarian population just passed 80,000 for the first time ever. The Blue Zones research that looked at longevity hot spots throughout the world included Okinawa in Japan.

One of the longevity practices the Blue Zones project identified among Okinawans was strong social connections—some of these connections were life-long. Physical activity and diet were also identified as keys to healthy, longer lives.

One of the individuals credited with helping people in his country to live longer and better was Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, the author of Living Long, Living Good. Dr. Hinohara passed in 2017 at the age of 105. At the time, he was serving as the chairman emeritus of St. Luke’s International University and as honorary president of St. Luke’s International Hospital.  Up until a few months before he passed, Dr. Hinohara was still seeing patients.

Sage Advice

Dr. Hinohara offered some of his own sage advice for living long and well. Here are some of his key ideas, paraphrased:

  1. Don’t retire early – keep working, keep involved, keep active. For some of us, this might mean continuing to work in regular jobs. For others, it might mean starting something new, working part-time, or volunteering. We stay sharper and more positive when we stay engaged.
  2. Keep physically active – take the stairs, walk, keep your weight in check. Hitting the easy-chair after work or in retirement can be deadly. Keeping active and engaged can keep us healthier and more fit. Taking brisk walks, doing stretches, and simply moving can help us lead our best lives.
  3. Eat light, eat right. Watching portions matters- no matter what we eat. Eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, can also be beneficial.
  4. Find a purpose – in Japan, the idea of purpose is called ikigai (life worth or value). Finding something that motivates us, something that is bigger than ourselves, something that makes a difference – that’s having a sense of purpose.
  5. Have fun and relax rather than allowing stress to overwhelm you. Stress is a killer. Even the stress we carried earlier in life can affect the quality of our lives as we age. It is important to find ways to manage our stress – talk a walk, connect with others, practice slow breathing, meditate, express gratitude, reframe stressful situations as learning opportunities, etc.
  6. Find inspiration and joy in art. Whether it is a visual form of art, music, dance, poetry, or some other creative expression, art can lift us out of our own heads and take us to new places of joy, insight, and connection.

Many of us will live much longer than we might have anticipated. Ideally, we will not only live longer, but we will live well – making the most of our lives while we are living

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