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birthday cakeWant to earn a triple digit birthday salutation? Well, so do I. I have long taken an interest in how to exercise my way into old age.

I want to get up there in years and still be fit enough to travel, garden, and play games with my grandbabies…although by the time I hit 100, Amelia will be almost 60, so I don’t know if Candyland will still be her favorite. At any rate, to get there, I know I need to keep my body fit.

But! When we look at cultures that are known for their high numbers of centenarians (people over 100), like the Okinawans, you can bet it’s not only their exercise habits that have made them live so long; there’s clearly more to it than just exercising. Is it the sum of all their behaviors that causes their famous longevity? We don’t know for sure. It’s generally accepted that our diets determine 30% of how long we’re going to live. Some even say that our diets alone can add another 10 years to our lives. Genetics determines another 30% of our longevity…the part we can thank (or blame) mom and dad for. The rest is lifestyle; our exercise, social networks, and general outlook.

If we want longevity like the traditional Okinawans, it only makes sense to try to take lessons from their cultural habits and try to incorporate them in our own lives. Want to take a little experiment with me? Let’s pretend to be traditional Okinawans for the day. Let’s do what they do and see if we can unlock to secrets of their longevity. Below is a plan to help us do just that.

An Okinawan Morning:Okinawa

Get up early and begin your day with a cup of green tea. You might provoke a spousal mutiny by swapping out the coffee, but give it a try anyway. Since traditional Okinawans are very spiritual, try to spend this time in morning prayer, meditation, or simple mindfulness. For breakfast, have brown rice mixed with a scrambled egg. The Okinawan approach to eating is to stop when about 80% full. They typically eat about 500 calories less than us each day, so try to keep this in mind whenever you eat today.

Since most traditional Okinawans are farmers and grow much of their own food, spend your morning outdoors if you can. Okinawans are naturally active, and even though they don’t engage in excessive exercise, they do engage in low-intensity physical activities throughout their day. Gardening can be a big part of their physical activity, but a walk around the RV campground can be just as healthful. The rule today is positive thoughts and words only. No negativity allowed. Traditional Okinawans are incredibly optimistic and are great at seeing the sunny side of life, so try to take on that mindset as you go through your day. Have a mid-morning snack of fresh fruit and more tea, go with jasmine this time. Since refined sugar is non-existent in the traditional Okinawan diet, this fruit is the closest thing you’ll get today to dessert. Savor it.

An Okinawan Afternoon:

Okinawans like to have broth soups before meals to help them feel full sooner. Start your Okinawan lunch with a miso soup with carrots and scallions in it. Eat a small spring green salad with tofu, bamboo shoots, and pickles.  Have a baked sweet potato, too. Tofu and purple sweet potatoes are both huge staples in Okinawa. In keeping with our 80% full rule, eating the whole potato isn’t required!

Make a turmeric tea to go with lunch. To do this, boil 4 cups of water. Add 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup. You can add some honey, lemon, or ginger to it because it’s quite strange-tasting. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. Okinawans drink A LOT of tea. Turmeric is a spice with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties AND it’s found to be a cancer-fighting herb. Leave it to those healthy Okinawans to have been using turmeric as a staple spice long before it became trendy in the US.

Sometimes Okinawans hike for hours over the mountains just to visit their best friend’s house or to get to their work place, so to mimic this, go for a hike or take a long walk after lunch. Have yet more tea mid-afternoon and eat some mixed raw vegetables for a pre-dinner snack.

An Okinawan Evening:

Naps are common among Okinawans, so guess what’s next! Yep, grab an hour of pillow time before dinner.

Start dinner with a miso soup with shiitake mushrooms. For your main entrée, have fish cooked in garlic over leafy greens,  brown rice, and of course, more tea.

Since Okinawans are incredibly social and family-oriented, finish your Okinawan day along those lines…surrounded by family and friends. Have your clan over for a sake infused with an herb called, “mugwort.” Lovely name, right? Reminds me of grandbaby Amelia’s name for me, “Mugga.” I guess it could be worse, like if she called me Mugwort.

And that’s it. I made James try this (well, as much of it as I could force on him).  When we were retiring early for the evening, he offered this strange observation: “Congratulations honey, you’ve just done one thirty-six-thousand-five-hundredth of what you need to do to live to 100.”  I’m sure he’ll live to over a hundred — just to vex me…