Longevity: thoughts about living a long life from Ikigai

Do you want to live longer, you know, have longevity? 

Me too. 

So I read Ikigai, by Hector Garcia, Francesc Miralles. Here are highlights I found most helpful.

To understand longevity, the writers studied blue zones, which are areas in the world where the greatest concentrations of centenarians live. The highest ranking one is Okinawa, Japan. Here’s what the writers learned about longevity from studying them.

The authors found that there are five main areas, and their practices in them, that help the centenarians in Okinawa live longer: sleeping, eating, moving, communing, meaning-ing (I know I made up that word). 

Sleep

They slept 7-9 hours every night. Melatonins are released into the body when you sleep which is a natural anti-aging agent and a powerful antioxidant. There are other benefits of melatonin like strengthening your immune system and promoting the production of insulin. The point is you can live to be old if you sleep like a baby. (Here’s a post where I talk about how I improved my sleep.)

Eat

Centenarians don’t eat that much and that often. In Okinawa, they have a saying about eating: “Hara hachi bu.” They repeat it before and after the meal. It means “fill your belly to 80%.” I don’t know about you, but often I’m tempted to fill my belly to 100 or 110% depending on the food. But these Okinawans figured out how to beat it by ritualizing that saying into their meals. Also they don’t snack. When we eat too much, our bodies need to work harder to break down the food, thus aging us. The way these Okinawans serve food helps them eat less, too. They present a variety of food but on smaller plates. So built into their system of eating is quantity control without losing the sense that they’re eating well with variety. They also eat mostly vegetables and fruit, and a lot of different kinds. Many avoid meat completely or only eat fish as a protein. Also, they drink a lot of tea. It’s a mixture of jasmine and green tea. And they consume very little alcohol. 

Move

I used to think that staying healthy was all about working out intensely and heavily. So I’d go to the gym for an hour and then do cardio for an hour. The Okinawans don’t do that. They exercise but not in the way that we (or I) think. They move by walking most places, to meet up with friends, to run errands, etc. They garden and dance. Most of their “exercise“ is moderate; it isn’t rigorous. They also might do some version of tai chi or organized movement that gets the blood flowing. They aren’t bodybuilders. They just keep their bodies moving. 

Commune

The Okinawan centenarians have tight friendships and see their neighbors and friends every day. They play cards or karaoke or dance. And apparently there are always birthday parties. And they party with singing and dancing and laughing. Yes, Zoom and FaceTime are great tools but they don’t replace real life interactions. (You can’t dance with someone over FaceTime.) If you don’t live close to friends or family, make friends with your neighbors or co-workers, and create relationships with them and see them regularly. 

Meaning

Ikigai is the book’s title; but, it’s also a Japanese word about finding purpose in your life. It’s the thing or things that give meaning to someone’s existence. Even though the centenarians were retired, they still had purpose. They did work, maintained relationships, helped their neighbors, improved on a craft, etc. They didn’t just live; they had a reason to live. That’s ikigai. Finding that is key.

There are other insights that I found helpful and interesting in Ikigai. I suggest you read it for yourself.

I hope you find your ikigai. 

Live long, my friends.

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