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New book promotes Japan's long-life island

NEW YORK -- Okinawan traditional lifestyles could be an answer to the quest for a long, healthy life, a newly published book suggests.

"The Okinawan Program" examines the lifestyles of Japan's southern island prefecture and tries to explain how it has one of the world's highest life expectancy rates. Asia
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The writers based their research on a 25-year study of Okinawan centenarians as well as examining the dietary, physical and psychological factors that have given Okinawa the world's highest concentration of people older than 100.

"Okinawans may not live forever, but they are able to stack the odds in favor of lifelong health," the health professionals said in the book, as quoted by Reuters.

The three authors -- Dr. Bradley Willcox, a geriatrics fellow at Harvard Medical School, his twin brother D. Craig Willcox, and Dr. Makoto Suzuki, professor emeritus at Okinawa's Ryukyu University medical school -- said Okinawans' low-calorie, plant-based diet high in unrefined carbohydrates affords protection against most diseases associated with aging.

Regular exercise, psychological resiliency and the local form of spirituality help contribute to the high life expectancy rates in Okinawa, they said.

Heart disease minimal

The authors observed that Okinawans are able to spend more of their lives free of disabilities than people in other industrialized nations.

"Heart disease is minimal, breast cancer so rare that screening mammography is not needed, and most aging men have never heard of prostate cancer," they said.

Many of the factors contributing to the high life expectancy in Okinawa disappear when Okinawans move away from home, they said, noting that Okinawans who moved abroad have seen drops in their life expectancy.

The book was published by New York's Clarkson Potter/Publishers and hit the U.S. market this month.

According to Japan's health ministry, Okinawa has 28 centenarians for every 100,000 people.

Hard to maintain

Life expectancy in 1995 in Okinawa was 85 years for women and 77 years for men, it said.

Compared with the Group of Eight industrial nations, Okinawan women live about four years longer than women in France, five years longer than Italian women, five and half years longer than Germans, six years longer than Britons and Americans, and 13 years longer than Russians.

Okinawan men outlive the men of G8 countries such as Italy and Britain by about three years and outlive Russian men by 19.

A U.S. Navy doctor stationed in Okinawa said that as younger people in Okinawa eat more fast food and exercise less, it will be hard to maintain the high life expectancy numbers.

"The change in lifestyle and diet may lead to a drop in the average life expectancy in Okinawa," Cmdr. Colin Chinn said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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