Okinawa, Japan is a Blue Zone where a remarkable number of people live to 100. Residents live with intention, have life-long friends, and eat lots of vegetables.

Kerama Islands National Park, Okinawa, Japan
Kerama Islands National Park, Okinawa, JapanGetty Images
  • Blue Zones are regions of the world where people regularly live longer than average.

  • Okinawa, Japan is a Blue Zone and home to the longest-lived women in the world.

  • People form tight-knit friendship groups in childhood that support them into old age.

Okinawa, Japan is one of five Blue Zones, and home to the world's longest-lived women, according to researcher Dan Buettner.

Blue Zones are regions of the world where people regularly live about a decade longer than the US or Western Europe on average.

Sardinia, Italy, was the first to be identified by researchers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, and the concept was built upon by Buettner, who identified four more. He has explored the habits and lifestyles of people in all five locations for the past 20 years.

The older people who inhabit Okinawa's 150 tropical islands follow a number of principles, including living with purpose and having friends for life, that are thought to help them live longer.

Okinawans have a 40% higher chance of reaching 100 than other Japanese people

Man riding bike in Okinawa
Okinawa is known for the longevity of its residents.Getty Images

The Okinawa Islands are located between the Pacific Ocean and the East China Sea, with white sandy beaches, clear water, and a tropical climate.

The population is around 1.4 million, and an abnormally high percentage reach the age of 100.

For every 100,000 residents, Okinawa has 68 centenarians, which is more than three times the number found in US populations of the same size, according to a 2016 study.

They also experience only a fifth of the rate of cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancers, and less than half the rate of dementia than their American counterparts, Buettner said in his book "The Blue Zones Solution."

People form a support network as children that they commit to for life

Young girl playing guitar in Okinawa
Social connection is important in Okinawa.Getty Images

From a very young age, children in Okinawa are put into small groups of four or five known as "moai."

They serve as a safety net or second family that provides companionship, emotional support, and financial support if needed. The idea is that they commit to the group for life and meet regularly.

The tradition dates back hundreds of years and was initially intended as a way of pooling an entire village's resources for projects or public works, according to the Blue Zones website.

They eat lots of sweet potato, tofu, and seaweed

Okinawa purple sweet potatoes.
Older Okinawans eat lots of purple sweet potatoes.Getty Images

The Okinawa diet is mainly plant-based and heavily features vegetables and soy.

A skinny, purple sweet potato called beni imo accounts for 67% of older Okinawans' diets, Buettner said in an episode of his Netflix docuseries "Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones."

The sweet potatoes are a source of healthy complex carbohydrates, are filled with fiber, and contain more antioxidants than blueberries, Buettner said. Okinawans also eat seaweed, which is filled with nutrients such as iodine and antioxidants, he said.

Soy, in the form of tofu and miso, is another staple. Insider's Hilary Brueck previously reported that Okinawan tofu contains more protein and healthy fat than other tofus because the soybeans are squeezed raw before boiling instead of after.

They stop eating before they're 100% full

women laughing around table.
“Hara hachi bu” means stop eating when you're are 80% full.Getty Images

Just before a meal, residents of the islands say the phrase "Hara hachi bu," which reminds them to stop eating when they are 80% full.

This principle helps Okinawans practice mindful eating and not overeat. The average daily calorie intake of an Okinawan is about 1,900, according to Blue Zones, which is significantly lower than the US average, which is 3,600 calories.

They live by the Japanese principle of ikigai

Miyakojima Island, Okinawa, Japan
Miyakojima Island, Okinawa, Japan.Getty Images

Older Okinawans live by the Japanese principle "ikigai," which roughly translates to having a reason for being or life purpose. They remind themselves of their ikigai every morning, Buettner said, which provides them with feelings of responsibility and value.

Héctor Garcia, the co-author of "Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life," interviewed 100 senior citizens from Okinawa for his research and found that they could all readily express their reason for living.

"When we asked what their ikigai was, they gave us explicit answers, such as their friends, gardening, and art. Everyone knows what the source of their zest for life is, and is busily engaged in it every day," Garcia told the Government of Japan in an interview.

Gardening provides exercise, vitamin D, and nutrients

Cherry blossoms in Okinawa
Cherry blossoms in Okinawa.Getty Images

Almost all centenarians in Okinawa grow or have previously grown a garden, Buettner said. Tending to their gardens daily means they are staying active and getting some exercise without even trying.

At the same time, they are getting a good dose of vitamin D, as Okinawa has a sunny climate, which helps promote strong bones and healthy bodies, he said.

The fresh produce that they grow, including vegetables, is also nutrient-rich, and staples such as mugwort, ginger, and turmeric all have medicinal qualities, according to the Blue Zone website.

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