The Okinawa Way

What’s their secret? In 2001, three specialists published a study of the locals’ longevity in a book called “The Okinawa Program,” which reached American best-seller lists. The authors—Okinawa International University gerontologist Makoto Suzuki, Bradley J. Willcox, a former geriatrics fellow at Harvard Medical School, and his twin brother, D. Craig Willcox, a medical anthropologist—found that elderly Okinawans had remarkably clean arteries and low cholesterol. Heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer were rare, which they attributed to the consumption of locally grown vegetables and huge quantities of tofu and seaweed, rigorous activity and a low-stress lifestyle. Suzuki and the Willcox brothers also determined that Okinawans have no genetic predisposition to longevity: when they grow up in other countries, they take on the same arterial disease risk as those in their new home. The authors claim that if Americans lived more like the Okinawans, “80 percent of the nation’s coronary care units, one-third of the cancer wards, and a lot of the nursing homes would be shut down.”