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Eat to Live Longer: Nutrition Secrets of Okinawa

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Learn the nutrition secrets of the planet's oldest people with these 12 simple steps to a longer, healthier life.

Maintain Your Weight

The islands of Okinawa, a lush archipelago southwest of the main island of Japan, are home to the largest and healthiest population of centenarians on earth. They suffer significantly fewer heart attacks and 80 percent fewer incidences of breast cancer and prostate cancer, and have lower rates of diabetes and less than half of the ovarian and colon cancer cases that we do. Their secret? A nutrient-dense diet and stress-proof lifestyle.

Before you pack your bags and say sayonara to your on-the-go American fast-lane life, consider this: "It's the little tweaks to your everyday routines that can make the biggest difference in your lifelong wellness," says Peter Martin, PhD, director of the gerontology program at Iowa State University in Ames. Think of today as the first day of the rest of your long, healthy life. Get started with these 12 simple steps.

Maintain Your Weight

Okinawan centenarians tend to stay lean throughout their lives by eating fewer calories than they burn off during the day. But retaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) is just one piece of the longevity puzzle; maintaining a stable weight is every bit as important.

Research has linked yo-yo dieting to elevated risks of hypertension, endometrial cancer, and a preponderance of body fat in the upper body, a risk factor for heart disease. If you're a yo-yo dieter, take a long, hard look at your approach to weight loss. If your BMI is over 25, by all means take steps to reduce it by exercising more and eating less, but choose activities and foods you can live with for the long haul. "The most effective way to restrict your calorie intake is to gradually reduce the portion sizes of foods you already eat," says Lisa Young, RD, PhD, author of The Portion Teller (Doubleday, 2005).

The Fountain of Youth: Daily Exercise

Okinawan elders are surprisingly fit. Many of the physical activities they engage in -- gardening, practicing traditional dance and tai chi, or simply walking to a friend's house -- give them more energy and contribute to their sense of community. The regimen sticks because it's woven into their lives. Okinawans also tend to get their daily exercise in the evenings, which can help relieve the day's tension and prime the body for rest.

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