The Founder of Blue Zones Shares the Secret to Longevity and Ultimate Health

The Founder of Blue Zones Shares the Secret to Longevity and Ultimate Health

Hint: It might be found on one of Asia’s most beautiful beaches.

Okinawa has one of the longest-lived and healthiest populations in the world. They don’t pump iron, run marathons, or do anything “high-intensity.” They don’t follow the latest juicing or colonic trends. Okinawan centenarians walk, cook healthy meals, drink awamori with friends, and enjoy active sex lives.

Okinawa is one of five Blue Zones worldwide. They were “discovered” and studied by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow. “I’d heard about Okinawans’ unusual longevity and thought it would be great to learn about their secrets for a long and healthy life,” he says. 

During many years of research, Buettner learned that people who live in Blue Zones—Sardinia, Italy; Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; Ikara, Greece; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan—not only live longer (100+) but are free of many diseases common in older adults—cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.

 

Although the Blue Zones are positioned all across the globe, Buettner noticed that they had some basic things in common: a healthy, mostly plant-based diet; regular exercise (as simple as walking); low stress; finding purpose (helping others); spending time with family and friends (not FaceTime); drinking moderately (moderate drinkers outlive nondrinkers); and attending faith-based services regularly (no matter the denomination).

A string of 160 islands surrounded by the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Okinawa is nearly 1,000 miles from Tokyo. Its unique food tradition is more influenced by Southeast Asia than by Japan. Ruins of 13th century castles, reminders of its shogun past, still dominate the landscape. Buettner’s research found that Okinawans have one-fifth of the cardiovascular disease, one-fourth of the breast cancer, and one-third of the dementia of Americans. He attributes this, in part, to a culture of walking, year-round access to fresh medicinal herbs, homegrown vegetables, and a soy-based-protein diet. 

Halekulani Okinawa, located within the rugged nature conservation area of Kaigan Quasi-National Park, offers “Secrets of Longevity” programs, inspired by traditional Okinawan cooking and lifestyle. The series was developed in partnership with Masashi Arakawa, PhD, a professor and dean at Okinawa’s University of the Ryukyus, and a leading researcher of health and wellness tourism. Halekulani Okinawa is the first hotel in Okinawa to offer guests immersive and multidimensional programs firmly grounded in the healthy habits of the local population—healing food, mindfulness, and a social life. 

“The immersive program introduces people to the nature of Okinawa and Okinawans,” says Akihiro Ichikawa, Halekulani Okinawa’s executive assistant manager, who was instrumental in creating its Escapes Programs. One of the experiences looks into the concept that food and medicine come from the same sources, Ichikawa says. Another explores the relationship that Okinawans have with nature—from the white-sand beach (rare in Okinawa) in front of the hotel to paddling at dusk with a naturalist through mangrove forests, accompanied by the twinkling of thousands of fireflies. “There are 50 varieties of fireflies in Japan, half of which are found in Okinawa,” says Ichikawa.


One of the most important elements of the Escapes Programs is the food. “The cuisine at the hotel … and at old-farmhouse restaurants and gardens that we visit during the program … are based on authentic recipes,” says Ichikawa. Although some ingredients may not be available outside Okinawa, many traditional dishes can be approximated by the home cook by following recipes in Buettner’s The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100. 

Halekulani Okinawa’s Wellness Program “Secrets of Longevity” offers three nights at $2,191 per person.