The Okinawa Program deserves more than five stars for its valuable, thoughtful look at how good health can follow from a better lifestyle. This book will undoubtedly become the basis for a change in lifestyle by millions of people. Whether or not it will extend their lives and the length of the healthy period in their lives is something that only time can tell. On the other hand, anyone who follows this advice will probably feel better and have more energy.
This book is based on 25 years of research by Dr. Suzuki with those who lived to be over 100 years of age in Okinawa. The Drs. Willcox joined the project in 1994, adding many more measurements and perspectives to what has become an important international research project.
The physiological and psychological findings about these centenarians (aged over 100) show them to be healthy, vigorous, and largely free of common Western diseases. The book summarizes the findings, connects the findings to Western research, and outlines ways to follow what was discovered to be associated with better health.
The book begins by debunking the idea that there were long-lived people in the Caucasus, Pakistan, and Ecuador with whom similar work could be done. Investigation showed in each case that there was no unusual longeveity in these communities. On the other hand, records dating from the Japanese conquest of Okinawa in 1879 make the Okinawan cases valid.
The statistical findings are fascinating. Okinawans live to be over 100 at rates 3 to 7 times more often than Americans. Even more impressive is that the combined rate of heart disease, cancer, and stroke is a small fraction of the American rate. Where one woman in ten will have breast cancer in the United States, the typical Okinawan will probably not even know any one who will get that disease. Mammograms are not even needed as a health screening technique there. Yet, young Okinawans who live a different lifestyle show all the Western diseases. Okinawans who left the area and adopted the lifestyles of the places where they now live experience disease at the same rate as in those locales.
The book then dives into the physiological findings. Basically, some Okinawans at 100 have young bodies showing health markers similar to a 40-60 year old in the United States. In fact, they often look 30 years younger than they are. They are physically and mentally active, and do not retire. The bulk of those over 100 still work in the same ways they did when they were younger.
The book takes the major statistical differences, and looks for possible clues in the Okinawan lifestyle. The potential causes seem to relate to diet, exercise, spiritual/religious practices, social connections, and mixing Western and Eastern medicine beneficially.
The authors go on to suggest changes in the diet recommendations for Americans to reflect this experience, new exercise paths, and a changed approach to lifestyle. The diet recommendations are expressed both in terms of Western-only foods and a mixture of Eastern and Western foods. There is a four week changeover program to help you move from what you do now, to a healthier alternative.
As the authors point out, the study itself has some weaknesses. No one can know for sure how much each of these environmental factors contribute. Also, the genetic make-up of Okinawans could mean that results for non-Okinawans could be different. There is also no attempt to adjust for blood type (as the research cited in Live Right 4 Your Type describes).
I also think there is a measurement bias towards measurements used by Western scientists looking at certain diseases. For example, I remember Dr. Dean Ornish emphasizing the importance of touching as a factor favoring good health in Love and Survival. This book makes no reference to touching, but I do recall that people in the Philippines (not far from Okinawa) touch more than people in any other country (with favorable results for health and happiness). What do the Okinawans do?
The book also contains a lot of recipes. It is beyond the scope of my expertise to comment on them. The book cites many other studies that find similar results within Western cultures. One thing I noticed was that some of these studies have been criticized as being incorrectly conducted by others, yet those criticisms were not presented here. Overall, I found the references to other studies helpful in a directional sense for providing context for the findings.
Assuming for the moment that this book is on the right track, isn't it interesting that this information only recently became available? It makes you wonder what other obvious research into having a healthy lifestyle has not been done. Have we just wasted hundreds of billions of dollars ineffectively treating diseases caused by sick lifestyles while hundreds of millions experienced lives unnecessarily shortened by 20-40 years and made unncessarily miserable? If so, what a tragic waste of human potential!