17: How to Stay Young While Growing Old

Happy Monday!

It was a pretty quiet week last week. Outside of watching stocks and crypto continue to divebomb, I published the first set of book notes on my website - Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks. Pretty excited to keep that going moving forward. If you have any recommendations for non-fiction books, please send them my way!

Hope you enjoy this week’s newsletter.

At the northern end of Okinawa Island in Japan, there is a small town called Ogimi. It’s a rural town, more akin to a village, with a population of about 3,000. The amazing thing about Ogimi is that its people boast the highest life expectancy in the world, which has earned it the nickname The Village of Longevity.

A small stone marker in the village (roughly translated) reads:

“At 80, you are merely a youth. At 90, if your ancestors invite you into heaven, ask them to wait until you are 100—then, you might consider it.”

The latest count shows that fifteen of Ogimi’s 3,000 villagers are centenarians (over the age of 100) and 171 are in their 90s. Medical studies of the eldest in Ogimi, Okinawa, and other Blue Zones — geographic regions with the highest life expectancy — show some incredible stats:

  • Inflammatory disorders are rare
  • Dementia is well below the global average
  • Many are active and “healthy” considering their age
  • Far fewer suffer from chronic illnesses (think cancer and heart disease)
  • Their blood has fewer free radicals (the mechanisms responsible for cellular aging)

It’s pretty wild how Ogimi, a village on Okinawa where something like two hundred thousand innocent lives were lost at the end of World War II, has become the pinnacle of human longevity.

Ask around the island and you’ll find that one of the major reasons the people of Ogimi live so happily for so long is a Japanese concept called ikigai, translating (again, roughly) to “the happiness of always being busy”. What this really means is having a reason — a purpose — to live.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. Some people have already found it, while others are still looking. Either way, they carry it within. This concept of ikigai persists long past the traditional age of retirement. In fact, many Japanese never really retire. They keep doing the things they love for as long as their health allows.

Scientists have studied the people of Ogimi and the other Blue Zones tirelessly in hopes of discovering the secrets to longevity. They’ve learned that ikigai, though a major player, is just one of the four keys to longevity. The other three shouldn’t surprise you.

  1. Diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Community

Their methods of living to be 100+ aren’t complex. They eat mostly whole foods and a high amount of vegetables. One of the most common sayings in Japan is “Hara haci bu,” which means “fill your belly to 80 percent.” It’s spoken before or after eating much like the French say “Bon appetite” or us Americans, “phew, I’m stuffed”. Unlike us, the people of Ogimi stop eating when they feel their stomachs are at 80 percent capacity, which cuts down on taxing digestive processes and cellular oxidation.

They rarely lift weights. They don’t sit for long periods of time. Most of their activity comes naturally from walking, working, and playing games.

Almost all of the work that they do is communal and helps the greater village out in some way. If one of their fellow villagers is struggling financially, they help out. Everyone does their part and they don’t harbor animosity towards each other or outsiders. They live by the Okinawan principle of ichariba chode, an expression that means “treat everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before.”

If you thought you were going to read this email and discover that the secret to living a long, healthy life was taking a magic pill or hard committing to a lifelong Jenny Craig diet, I’m sorry for disappointing you.

We often make things way more complex than they need to be when in reality, they’re quite simple.

Have a great week.