Besides what foods are consumed, lifestyle appears to play an important factor in senior wellness as we learn form the Okinawan Study—and we can also learn how to integrate them with a Western approach, such as The Balanced Care Method.
Okinawan seniors have lifelong routines of moderate exercise and physical activity. They walk most places they go, keep up daily tasks like housework, gardening and working well past the age of "retirement" in North America, and practice the soft martial art of tai chi. These are all low-impact, weight-bearing, moderate forms of physical activity. Tai chi alone provides its practitioners with aerobic, anaerobic, and flexibility fitness. Being physically fit helps keep Okinawan seniors lean, healthy and active. They report that these physical activities also give them a sense of calmness and psychological wholeness.
Stress & Lifestyle
The remarkable life spans and health in Okinawa can be further explained by the extent to which their lives are also low stress, socially rich, purposeful and spiritual. Most practice a spirituality that combines the nature-revering aspects of Taoism, the communal respect emphasized by Confucianism, and a native belief that both celebrates women as connectors between present and past, and reveres elders. It is a point of view that sees all people as good and emphasizes the importance of responsibility to and of both individuals and groups. Their spirituality offers Okinawan seniors substantial stress relief, sense of social connection and purpose and a respected, important role in their community.
A Westernized Approach
A steady diet of mackerel, tempeh, seaweed, sweet potatoes and green tea is probably not realistic for most Westerners. Neither is daily tai chi practice or walks between villages. Yet there are many ways to implement the principles of the Okinawan lifestyle within a Western framework.
The Balanced Care Method
First, the Balanced Care Method encourages a diet that mimics the best practices of the Okinawan elders: high fiber, low-fat proteins, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, calcium-rich ingredients and omega-3-rich foods along with limited sweets and alcohol and plenty of hydrating water and tea. This high-fiber, plant-based diet is naturally low in calories, so "diets" in the weight-loss sense become unnecessary. There is room in this diet profile for most people's favorite foods, at least in moderation.
Okinawan elders are much more physically active than their Western counterparts. The primary way the Balanced Care Method seeks to help its clients stay as active as possible is to encourage them to do as much as they can for themselves. Seniors who can still take walks, with companionship if necessary, should do so regularly. People interested in gardening or doing light housework are encouraged to do so, with help as needed. Hobbies, social visits and group activities are similarly facilitated.
This approach helps seniors receiving Balanced Care Method care avoid many pitfalls of other forms of senior care, which often encourage dependency for the convenience of staff or make it difficult to maintain social ties or beloved hobbies because of transportation or space considerations. The more seniors can keep to their preferred activities and social networks, the more active, healthy and happy they can be. Continuing to attend places of worship, clubs and other groups echoes the social and connecting communal practices of the Okinawan seniors in the Okinawa Centenarian Study.
The individual attention of Balanced Care Method also makes it possible for clients to enjoy the outdoors on regularly. Fresh air, time in nature, sitting and enjoying a pretty view are all extraordinarily calming and stress-relieving for people of all ages and can be particularly effective as people lose their physical and mental abilities to relieve stress in other ways.
The Balanced Care Method? is a way of viewing aging as a rich and meaningful part of life. Each element—fostering independence, encouraging the maintenance of social ties, and remaining active—supports and reinforces the others. The best lesson we can learn from the Okinawa Centenarian Study is to embrace and celebrate aging and approach it with a sense of balance and reverence. And, of course, to eat our vegetables.