Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Okinawa revisited

As co-owner of the store, I have to be the level-headed one around here (just kidding) and for me, this means reading a lot of non-fiction. Fiction is great n' all and more fun to write than non-fiction, mostly, but I find the world itself more fascinating than the world as interpreted. I have a bias as well: so much of fiction is either genre, which though not always, by its nature is corny, or "classic" such as the Brontes: gigantic tomes of complex social interaction and character studies spending near-lifetimes examining the minutiae of the trappings of the well-to-do. It's interesting for a bit, but who cares really? I have this bias to the gritty. Yes there's plenty of gritty fiction to be found, but I'm making sweeping generalizations here.

Thusly, I just finished reading the Okinawa Program, subtitled How the World's Longest-lived People Achieve Everlasting Health. The book's got a forward by Andrew Weil, someone I've come to trust regarding health advice generally: he's low-key, writes well and I've never seen him compromise for financial gain. The early chapters start with how this book encompasses a 25 year study, and how the subjects lives under the Japanese were very well documented. Many studies concerning aging focus on people who may or may not have good records indicating their true age. This was not the case here. Then there's lots of evidence laid out about their general health: many charts illustrating how disease rates for Okinawans are significantly and amazingly lower than that of the U.S. So how is this accomplished? Firstly, diet: Okinawans eat very little processed food, a great many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, soy products, good fats, fish, low glycemic index and high-fiber foods and foods with flavonoids -- mostly from soy foods: tofu, tempeh, miso, soy milk and textured vegetable protein. Omega-3 fatty acids are high on the list, derived most commonly from fish, but one can eat flax seed, walnuts and black currant oil also. Water intake is high, via tea and alcohol is low or nonexistent. A good many specific foods are listed also, as well as their western counterparts and there's a section on healing herbs that are commonly used. But it's not just what they eat but how: the authors suggest grazing instead of large, heavy meals, and eating a low calorie diet generally: such that the percentage of fat on the body remains low.

Then there's all kinds of lifestyle differences between Okinawans and Caucasians. Okinawans stay physically active much later, they walk, do martial arts, garden. Manual labor is considered a crucial and integral part of normal life. Older people will often work into their 90's. Older people are thought of as more valuable than in the west, and people lead lives that are a good deal more stress-free than is common here. There's a thing called Okinawa time, something I can relate to strongly myself. There's a whole section in the book on how stress kills and what to do about it: relaxation methods, attitude changes such as not being pissed all the time, the importance of mellowness as a means of respecting your body. The book ends with a lot of recipes and a thick series of appendices, the last of references. It is not the end-all to eating and living healthy, Weil, I notice says things about carbs -- bread in particular and the false "whole grain" breads in particular this book says nothing about -- but I found it to be a very well documented solid and useful read. As I approach my 1st 50 years in this mortal coil I'm making plans for my next, and the days of debauchery, frantic hijinks and sleepless grind are giving way to flax seed oil yoga and long massages. Not so bad, really.

I also came across a thin volume called the Palm Leaf Fan by Kwai-yun Li, written by a Chinese resident of Calcutta. I read about 1/2 of it; very slice-of-life stories taking place in the 1950's and 60's. I'm fond of books like this that illustrate very different cultures from a street-level perspective. This one had some good stories, but the author was a bit too good of a girl for it to hold my interest through the book. Bowles, it was not.

No comments:

Post a Comment