A few years ago scientists were studying Cretans for clues to their longevity. The conclusion: high consumption of olive oil, fruits, grains, and vegetables, plus lots of hard physical work, was what kept heart disease rates low on Crete and in other parts of Greece. Now another island, Okinawa, is in the news, thanks to a best-selling book called The Okinawa Program, by researchers Bradley and Craig Willcox and Makoto Suzuki.
Okinawa is one of the Ryukyu islands south of Japan; in 1945 it was the site of one of World War II's bloodiest battles as U.S. forces pushed toward the Japanese mainland. Though the island was returned to Japan in the early 1970s, the U.S. still maintains large military bases there.
Since 1976 the Japanese Ministry of Health has been studying older Okinawans (who live in traditional cultures presumably unaffected by the American presence), hoping to unlock the secrets of their amazing good health. What's most interesting about them is that they have the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. Okinawa boasts the highest percentage of centenarians anywhere. Heart disease rates are low: 80% fewer heart attacks than Americans, and Okinawans who have heart attacks are more likely to survive. Breast and prostate cancer are so rare as to be unheard of among the older population. Obesity is equally rare. Smoking, the reader is led to conclude, is also rare among older Okinawans, though the book cites no statistics.