Nutrition, Movement, Spirit, Perspective

Learn from the World’s Healthiest, Happiest and most Long-Living People

It is exciting to think that we have the potential to live a happy, healthy and vital life, even into our hundreds. There are four areas in the world especially known for living long and vibrant lives that I would like to focus on for this Article. Through examining these cultures and their way of life, we may gain insight into the life practices that contribute to this longevity and incorporate them into our own lives.


     Okinawa is made up of 161 beautiful islands, known as ‘Japan’s Hawaii,’ due to the pleasant weather and abundance of flora, fauna, and pristine rain forest. Okinawans have an active lifestyle that helps them maintain strong bones well into their old age. They work in their gardens, walk and practice martial arts, such as Tai Chi and Karate. In practicing their martial arts, the mindfulness of the movements and the connection to their peaceful inner space provides for them a strong spiritual practice, as well as, a physical practice.

     The Okinawans have an easy going manner with a ‘nan kuru an sai’ approach to life that is translated as ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ They value generosity and flexibility as they move peacefully through their days, without the inner sense of needing to rush and hurry themselves for something in the future.

     They eat their meals together and with great mindfulness, taking special care in how the dishes are presented, with consideration of color combinations and arrangement. They practice what is called ‘hara hachi-bu’ which means ‘eating until you are 80% full’, with a little room still in your stomach when you have finished your meal. This helps them take in 20 - 30% less calories than the average american, a practice known to slow aging.

     Islanders, on average, consume six vegetables, one fruit and six or more servings of whole grains, such as rice, barley, and three types of millet each day. Omega-3 rich fish is a staple protein, and the overall sodium, fat and sugar intake is low. Some other essential foods for the Okinawans are carrots, healing herbs, seaweed and sweet potatoes.


     Abkhazia covers three thousand square miles, and is situated in the north-western corner of Georgia with the Black Sea to the south-west and the Caucasus mountains and Russia to the north-east. About 80 percent of all Abkhasians over the age of ninety are mentally healthy and outgoing, with only 10 percent having poor hearing and fewer than 4 percent having poor eyesight.

     In Abkhasia, a person’s status increases with age; elders are respected and revered and their privileges increase with the passing years. They do not have a word saying ‘old people,’ but rather call them ‘long-living people.’ They even have a holiday in their honor called ‘The Day of the Long-Living People,’ when the elders dress in elaborate costumes and parade before the other villagers gathered there to pay them homage.

     Silver hair and wrinkles are seen as beautiful in the Abkhazian culture; they are signs of wisdom, maturity and long years of service to the community. In this culture, when people lie about their age, they exaggerate how old they are, for this gives them greater respect from others.

     The Abkhasians have a great amount of natural exercise in their daily lives, as they live in steep terrain mountains they must traverse throughout the day. They do not have a concept of retirement in this culture and at no stage do any of them become sedentary; they are always on the move, working hard in their orchards and gardens, chopping wood and carrying water, in a way that is not driven or hurried, but simply done with a relaxed sense of time.

     A staple in the Abkhazian diet is a fermented beverage called matzoni, made from the milk of goats, cows or sheep, and they drink one glass during breakfast and another during the day. Their traditional diet is breakfast beginning with a salad of green vegetables freshly picked from the garden. During the spring, it is made up of pungent vegetables, such as watercress, green onions, and radishes. In summer and autumn, tomatoes and cucumbers are more popular, while the winter salad consists of pickled cucumber and tomatoes, radishes, cabbage, and onion, with no salad dressing used.

     The rest of their diet is made up of raw vegetables, with rare exceptions of cooking the vegetables in only a very small amount of water. And the freshness of the food is considered paramount. Vegetables are picked just prior to serving or cooking, and leftovers are discarded, because food that is not totally fresh is considered harmful. Nuts play a major role in the Abkhazian cuisine and is the primary source of fat in their diet, appearing in almost every meal. They eat little meat, and if they do, it is from healthy animals that have been freshly slaughtered. If they get hungry between meals, they will typically eat fresh fruit that is available seven or eight months of the year from their own orchards and gardens.


     Vilcabamba is a small, extremely inaccessible village tucked away in Ecuador’s Andes mountains, with an average year-round temperature of 68 degrees and almost no seasonal variation. This is a land of lush, subtropical agriculture where a wide variety of grains, fruits and vegetables can be easily cultivated.

     This valley is known for it’s solitude, serenity, magnificent scenery, clean air, pure mineral drinking water, dazzling sun, nearly constant blue sky, lack of illness and a community that feels connected and supportive. A motto that they live by is, “It is more blessed to give, than to receive.” They are known to be a loving people, with a healthy sense of self-confidence and security in themselves.

     There was a writer named Grace Halsell, who lived amidst the Vilcabamba for two years and she wrote,

     "Living among the Viejos, I never heard them quarrel or fight or dispute with each other. They had        what I would consider a “high” culture in this regard. They spoke beautifully, elegantly, with ample flourishes of tenderness. Their words themselves were often caresses.”

     Grace Halsell came to believe that the way people of all ages were so intimately interwoven with one another in this community was an important reason for why the Vilcabambans lived for such a long, healthy time. There is a deep respect for the elderly in this culture, with the increased wisdom admired and seniority respected. Those whom are younger enjoy being around them and learning from them; they are seen as a source of knowledge and information that can help to guide the younger ones.

     This is a place where degenerative diseases seldom, if ever, affect the population. The Vilcabambans are active into their late years, traversing mountain terrain on a daily basis. They have year round gardens, so that fresh fruits and vegetables are constantly available. Their diet is low in calories and is almost entirely vegetarian, made up primarily of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, seeds, beans, and nuts.

     Once in a while they will consume milk or eggs, but these times are usually quite scarce. Their protein comes from vegetables, whole grains, and a variety of beans. Their carbohydrates are always unrefined and come primarily from whole-grain cereals such as corn, quinoa, wheat, and barley, and from tubers including potatoes, yucca, and sweet potatoes. Their fat comes mostly from avocados, seeds, and nuts. Their fresh fruit variety is figs, pineapples, watermelons, oranges, bananas, papayas, or mangos, and they are plentiful year round.


     Hunza lies at the northernmost tip of Pakistan, where Pakistan meets Russia and China, and where no fewer than six mountain ranges converge. It is an extraordinarily fertile valley that has for over two thousand years sustained a population of ten to thirty thousand people in almost complete isolation from the outside world.

     The Hunzans are considered the world’s best mountain climbers, for they can travel at a rate of more than forty miles per day over Himalayan terrain with heavy packs and supplies. They are also known for their remaining positive under trying circumstances, and almost everyone who has visited Hunza describes the attitude of the people as good-natured with buoyant spirits.

     Their organic agricultural practices are considered to be the finest in the world, creating vital, nutrient rich soil using terraces that stretch through the valley and mountainsides. They put everything that can possibly enhance the soil to use, wasting nothing. Every solitary thing that can serve as food for fruit trees and vegetables is diligently collected, including dead leaves, and rotting wood.

     They grow a wide variety of fruit, including apricots, peaches, pears, apples, plums, grapes, cherries, figs, and many type of melons. The fruits are eaten fresh in summer, and then throughout the winter and spring they are eaten as dried fruit and also used extensively in cooking and baking. On certain rare feast days the eat goat or sheep meat, and on other days they consume a fermented milk product made from goat or sheep milk.

     In Hunza, the primary grains are wheat, barley, millet, and buckwheat. Vegetables play a prominent in the Hunzan diet, particularly greens including mustard greens, spinach and lettuce, root vegetables, and an assortment of beans, lentils, and other sprouted legumes, plus many kinds of pumpkins and other squashes. They cultivate many kinds of herbs for both culinary and medicinal purposes. They grow flaxseeds.

     In Hunza, a large part of the diet is eaten uncooked. In the summer, as much as 80 percent of the food is eaten in its natural state. Vegetables in season are picked just prior to consumption and almost always eaten raw. When vegetables are cooked, they are typically lightly steamed using a minimal amount of water. And the water used to cook them is always consumed along with the vegetables themselves. In the winter, the Hunzans soak lentils, beans, and peas in water for several days, then lay them out on wet cloths in the sun. They are eaten raw when they begin to sprout.

     These ancient cultures have certain characteristics and commonalities that they share with one another, such as; living in strong and supportive communities that respect the wisdom of their elders, living with positive, loving and relaxed attitudes, eating an almost exclusively plant based diet with emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruits, exercising daily, spending time in nature, and having a strong spirituality that gives meaning to their life purpose. The characteristics that these cultures embody have been studied and also proven by contemporary science to be major factors in living a healthy, vibrant, happy and long life.

May we all be Blessed with the Opportunity to live a Healthy and Happy Life!


Source: John Robbins, Healthy at 100 (Ballantine Books, 2006).


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Priyanka Kapoor
Priyanka Kapoor
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