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140 of 145 people found the following review helpful
The Okinawa Program deserves more than five stars for its valuable, thoughtful look at how good health can follow from a better lifestyle. This book will undoubtedly become the basis for a change in lifestyle by millions of people. Whether or not it will extend their lives and the length of the healthy period in their lives is something that only time can tell. On the other hand, anyone who follows this advice will probably feel better and have more energy.
This book is based on 25 years of research by Dr. Suzuki with those who lived to be over 100 years of age in Okinawa. The Drs. Willcox joined the project in 1994, adding many more measurements and perspectives to what has become an important international research project.
The physiological and psychological findings about these centenarians (aged over 100) show them to be healthy, vigorous, and largely free of common Western diseases. The book summarizes the findings, connects the findings to Western research, and outlines ways to follow what was discovered to be associated with better health.
The book begins by debunking the idea that there were long-lived people in the Caucasus, Pakistan, and Ecuador with whom similar work could be done. Investigation showed in each case that there was no unusual longeveity in these communities. On the other hand, records dating from the Japanese conquest of Okinawa in 1879 make the Okinawan cases valid.
The statistical findings are fascinating. Okinawans live to be over 100 at rates 3 to 7 times more often than Americans. Even more impressive is that the combined rate of heart disease, cancer, and stroke is a small fraction of the American rate. Where one woman in ten will have breast cancer in the United States, the typical Okinawan will probably not even know any one who will get that disease. Mammograms are not even needed as a health screening technique there. Yet, young Okinawans who live a different lifestyle show all the Western diseases. Okinawans who left the area and adopted the lifestyles of the places where they now live experience disease at the same rate as in those locales.
The book then dives into the physiological findings. Basically, some Okinawans at 100 have young bodies showing health markers similar to a 40-60 year old in the United States. In fact, they often look 30 years younger than they are. They are physically and mentally active, and do not retire. The bulk of those over 100 still work in the same ways they did when they were younger.
The book takes the major statistical differences, and looks for possible clues in the Okinawan lifestyle. The potential causes seem to relate to diet, exercise, spiritual/religious practices, social connections, and mixing Western and Eastern medicine beneficially.
The authors go on to suggest changes in the diet recommendations for Americans to reflect this experience, new exercise paths, and a changed approach to lifestyle. The diet recommendations are expressed both in terms of Western-only foods and a mixture of Eastern and Western foods. There is a four week changeover program to help you move from what you do now, to a healthier alternative.
As the authors point out, the study itself has some weaknesses. No one can know for sure how much each of these environmental factors contribute. Also, the genetic make-up of Okinawans could mean that results for non-Okinawans could be different. There is also no attempt to adjust for blood type (as the research cited in Live Right 4 Your Type describes).
I also think there is a measurement bias towards measurements used by Western scientists looking at certain diseases. For example, I remember Dr. Dean Ornish emphasizing the importance of touching as a factor favoring good health in Love and Survival. This book makes no reference to touching, but I do recall that people in the Philippines (not far from Okinawa) touch more than people in any other country (with favorable results for health and happiness). What do the Okinawans do?
The book also contains a lot of recipes. It is beyond the scope of my expertise to comment on them. The book cites many other studies that find similar results within Western cultures. One thing I noticed was that some of these studies have been criticized as being incorrectly conducted by others, yet those criticisms were not presented here. Overall, I found the references to other studies helpful in a directional sense for providing context for the findings.
Assuming for the moment that this book is on the right track, isn't it interesting that this information only recently became available? It makes you wonder what other obvious research into having a healthy lifestyle has not been done. Have we just wasted hundreds of billions of dollars ineffectively treating diseases caused by sick lifestyles while hundreds of millions experienced lives unnecessarily shortened by 20-40 years and made unncessarily miserable? If so, what a tragic waste of human potential!
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315 of 334 people found the following review helpful
on October 28, 2001
This is a response to Owl's review of Sept 9, 2001. First let me say that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Second, I am a Japanese woman from Tokyo who also lived in Okinawa for several years but I have a very different opinion from Owl. I studied anthropology and wrote my thesis on Okinawan culture so I feel that I have some qualification to comment on The Okinawa Program both as a general prescriptive, self-help book and a scientific work. I can also offer you my interpretation of Okinawa and its culture.

Owl (the Sept 9, 2001 reviewer) sounds like so many other self-proclaimed "experts" on Okinawan culture from abroad. Typically they live in Okinawa 1-3 years (as did Owl), learn very little of the culture (including the language, customs, history), interact on only a superficial basis with the locals, and sometimes learn a little karate. When they leave they consider themselves cultural experts and gurus (his correspondence from a "remote mountain village" in Japan suggests that this applies in his case).

I believe that the Okinawa Program gives a realistic, intriguing account of Okinawan life and culture and valuable "hands-on" health advice. It has hundreds of scientific references so is hardly what I would call "superficial". In fact, the text itself is referenced, so that one can verify all the statements the authors make. This is rare for books written by scientists for a lay audience and I think that helps to explain its appeal to both the lay audience and the scientist. ... .

In one sense, Owl's review is very illuminating because it illustrates the problems of modern day Okinawa, where the youth no longer value as much the old ways and don't eat the traditional diet or practice the traditional martial arts or believe in the native spiritual traditions. In fact, very few Okinawans under the age of fifty even speak the Okinawan language, which is quite distinct from Japanese. Sadly sometimes they cannot speak fluently with their great-grandparents, who may speak only the Okinawan language.

Owl reveals his superficial experience with Okinawan culture when he states "did I ever see older Okinawans out practicing Tai Chi or karate or any other martial art for exercise or anything else? No! " Shoshin Nagamine, one of the giants of Okinawan karate, would turn over in his grave if he read that comment!! I suspect that Owl never bothered to seek out the multitude of martial arts dojos around Okinawa where karate has been nurtured, practiced and spread to every corner of the globe over the past few centuries. So for him they don't exist. Yet, thousands of Okinawan karate dojos exist around the world. The hundreds of thousands of devotees may be surprised to hear that older Okinawans "don't practice the martial arts", especially since their "masters" are usually older Okinawans.

I also suspect that Owl never made it to the traditional villages of rural Okinawa, especially in the Northern half of the main island so he never saw the elders out walking, gardening or participating in traditional dance. To correct Owl once again, the authors never said that masses of Okinawans are doing Tai Chi on the beach but that many engage in traditional dance, which resembles Tai Chi and likely had similar origins and influences from ancient China (and likely offers similar health benefits).

I really had to laugh when Owl said that he never saw karate on the beach in Okinawa. I guess he never made it to the beach on Sunday morning where 97-year-old karate master Seikichi Uehara takes his many pupils through their paces. That doesn't surprise me either. I don't think that I have to ask Owl if he ever participated in a shimisai (picnic with the ancestors at the family tomb) or ask him if he saw the sacred sites on the island where the elders gather to pray for peace and health.

Finally, he does have a good point when he said that other Japanese live a long time too. But if he actually read the Okinawa Program he would see that an important reason that Okinawans live longer is that they have the lowest heart disease, lowest stroke levels and the least cancer in Japan. This is largely related to their overall healthier lifestyle, which includes a higher intake of vegetables, soy products and less salt in the diet, as well as more exercise and cultural traditions such as moai(support groups) that increase social support and may lead to lower suicide rates, among other benefits.

Okinawa goes against the social gradient in terms of having lower socio-economic status and higher life expectancy. This is quite unlike what you see in the rest of Japan or the rest of the world, unlike what Owl would have you believe.

Okinawa leads some other prefectures in Japan for life expectancy by only a few months and others by a few years. As the Okinawans lose their traditional healthy ways the overall lead is closing. To be precise, Okinawans live on average to be 81.2 years, Japanese 79.9 years and Americans 76.8 years. But Okinawans are more active and less disabled as they age and they have over 4 times the number of centenarians as Japan or the U.S. ... .

To sum up; The Okinawa Program is full of useful prescriptive advice and fascinating information but if you are already a self-acclaimed guru who does not wish to come down from your remote mountain village to mingle with the people or you are simply a "know-it-all" then save your money. If you are like me, and want some practical and helpful information on how to live a long, active life, lose some fat, stay active, and learn something about different cultures, including healthy eating patterns, exercise habits and stress reduction then invest in The Okinawa Program. It may be the best investment you make.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2001
The book contains careful analysis of what goes wrong with the Western diet/lifestyle as well as what's healthy and significant about the Okinawans, which was the wake-up call I needed to truly understand what my eating habits were doing to me. I *thought* my diet was pretty decent, until I started reading about trans-fatty acids and how the body processes food, especially meat. I was certainly doing wrong thing, and the "diet" foods I was choosing were doing me more harm than good.
The book lists lots of foods/recipes that are good for you, and I discovered that things I thought I would hate, like soy products, can be darned tasty, and there are a lot more healthy foods out there in the grocery store than I ever realized; I'm not going to get bored with my new eating habits.
Granted I've only been following the book for a few weeks, and my main change has been in diet/eating habits (spirituality and & physical exercise are also covered in the book extensively), but I can feel a real difference, and not just in my weight, but in mental alertness, and lowered stress levels and increased energy.
I'm looking forward to incorporating more of the ideas of this book into my daily life.
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2001
This book has already made some changes in my eating habits, and I thought I was doing fairly well before. I agree with all the positive comments already made, so I won't add much to that, expect to say that I think, for me, the unique aspect of this book was that it gave a clear picture of people who were doing it right, and living long healthy lives as a result. Most books tell you what you should do, and that's helpful, but a wholistic picture like this spurs more enthusiasm, and somehow makes it easier to actually do it. My main reason for adding my review is that some recent reviewers seem to have looked at the menus without realizing the implications of the fact that these menus are intended to wean one away from our present unhealthy diet. So of course the first week looks out of keeping with the Okinawa findings, esp. in the Americanized version. But if you look at week four, and at the Eastern version in particular, you will see a lot of Asian foods, and mighty little of our bad habits, if any. (Also, you have to read the recipes--their "scrambled eggs" dish has no actual eggs, for example.) Seems to me their week four menus are very much in keeping with the findings of the book, and if we all started eating like week four, Western or Eastern version, health stats in the US would start looking a LOT better. I hope the authors someday put together a whole cookbook.!
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2001
The Okinawa Program is the most sensible book I have read in the area of nutrition and healthy living in years. Finally, a book that cuts through all the nutty advice about eating right and living well. No zone, no Atkins high protein diet, no crazy food combining and no wierd taboos on eating this or never touching that. The overall message gleaned from the book on the Okinawans' healthy habits is that moderation and balance in all areas of life, including diet, exercise, social relations and spirituality, are the keys to a long and healthy life !
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2001
I have read the Okinawa Program and find it a 'fantastic guide' for healthy living. Not only does it give sensible advice about the right way to eat but it also emphasizes that a healthy lifestyle encompasses a balanced approach to eating habits, exercise, stress management and human relations.This book is not your average 'self help' book. It meticulously documents all statements it makes and gives the reader the means to check the data upon which it is based through a detailed reference section. I have always been interested in a healthy lifestyle and I can now see why the Okinawans have achieved the world's longest life expectancy. I have been checking out the recipes and find them not only delicious but everyone of them has been analyzed for nutritional content including flavanoids and omega-3 fatty acids. The book even provides two tracks for healthy eating so one can ease into the more exotic and health-promoting dietary habits of the Okinawans. I love the book so much that I have been recommending it to freinds!
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60 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2002
Don't buy this thinking you will be getting good scientific data on the results of the Okinawan study. This book extracts a small part of that data and uses it in support of the authors' diet prescriptions. The lifestyle changes they propose are basically sound, but you can get the same advice in a much more readable format from Dr. Weil who happened to write the forward.
For a book that supposedly has its roots in statistics and science, I felt quite annoyed with the assumptions and leaps of logic they took with their data. For example, they stated that the Okinawans could have improved their diet if only they didn't consume so much sodium. These people often live to be 100+ ... so why isn't the interpretation that our notions about sodium are wrong or that with the right dietary adjustments, more sodium can be tolerated? I was often left with the impression that the data was used to support their preconceptions about diet and not that the diet was the product of the information obtained. So while the suggestions are sound, I wonder what valuable information was lost due to the scientist's filter.
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2001
This book gives the reader wonderful insight - and hope - for understanding and affirming that the path of wellness is an integrated one of mind, body, and spirit. The book gently compares and contrasts Western culture's lifestyle habits with that of the Okinawans style of living, giving the reader a clear picture of the reasons why longevity is linked to lifestyle choices that embrace a concept of cooperation and community, instead of competition and isolation. It also gives a nice overview of nutritional choices of Okinawans which is believed to support their amazing degree of health. The need for healthy social support in our lives is embraced by the practice of yuimari - the healing web. Western culture has long affirmed independence as an attribute, yet we remain a lonely and depressed population. The book weaves this knowledge of the benefits of supporting one another and living cooperatively in every aspect of our lives. From there, we find what it is we need to live long and productive lives like the Okinawans have! I highly recommend this book, esp. if you are a health practitioner. Its story can help you wrap words around what we see is needed today in our culture to bring well-being to our lives!
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2002
This book saved my life!!! I am in my forties and concerned about my health and age and I could not seem to get any useful advice from my own doctor. He seemed to know nothing about preventive medicine or healthy foods and just wanted to prescribe medication for my high cholesterol and high blood pressure. My cholesterol was over 300, I was 30 lbs overweight and feeling tired all day. I had tried Atkins's Diet, Protein Power and the Zone but it just made my breath smell bad. I felt lousy and I regained all the weight I lost after a short time. The first thing that impressed me about The Okinawa Program was that scientists could make a health book understandable for the average reader and not sound like a textbook. I read it in December and underwent the health tests recommended. After 8 weeks on the program I lost the 30 pounds, my cholesterol is now 150, I am off all medication and I have energy to burn!! My friends tell me that I look about 10 years younger (and my wife is not complaining either at my newfound energy!!!). The program is easy to follow, the recipes delicious (I even tried the soy recipes) and the advice is based on a solid Harvard-Okinawa Study. If you want to try a lifetyle that works long term and are tired of quick fixes then the Okinawa Program is about as good as they get!!! It worked for me!
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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2001
I found this book to be very refreshing and not at all a typical self-help manual. While the initial title might mislead you to think this is a "10 Steps to a Long Life" sales pitch, it's most certainly NOT. The authors have spent years of their lives and expertise on examining longevity holistically. They refrain from reducing it to an equation and, unlike so many other studies, go way beyond diet as an answer. As an anthropologist I appreciated the way they brought social life, religion, and family connections into the equation. The dietary studies and recipes are revealing, but so are many of the other observations.
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