Dan Buettner, Expedition Leader: Okinawa is an archipelago of 161 tiny islands in a vast sea. Though vegetables are the most significant component of the traditional Okinawan diet, fish also plays a role, especially fatty fish like salmon and mackerel.
Five years ago we met Zen-ei Nakamura, a fisherman who spent his entire life at sea. We had the good fortune of going out with him one day. He rode out in his tiny little row boat, dove down with the wooden goggles, and actually speared his lunch. He brought it aboard and sliced it up into beautiful pieces of sashimi, which he shared with us.
Today we had the good fortune of tracking down Zen-ei again, this time at his home in Motobu. In typical Okinawan style he invited us in, let us sit down, he served us tea, and he told us about his life. At age 89 he's still fishing, he just celebrated his 79th anniversary, he married his high school sweetheart, and he still has a certain passion for life. Then he showed us his muscle, mine is much smaller. He took us outside to show us the way he fishes. He actually mends his own nets. He's not like typical fishermen around here who fish on big boats. He fishes all by himself.
Greg Plotnikoff, Expedition Medical Officer: He's twice as old as I am, and he looks like my brother.
Dan: We asked him about his secret to longevity and he said it was the sea, and the calmness and serenity he gets from it. But actually, Dr. Greg had a different idea. He noticed his smooth, bronze skin and thought that vitamin D might play a role.
Greg: Mr. Nakamura had a stress-free lifestyle but he also had a sun-filled lifestyle and this is really important for vitamin D. It's clear from his tan skin and 88 years of sun exposure that he is not vitamin D deficient and world-wide vitamin D deficiency is profound. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with all the age-related diseases including cancer and hypertension and diabetes and auto immune disease. And in the test tube, vitamin D kills the cancers that kills Americans the most. And for Americans more than 50 percent of those being treated for osteoporosis (weak bones), they are not getting enough vitamin D.
Dan: Americans tend to slather themselves with sunscreen and while skin cancer is an issue, so too is vitamin D deficiency. So like every other longevity recommendation, the key, they key, is balance.