World's Oldest Woman is 114: Here's Her Secret to Longevity

Misao Okawa will be 115 years old next week. On Tuesday, she got an early birthday present when the Guinness Book of World Records named her the oldest living woman on the planet.

Okawa, the Japanese daughter of a Kimono maker, was born in 1898. She received the impressive title in a ceremony Wednesday, alongside her 3-month-old great grandson, after enjoying her favorite meal of mackerel sushi.

Her secret to living a long life? "Watch out for one's health," she told a reporter after receiving her Guinness certificate. For Okawa that means eating whatever she likes–as long it's made in Japan.

With 50,000 living centenarians in Japan, there's evidence that the country's residents hold the secret to longevity: a healthy diet.  Japanese women have one of the longest life spans of any country, only second to those in Hong Kong. The oldest living man (also the oldest living person) is also Japanese. Jiroemon Kimura is 115 years old.

“The Japanese diet is the iPod of food," Naomi Moriyama, co-author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat: Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen told Web MD. "It concentrates the magnificent energy of food into a compact and pleasurable size."

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The typical Japanese person consumes about 25 percent less calories per day than the average American. The base of their diet is vegetables and fish, a great source of omega-3 fats, which are excellent for heart health. Because their meals are largely vegetarian, they eat very little red meat, which can lead to health problems if eaten regularly.

The results of a 25-year study of the longest living group of Japanese people, the Okinawans, revealed that their traditional diet of rice, soy, and vegetables could be the reason that, on average, Okinawan women live to be 86 years old.

Japanese women also go through natural menopause and don’t use hormone therapy, which can lead to health complications. Researchers believe they struggle less with the changes of menopause because their diet is high in soy. But American women hoping to take soy supplements will be disappointed: in order to receive the benefits, phytoestrogens must be ingested naturally, through foods rich in soy.

With all dietary suggestions aside, there is of course a genetic component to aging, meaning Japanese people are less genetically predisposed to certain diseases. A positive and low-stress lifestyle has also shown to lengthen life. The Okinawans don’t have rush hour or alarm clocks, and many meditate daily.

Okawa was born in Osaka 1898, the year that the boroughs of New York were annexed, the Spanish American War began, and radium was invented. In 1919, she married and had three children with her husband. After his death, she moved back to Osaka. She has four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. 

Speaking to a group at her nursing home on making the Guinness Book of World Records, she said, “given everything, it’s pretty good.”

Related links:
Four foods that keep the Japanese thin
Eating tips from the world's healthiest diets
Tsunami and suicides wrecked Japanese women's record of longevity