Supercentenarian Misao Okawa (大川 ミサヲ)

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The last time a person reached the age of 116 years and 347 days was back in 2006 when María Capovilla held the title of the world’s oldest person. Misao Okawa was born on 5th March 1898 and currently resides in Osaka in Japan. She is one of five women alive who are all from the 1800s, a time when life was far different from today’s world. She also has a daughter and a son who are in their early to mid-90s.

Although Japanese people are generally long-lived, she is quite exceptional. She says that good food, relaxation, and good sleep are all contributors to her health. And when asked on her 116th birthday whether or not she thought she’d live such a long life, she said that she didn’t expect it. She was then asked if her time living felt long or short, and she replied: “It was kind of short.”

I’ve talked a lot about the Longevity of Okinawan’s and how they live most of their lives disease free, but Japan as a whole has an incredibly high number of centenarians. Right now there are over 50,000 Japanese centenarians.

More people in Japan get to see 100 than anywhere else in the world. And in Okinawa, the chance of becoming a centenarian is much higher still. People over there stay slimmer, they eat better, and they look after the elderly much better, too. All these things contribute to the longevity records attained in Japan.

Misao Okawa turns 117 on the 5th March 2015. She still has some way to go to beat Marie-Louise Meilleur’s record of 117 years, 230 days. Maria-Louise died back in April 1998. So it has taken many years for these longevity records to be broken.

Once a person reaches 115, it’s like there is a barrier they are up against — it is the upper limit of the human lifespan. People like Misao, on the other hand, are outliers and it takes something extra and maybe a bit of luck to allow them to reach such an age.

The only way that we are going to be able to push longevity even further is to fundamentally slow down the aging process. Jeanne Calment reached 122, and I predict that it will be some years before we see anyone break that record.

But who knows?

Sometime in the 2020s, we could see it happen – especially given how fast medicine is progressing. Calorie restriction might be one way to break this barrier, but long before any of us practicing calorie restriction reaches such an old age, we’ll likely have true anti-aging therapies which are more powerful.

Personally, I would love to reach such an age.

Imagine all the things that one could see in their lifetime. As long as we have good health, we should appreciate every day that we have. Life is precious and we should hold onto it as long as we can.

I hope that Misao Okawa reaches her 117th birthday. Although she is not in the best of health and seems quite frail, she is doing well. She still has a good mind and doesn’t seem to be giving up just yet!

If you want to emulate the Japanese diet, I recommend The Okinawa Program.  The book is based on decades of research into the lives of elderly Okinawan’s. A fascinating read and it was actually my first real introduction to understanding the Japanese diet and way of life.

The researchers looked at the lives of these people over a 25 year period to find out what it was that made them live so long. Calorie restriction was only just a part of the reason for their incredible longevity. Okinawa is a place I would love to visit one day!

The five oldest people in the world

Misao Okawa – 116
Gertrude Weaver – 116
Jeralean Talley – 115
Susannah Mushatt Jones – 115
Emma Morano-Martinuzzi – 115

A video of Misao Okawa when she turned 116 years old.

Related article: Health and Longevity: The longer you live, the healthier you’ve been.

Article reviewed and updated: February 2019.

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