Dietary and other Lifestyle Strategies for Active Ageing: Insights from Okinawa
- Prof Craig Wilcox




Abstract - Dietary and other Lifestyle Strategies for Active Ageing: Insights from Okinawa

The gerontological literature suggests that there is much that we can do to slow age-related decline in physical and cognitive function and remain actively engaged as we grow older. Much of the decline experienced by older adults is caused in large part by lack of attention to primary and secondary prevention rather than due to the aging process itself. Protective environmental (non-genetic) and genetic factors exist that have major effects for our odds of aging in a healthy way. For example, common, potentially modifiable risk/protective factors in the Kuakini Lifespan Study have been shown to affect risk for healthy aging over six-fold, which could have important clinical implications. Moreover, our interventional studies utilizing a traditional Okinawan dietary pattern in 150 American volunteers have shown that some of the risk factors for "unhealthy aging" (e.g. blood pressure) were modifiable by dietary intervention. However, as we achieve longer survival, and modern medicine keeps ever more frail individuals alive, at some point healthy and in particular "successful aging" (as defined by Rowe and Kahn) will be untenable for the majority of older persons. This point has been illustrated by our Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan study cohort where we operationalized the "avoidance of disease" component of the Rowe and Khan definition of "successful" aging and quantified it from a biomedical perspective. In our healthy (at baseline) cohort of middle-aged men, only 11% met the Rowe and Khan criteria by age 85 years, highlighting the odds that eventually most of us will not be "successful" by these criteria. This presentation will explore what human populations might realistically achieve in terms of healthy and active aging given current medical knowledge and present some perspectives on how to help assist our elders cope with age associated challenges. Data from studies on healthy aging and longevity, such as the Okinawa Centenarian Study and the Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan/Healthspan Studies, will be highlighted.


About the Speaker - Prof Kathryn Braun





University of Calgary



General Sciences

University of Toronto



Medical Anthropology

University of Toronto



Medical Anthropology

University of the Ryukyus



Public Health Sciences

Donald Craig Willcox, Ph.D. is Professor of International Public Health and Gerontology at Okinawa International University in Okinawa, Japan. Dr. Willcox is a fluent speaker of Japanese and has extensive experience in bio-cultural approaches to healthy aging, epidemiology, human nutrition and human population genetics. He is Co-Principal Investigator of the Okinawa Centenarian study, a 30-plus year, ongoing study of the genetic and environmental correlates of exceptional longevity that identified the first gene to be associated with human longevity (Takata et al. Lancet 1987) and numerous lifestyle factors important to healthy aging. He also has a long and successful track record of collaborative research with other studies on healthy aging around the world such as the Honolulu Heart Program, and the Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan Study, the study that first identified the association (since replicated in many other populations) of the FOXO3 gene with healthy aging and longevity in humans (Willcox et al. PNAS, 2008).

He has been successful in establishing cross-national research collaborations through the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging and projects supported by national funding agencies in Japan, such as the Japan Society for Promotion of Sciences, among other sources. He currently serves as a research consultant for the NIA-funded Hawaii Lifespan Study and Hawaii Healthspan Study. Both of these studies, and the Okinawa Centenarian Study are large, long term clinical epidemiologic studies of healthy aging with long track records of cross national research that possess the necessary experience and infrastructure to carry forward innovative projects in the area of healthy aging.

Dr. Willcox is a member of several academic societies devoted to research on aging such as the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG). He has also been an invited participant at numerous international workshops that have focused upon identifying priorities in aging research such as the recent FUTURAGE workshop (Roadmap for Aging Research in the E.U.), and contributes as Associate Editor to numerous journals devoted to research on aging, such as Journals of Gerontology:Biological and Medical Sciences (GSA), Gerontology (IAGG), among others. He recently guest edited a special issue on centenarian studies and their contribution to our understanding of the aging process and longevity, published in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research.