The oldest man in the world passed away this week; Polish-born Alexander Imich died in New York City at the age of 111. He was born on Feb. 4, 1903.
With his passing, both the oldest man and oldest woman now live in Japan. That nation now is home to half of the world's known supercentenarians, those who have reached the age of 110 or greater.
Officially, the oldest human is currently Misao Okawa, 116, who lives in a retirement home in Osaka. She was widowed 83 years ago and is still an avowed fan of sleep and sushi, to which she credits her longevity.
"Eat and sleep and you will live a long time," Okawa said. "You have to learn to relax." Okawa claims to still get eight hours of sleep each night. Exercise is also key -- she was still practicing leg squats at the age of 102.
The world's oldest man is now Sakari Momoi of Saitama, Japan. The retired chemistry teacher was born one day later than Imich - Feb. 5, 1903.
It may be more than coincidence that the two oldest persons live in Japan. The World Health Organization, which keeps track of these matters, has noted that Japan has been steadily climbing up the life expectancy tree for years. In its World Health Statistics report from May, WHO reported that the average Japanese woman lives to 87 years, ichi-ban (number one) in the world. Japanese men rank 8th in the world, but average 80 years in lifespan. Together, that earns Japan the aggregate top spot in WHO rankings.
What factors may contribute to the Japanese lifespan's stellar longevity, despite the nation's heavy industrialization and high population density?
One advantage may be a seafood-rich diet that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and other fish oils, which are said to contribute to cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, and to the suppression of depression. Others point to the adoption of universal health care in 1961 as a trigger for the ensuing rapid improvement in health and longevity. Japanese men, in particular, are more likely to get regular check-ups -- more than 70% of them visit their doctors at least annually.
Working against this theory, though, is a relatively high amount of sodium in the Japanese diet. Another threat to Japan's place at the top of the longevity list is the increasing proliferation of Western-style processed foods, and an increase in smoking among Japanese youth. The effects of ever-increasing environmental pollution and the graying of the population -- just like in the U.S., the Japanese are getting disproportionately older -- will also present future challenges to longevity.