World's oldest person dies in Japan

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The world's oldest person, Japanese woman Kama Chinen, has died a week short of her 115th birthday after a life spanning three centuries, Guinness World Records said Tuesday.

Chinen lived on Okinawa in Japan's far south, a sub-tropical island whose inhabitants are well known for their robust health into advanced age.

"Guinness World Records is saddened to learn the news of the death of the oldest living person, Kama Chinen from Japan, who died on May 2, 2010 aged 114 years 357 days," the organisation said.

"Though confined to a wheelchair in her later years, Chinen still enjoyed the wonders of nature and being outside."

Chinen's death hands the title of world's oldest person to Eugenie Blanchard, a 114-year-old French woman living on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, according to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG).

Blanchard was born on February 16, 1896, the group said.

Chinen's reign as the oldest living person began on the death of US woman Gertrude Baines, who passed away in September 2009.

Kyodo News agency, citing Japan's health ministry, said an unidentified 114-year-old woman had died Sunday afternoon on Okinawa after being taken to hospital from a nursing home.

The woman was using a wheelchair but still enjoyed taking a walk on sunny days, the ministry said, adding that her relatives had asked for her name and personal details to be withheld.

Kyodo said Chiyono Hasegawa, 113, in southern Japan's Saga prefecture was now the country's oldest person.

Japan has the world's highest life expectancy, and Okinawa has been home to many centenarians, a fact variously attributed to the healthy diet and environment of the island.

Elderly Okinawans have among the world's lowest mortality rates from many chronic diseases of ageing, due to both genetic and lifestyle factors, according to the Okinawa Centenarian Study, a project that began in 1975.

Its researchers found elderly Okinawans "have impressively young, clean arteries" and low cholesterol compared to Westerners, reducing the risk for coronary heart disease by up to 80 percent and keeping stroke levels low.

The group attributes the healthy arteries to common lifestyle factors - a healthy diet, regular exercise, moderate alcohol use, avoidance of smoking, blood pressure control, and "a stress-minimizing psycho-spiritual outlook".

Old Okinawans also have lower rates of many cancers, in part due to a generally low caloric, low-fat and high-fibre diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits, and to their physical activity, the study found.

Japan's population is ageing much faster than Western European countries or the United States, official data show, stoking concerns about how the elderly will be cared for as the tax base shrinks after years of economic malaise.

Average life expectancy in Japan climbed sharply after World War II and is today the world's highest. In 2008, life expectancy at birth was 86.05 years for women and 79.29 years for men, according to government statisticians.

In 2008, Japan's population of elderly citizens - those 65 years and over - reached 28.22 million, or more than 22 percent of the total population - a ratio projected to rise to nearly 32 percent by 2030.

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