Japan is known for its population has the highest life expectancies in the world. Japan has traditionally been one of the healthiest countries in the world. I’m trying to determine why people in Japan live longer than we are here in the US. What is the secret about the outstanding life span of Japanese people? I’m trying to find out whether it is their astounding lifestyle or is just a case of the genes.
People in Japan live about five years longer than those in America. More than a quarter of the Japanese population are elderly citizens. That is one of the highest in the world.
Japan has the lowest levels of obesity in the developed world. It is at 4%. Compare that to the UK at 27 percent and America at a whopping 36%. Japanese consume approximately 50 grams of sugar per day. In comparison, American people typically get through over 100 grams daily.
Japan has a much lower incidence of lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and heart disease than the States. We’ve all this evidence. The Japanese are doing something right. Let’s find out what that is.
Does Japanese cuisine help to live longer?
Japan, a country that is well known for its authentic food. Rice is on every table in Japan. You can have rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, and even rice on the go. The rice has been at the center of Japan’s cuisine and culture for centuries.
Rice is actually a low-fat carbohydrate. This means you feel full after eating it. So there’s less room for snacking in between meals. Particularly for sugary and fatty snacks that are common in the USA.
In the USA, we often substitute rice for fatty foods. The most common are french fries, pizza, and burgers, all high in calories and saturated fats. Many of us prefer salty french fries rather than a healthier choice of rice or baked potatoes. Even our first meal of the day contains more calories than we may realize. Because large amounts of sugar hidden in the breakfast cereals we eat. We’ve turned a seemingly healthy meal into a fatty one.
These foods are more filling but are low in calories. Anyone who’s been to Japan knows the role vegetables play in Japanese cuisine. Vegan meals are uncommon. So the traditional Japanese diet actually includes a wide variety. And many restaurant meals are incomplete without seasonal vegetables.
The local produce is filled with powerful antioxidants.
For example, Pat Choy and cabbage regularly feature at the dinner table. All have a generous amount of vitamins and minerals. But it’s not only the soil that Japan relies on for its product. They have some of their most nutritious vegetables from the sea. And lucky for them, they tend to like eating seaweed.
It could be that these sea vegetables contribute in a big way to improve heart health. Whilst it’s debatable if it’s a superfood. But it’s low in calories, high in fiber, and packed with essential vitamins and minerals. The seaweed it’s filled with calcium and even iodine. A nutrient is almost unique to this vegetable.
Fish and Seafood
It’s no surprise that a large part of Japanese cuisine actually involves fish. Japan is one of the largest consumers of fish worldwide. And whilst it makes up only 3% of the world’s population, it could see more than 16 percent of the world’s seafood. There’s no better place to visit than the world-famous Tokyo fish market to see the Japanese’s love with fish.
Fish is a strong contributor to healthy aging. Oily fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, an essential constituent of the cells that make up the human body. But, our bodies don’t produce Omega-3. We have to consume it in our daily diet. Omega-3 is widely believed to reduce the risk of heart disease. And is even recommended in some dietary guidelines for those who’ve had a heart attack.
But oily fish isn’t just good for the heart. Some researchers think it could play a role in controlling inflammatory conditions. Such as rheumatoid arthritis. And although not yet confirmed, it may also help protect against certain cancers. When placed side by side, a fish-based diet tends to be healthier than the common Western diet of meat and processed food.
You don’t have to eat oily fish to get your regular dose of omega-3. It can also be found in plant-based foods such as nuts, soya, and even green leafy vegetables such as spinach. It looks like fish is at least part of the reason for Japan’s impressive longevity.
People in Japan Exercise More
Exercise is a crucial part of any healthy lifestyle. The Japanese exercise more than other nations. A 2009 study found that less than one-third of the Japanese doing high levels of physical activity. The study failed to recognize that the Japanese integrate most of their physical activity into their daily routines. A light morning exercise has been a prevalent part of Japanese culture.
In fact, the government has been operating its so-called radio exercise routines for decades. People follow the workouts by a live radio broadcast in schools, parks, and other open spaces. The sessions largely involve dynamic stretches and simple warm-ups. While young people have steadily moved away from tradition, it’s still trendy amongst older Japanese people.
Children are also getting their fair share of exercise. Surveys estimate that 90 percent of all Japanese children use a bike to go to school. This sets up a lifelong habit of exercise from an early age, which continues well into adulthood. When comparing the West, they make more out of the daily commute than using public transport. In fact, it is estimated that the average Japanese walk over 7,000 steps per day that are 2,000 more than the average American.
Indeed, things as simple as walking can profoundly impact your health and well-being.
Japanese people are heavier smokers than we are
And always been. Still, lung cancer is rare in the country. However, there is a decline in cigarette consumption. Yet, a higher percentage of Japanese smoke than Americans. There are no restrictions on smoking in public places. So, people can smoke almost everywhere they want. Even so, few are getting lung cancer. What is the factor that does protect people from the disease? Who knows? It’s not the air quality because it is not any better there than the air quality in the US.
Onsens (“Spa” in Europe) are naturally occurring springs. They are filled with water that has been geothermally heated from deep within the Earth’s crust. And because Japan is situated in a volcanic active region, it has more than 3000 of these hot springs (Spa). The Japanese have bathed in these pools for hundreds of years. It’s no surprise that certain onsen etiquette has developed over time. Onsens are considered places of meditation. They are generally peaceful and very clean.
But there’s one rule above all that captures most visitors’ attention when you enter the soothing waters of an onsen. People are naked in there. However, Onsens are traditionally segregated into male and female sections, and private onsens are also available.
It is the natural minerals in the water which help relieve medical conditions, such as hypertension, arthritis, neuralgia, and skin disease. But, despite scientific studies, we still yet to find proof about the medicinal properties of hydrotherapy.
We know for ages that water is a great way to relax both your body and your mind. Hydrotherapy is often recommended to improve circulation, relieve pain, and ease muscle tension.
The Reasons People in Japan Live Longer
I started this research to find tangible reasons for the Japanese people’s enviable longevity. What is the role of rice and vegetables in their traditional diets? Or maybe their higher consumption of fish and lower consumption of red meat? Or the Japanese lifestyle? They make sure to have some spare time to relax and relieve work-related tension after work.
Maybe it has something to do with the smaller sizes at mealtimes. Then there is a naturally active lifestyle, particularly through walking. Now become clear to me is that it’s not just a single thing. All these factors play a part in the excellent health of the nation for centuries.
But, things are slowly beginning to change. As Japan becomes increasingly westernized. We see a growing number of fast-food restaurants catering to modern tastebuds. And to move away from the traditional and healthier Japanese diet.
There’s been a steady decline in the levels of physical activity among the younger generations. So much to the extent that the government has had to introduce several Health Initiatives. High blood pressure, diabetes, and other lifestyle-related conditions are on the rise.
There’s no doubt that Japan has one of the healthiest populations in the world. But to sustain its top ranking in expected longevity, younger generations may have to follow in the footsteps of their elders to secure a healthy future.
Photo: Albrecht Fietz