You may have heard the saying that Japanese people live longer. Indeed, the average Japanese life expectancy is 84.79 years old, the second highest in the world. What is their secret? Apart from genetics, there are many personal and social factors that result in a long life expectancy in Japan. In this article, I will outline some of the main reasons that make Japanese people live longer, and some of them we can easily follow and practice on our own.
Longevity in Japan
Food in Japan
Japanese food is famous for its deliciousness. But the Japanese diet is also very healthy. A typical Japanese set of meals contains small portions of food with a variety of essential nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, etc. Fish, tofu, seaweed, rice, noodles, various meat, dairy, and vegetables are typical types of food you will see on a Japanese dining table. Moreover, due to Japan’s unique geographical location, the ingredients on Japanese dining tables are usually very seasonable and fresh.
Among these healthy ingredients, I would like to highlight seaweed, because it is one of the most common ingredients that you can include in all kinds of dishes and relatively easy to find almost everywhere. is the dried nori sheets you can find around sushi or in miso soup; depending on what kind, some types of seaweed are served as side dishes alone (and they are tasty enough!).
In general, seaweed is a great source of vitamins and minerals, as it contains small amounts of vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as iron, iodine, folate, zinc, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. It also provides you with omega-3 fats and vitamin B12 supplements. Also, there is evidence showing that seaweed might even help with thyroid function and reduce the chance of getting diabetes because of the vitamins and minerals it contains. Its nutrient helps the thyroid to function properly and helps to maintain blood glucose and insulin at good levels.
Personally, I love adding a piece of seaweed in my miso soup, which is also very healthy food to enjoy. Miso soup is rich in beneficial bacteria and antioxidants. Having a small bowl of miso soup before your meal strengths your digestion and boosts the function of your immune system. Another benefit of regularly having seaweed and miso soup is that both include very few calories. It doesn’t matter if you are trying to lose weight or maintain a healthy body, they are both great choices of food. Not to mention your skin is likely to become more smooth and radiant!
A typical Japanese diet is reflected in their food guide spinning top (Japanese: 食事バランスガイド):
Source: Japanese Food Guide Spinning Top (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries 2005)
According to this guide, it is best to consume:
- 5-7 servings of grain dishes,
- 5-6 servings of vegetable dishes,
- 3-5 servings of fish and meat dishes,
- 2 servings of milk including milk and milk products,
- 2 servings of fruits.
The food guide also includes some key messages about eating. Not only focusing on the nutritional value, these messages also emphasize the significance of enjoying the meal, taking advantage of local food, eating fresh products by reducing leftovers, tracking diet and calorie and food intake, and more.
Apart from a balanced diet, it is also recommended to drink plenty of water and tea and do lots of physical exercises. All these factors together contribute to a healthy diet, which is a critical component of living a long and healthy life.
Less is More – Food Portion
Okinawa is a Japanese city that is famous for its citizens’ long life expectancy. One of the biggest secrets of Okinawans is eating in smaller portions. Hara hachi bun me is a famous saying in Okinawa, meaning to eat until 80% full. Everyday, Oknawans consume around 1,800-1,900 calories instead of 2,000-2,500 calories (as what is usually believed to be an ideal daily intake of calories). This habit keeps their BMIs (body mass index) at a healthy range.
Image source: https://cremescoop.com/secrets-of-japanese-diet/
As the image above illustrates, a typical Japanese set of dishes is small. But small does not mean “less.” In Japan, you won’t see a big serving of any food in particular; instead, you will be served with small servings of different food. Overall, the key here is to eat a little bit of all different kinds of food. Besides, a small serving of everything will keep your meal more enjoyable and interesting since whenever you get bored of any kind of food, there are plenty of other tastes waiting for you! 🙂
Tea in Japan
You have probably seen many Japanese tea houses in Japan and overseas; that’s because Japanese people love tea. The phrase “Japanese tea” means green tea (Japanese: 緑茶), as green tea is the most widely and frequently consumed tea in Japan. Green tea is also the most important ingredient and element in the Japanese tea ceremony. Green tea provides you with lots of health benefits that keep you fit and healthy. For example, green tea is rich in EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) – a compound that is good for both your body and your brain. It will decrease the chance of getting cancer, diabetes, lower blood sugar, and help to lose weight.
Although gym culture is highly promoted in the Western world, you may be surprised to learn that Japanese people don’t go to the gym a lot. How do they stay fit then? Well, the secret is that Japanese don’t have the habit of sitting for a long time. They like to stand up and walk around.
For example, commuters like to stand rather than sitting on the train. This is especially a good habit for people who are working in the home office these days to learn from, as sitting at a desk for too long drastically increases the risks of multiple chronic health problems (heart disease, diabetes, to name a few).
It is well-known that Japanese people are very clean. Ever since childhood, everyone is taught to keep everything in order and organized. Handwashing is also a very important habit that many Japanese have. In terms of the public sphere, you won’t find anyone throwing trash on the street, and there are regular neighbourhood cleanups that every resident in the area helps to keep where they live neat and tidy. The hygiene standard that everyone follows makes Japan an incredibly clean country.
In Japan, face masks are not associated with Covid-19 only. As a matter of fact, Japanese people wear masks as a habit. Most Japanese will volunteer to wear masks when they catch a flu or cold; in this case, they won’t spread the virus to other people. This simple yet incredibly considerate gesture prevents many people from getting sick and eases the pressure of the health care system.
Health Care System
Japan has a very advanced health care system. It is free for its insured citizens and residents of other citizenships. Many Japanese have the habit of going to do regular checkups with the doctor, which helps to screen and detect potential health risks and problems sooner than later.
Japanese people love going out and socializing with their friends. It is more common to go out and enjoy the time with friends than staying at home. Although social life might not directly correlate to physical health, being in a good mood in general definitely helps with one’s mental health, which is an equally crucial factor for living a long and healthy life.
Nature is a central aspect of Japanese life because many people believe a harmonious life coexists with nature. While you might have already heard of some of the most famous natural wonders such as Mount Fuji, there are a lot more to discover. For example, Japan has one of the longest coastline in the world so sightseeings like Kitayamazaki Coast or Jogasaki Coast are breathtaking.
Japan also has lots of caves, lakes, bays, waterfalls, etc. to explore. Living and working in a big city can be stressful so many people enjoy being close to nature during the weekends or holidays. It is good for both your mind and health to take a break from the city life, appreciate the view in front of you, breathe fresh air, and perhaps also meditate in front of these wonders. In the case you are visiting Japan, make sure to check out its nature and don’t limit your understanding of the country to big cities such as Tokyo or Osaka.
Community Activities for Seniors
One of the main problems that Japan is facing is its rapidly aging population. Because there are an increasing number of seniors that the government needs to take care of, the government carries out multiple plans to make sure its seniors enjoy their retirement as much as possible.
There are many different communities created in Japan for elderly to live until the end of their lifetime. These communities usually include almost everything you can think of: shops, restaurants, hot springs, exercise facilities, rooms for different sorts of activities, etc. Here you can get to know other seniors and socialize with them. The emphasis of residential homes is communal care, which focuses on seniors’ general well-being. You can have a look at a typical senior community in this video:
Many seniors in Japan stay active until a very old age. Many seniors believe that getting old does not mean that they have to slow down – this is a crucial mental aspect that we will talk about in the next section.
What if you feel you have done everything correctly, eaten very healthy food, and exercised, but you still feel you are not healthy? The answer to this might be that you are overly stressed and concerned about your age. Many Japanese seniors have a very positive attitude towards life, and just because they are ageing physically, it does mean that they are ageing mentally. Many stay active and feel “young” even in their 80s or 90s. So in Japan, you should not be surprised to see a senior participate in a marathon event or climb a mountain alongside you.
There are many factors that play a role in leading to a healthy life. It is important to find a balanced lifestyle that suits you both physically and mentally. I hope this article provides you with some good tips that you think you can practice and follow. Personally, after researching and writing this article, I have decided to eat less and move more; I am also looking for a local tea store to check out some Japanese tea and make my own while working at home. Do you know other reasons behind Japanese’s long life expectancy? Comment below and I will be glad to chat with you 🙂