What’s the Secret to a Healthy Life in Japan?
When it comes to life expectancy in Japan, the rumors are true. Living a long and healthy life is very much a part of the Japanese culture today. The average life expectancy in Japan today is 84, which is one of best in the world. (1) So, what’s their secret? Some say it has much to do with the culture and lifestyle factors that have been popular in Japan for over a century. This includes eating smaller portions that place emphasis on nutrient-rich diets.
Food & Nutrition
According to “The Blue Zones Solution” written by Dan Buettner, the life expectancy rate in Okinawa is even higher than the national rate due to its large concentration of centenarians - people who live to be age 100 or higher. This is especially true for Okinawans who were born before 1940 when their diets were typically comprised of 80% carbohydrates and incorporated about three servings of seafood and around seven servings of vegetables each week. (2) Meanwhile fruit, dairy, and grains weren’t consumed nearly as often.
When comparing the U.S. recommended diet to Japan’s, there are some recognizable similarities and differences. A marked difference can be found in the recommended vegetable servings.The Japanese government recommends more vegetable intake than U.S. which implies a much healthier lifestyle. (3,4) To introduce more vegetables in their daily diet, the Japanese partake in a popular morning ritual: Drinking aojiru. Aojiru is a vegetable juice and its history dates back to Heian era (794-1185), when it was originally used as an ancient medicine to treat illnesses.
The Busy Life
Japanese culture is known for being busy and productive, and therefore less sedentary as well. According to the World Health Organization, a large majority of youth walk or bike to school (over 98%) (5) Japan is also quite known for having a health-conscious lunch program. (6) Meanwhile, workers tend to balance their highly productive workforce with daily wellness routines.
Appreciation for Nature
Japan is home to many beautiful, temperate rainforests where mountain climbing is a beloved pastime. It is said that spending more time in nature is not only therapeutic, but often recommended for relaxation and stress relief.
Customary Tea Ceremonies
The ritual of drinking tea is something the Japanese have popularized worldwide, and they make it part of their daily wellness habits. Tea ceremonies are a monumental part of the culture; each piece of the ritual is planned. From the flowers to the tea to the meal, everything is thoroughly prepared. (7) Tea ceremonies are built upon a foundation of principles: harmony, respect, purity, tranquility. By practicing these principles in a ritual, they can impact the state of mind and wellbeing of the person partaking in the ceremony. According to Scientific American, “rituals can have a causal impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.” (8)
Like many of the Blue Zones, Japanese culture lends itself to well-rounded, healthy habits. From food and nutrition to community and lifestyle, there are small things that we can do every day to make our lives just a little bit better.
Walking to School in Japan and Childhood Obesity Prevention: New Lessons From an Old Policy"; Nagisa Mori, Francisco Armada, D. Craig Willcox.
American Journal of Public Health: November 2012, Vol. 102, No. 11: 2068–2073.