Why does Japan have the highest ‘life expectancy’ in the world? What’s their secret and why don’t Australians have a similar life expectancy? It turns out we can have a good crack at it too if we follow some simple, Japanese life principles.
If you’ve been to Japan before, there’s a likely chance that you’ll have been bumped out of the way at some point on your trip by a sprightly five-foot something elderly lady (often with her friends) out doing her daily shopping.
It could have happened to you exiting an elevator in a Tokyo department store (as it has to me on a few occasions), or it could have been rushing on to the metro in Osaka. You probably weren’t expecting it either and were trying to step aside to let her through courteously.
And then the ‘bump’ came.
Don’t take it personally. This is just how the elderly roll in Japan – going about their daily business with strong, able bodies and their healthy heads held high.
Take Japanese JPop band ‘KBG84‘ from Okinawa in Japan’s far tropical south for example. All up, there’s 33 of them in the group, with an average age of 84, a minimum age of 80, and one of the ladies an amazing 97.
When was the last time you saw something like that in Australia? Or anywhere else for that matter.
According to a recent study, Japanese boys and girls are expected to live to 73 without any significant illness or disability with a remarkable overall life expectancy in the 80s.
But it’s important to note that the Japanese don’t live long because they have better genes than anyone else, instead, it’s all down to the lifestyle they choose and the broader culture they are apart of.
So what’s their secret? Here are four tips to kick-start your well-being goals for 2018 like the Japanese.
1. Eat a balanced (seafood) diet with slow, sustainable food
Think about this for a second.
“Eating fish regularly lowers the risk of heart disease by a whopping 36 per cent.”
So it won’t be surprising then to learn that collectively, the Japanese consume 12% of the world’s fish every year, while only accounting for just 2% of the global population.
Whether its fresh, cured, smoked, or salted, fish are loaded with vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids that help to protect against various types of cancer.
And the Japanese just love their fish, literally gorging on it (often three times daily) and far outliving their more fish-phobic friends.
The Japanese also take their home cooking seriously too but value consistency, portion control and balance rather than flashy meals of the likes you might expect if you eat out in Japan.
A Japanese home-cooked meal usually consists of some grilled fish, steamed rice, steamed vegetables, a bowl of miso soup, and green tea with fruits for dessert.
Add seafood (hello sea cucumber etc.) seaweed, pickled side dishes and anything fermented (Including beer in moderation!) and you have a balanced diet with all the right elements for a happy, long life.
The tip: Eat more fish! As part of a balanced, considered diet.
2. Exercise for life, not just for vanity
If you travel around Japan and stay at hotels (especially non-Western chains), you’ll notice that many don’t have gyms or fitness rooms.
“Why is that?” You might ask.
“Why do I need a gym to exercise?” Would come the average Japanese response.
Most Japanese people would never aspire to become the next Arnold Schwarzenegger or Kim Kardashian for that matter. Many of Japan’s most idolised pop stars and actors have a slender frame, so people don’t feel much pressure to be overly muscular at all.
They also value nature and the outdoors a lot more, with cycling and walking the number one mode of getting around.
Spending time in nature provides serious health benefits. Almost every organ in your body is a battery for Vitamin D, and not getting enough of the wonder-nutrient can lead to cancer, autoimmune disorder and arthritis.
Furthermore, research shows that time in nature incredibly improves cognitive and creative function by up to 20 and 50 per cent, respectively.
Couple that with the diet tips above and say hello to weight loss and enhanced health and well-being all around.
The tip: Integrate 15 minutes of outdoor exercise into your life, and you’ll already be ahead of most of your countrymen and women.
3. It’s always time for tea in Japan
No, we’re not talking about whacking on the kettle, throwing a Lipton’s bag into a mug for thirty seconds and then dousing it with cows’ milk.
The tea ceremony in Japan is a beautiful ritual and tradition that takes place in a small structure modelled to look like a hermit’s hut with the idea being to take your mind away from everyday life.
Tea consumption in Japan is an integral part of the everyday lifestyle. It’s a habit which puts them in the top ten tea-drinking nations and amazingly, ahead of their more prominent tea-drinking neighbour, China.
Nearly all of the tea consumed in Japan is green. In fact, without saying otherwise, the word for “tea” in Japanese automatically means green.
Scientific studies have connected drinking green tea with a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer and maintaining higher levels of cognitive function.
As a result, Japanese citizens who drank five cups of green tea per day had 26 per cent lower mortality rates, according to a recent study.
The tip: Drink (more) green tea!
4. ‘Shinto’ as a way of life
Shinto (“the way of the gods”) is the indigenous faith of the Japanese and as old as Japan itself.
It is Japan’s dominant religion alongside Buddhism and a positive way of life that is followed in every respect.
Unlike other religions, Shinto doesn’t have a founder or sacred scriptures either like the sutras or the Bible. Propaganda and preaching are not standard either because Shinto is deeply rooted in the Japanese people and traditions.
Because of this, the Japanese people seek support from Shinto by praying at a home altar or by visiting shrines (Jinja). A wide range of talismans is available at shrines for traffic safety, good health, success in business, safe childbirth, excellent exam performance and more.
Call it faith, call it religion, but following a path from birth to death and appreciating the gods of nature daily gives the Japanese people great peace – meaning less stress and anxiety, which often causes serious health issues to us in the West.
The tip: Be optimistic, accept fate, appreciate nature and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Feeling inspired? Take it away ‘KBG84’
Looking for more Japanese inspiration? Head over to www.jnto.org.au and start planning your next Japan adventure.
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