While 20 to 30% of our life expectancy is determined by genetics, how long we live and how healthy we are largely depends on our lifestyle and diet choices. In particular, Japanese people are known to live very long and healthy lives and it’s no wonder - many of their traditions support physical and mental wellness through healthy diets and active lifestyles.
In fact, the island of Okinawa was identified as having the world’s largest cluster of centenarians and is featured in several centenarian studies. The Okinawa Centenarian Study, led by Dr Makoto Suzuki, found that the centenarians in Okinawa consumed a low-calorie diet and practiced a culture of calorie control known as hara hachi bu, in which they would only eat till they are 80% full. These elders are also physically active and have an average body mass index (BMI) of 18 to 22, which indicates that they have lean frames.
What are their secrets to good health and longevity?
1. Small portions of food
Meals are always served in small and moderate proportions. Eating with chopsticks also means Japanese people pick up less food in a bite and allows them to properly chew their food before swallowing. This portion control helps them to avoid overeating and keep off extra weight.
2. Eating a balanced diet
A traditional homecooked Japanese meal is usually simply prepared. Rather than meat, people in Japan tend to eat more vegetables (7 times more than meat!). Common components of a meal include miso soup, grilled fish, simmered vegetables and steamed rice or noodles, complete with a serving of fresh fruits. Such meals are very nutritious as they provide a lot of vitamins and minerals to the body, and are also low in salt, calories and fat.
3. Drinking green tea
Green tea contains a huge amount of vitamins and antioxidants. A study done found that adults who drank more than five cups of green tea a day had a 25% lower risk of death from heart attack and 16% lower risk of death compared to those who drank less than one cup of green tea a day. Drinking green tea on a daily basis can also reduce cholesterol and blood pressure – in a way, it helps to prolong life and promote longevity.
4. Taking baths instead of showers
Japanese people seldom take showers. They prefer to soak in a bathtub. Other than keeping clean, soaking in warm water helps to increase your body temperature and stimulate blood circulation as well as relieve muscle stiffness and soreness, thus increasing your metabolism rate. Over a long period of time, one can still feel energetic even though they may be advanced in their years!
5. Keeping active
People in Japan often do their exercise routines every day, even well into their old age. They are not usually at a gym carrying weights or anything, but you will probably find most of them in the parks jogging or doing radio exercises – a series of exercises that go along with music played over a radio. Other than physical exercise, the elderly continue to stay active by taking part in community activities and events organised by their neighbourhood associations.
6. Staying employed
They could be well over the retirement age, but this doesn’t stop elderly Japanese people from taking on jobs! Rather than sit around at home feeling bored and empty after their retirement, they choose to continue working and being an asset to society.
7. Affordable and accessible healthcare
In Japan, citizens get to enjoy healthcare at affordable costs. Patients only need to foot 30% of the bill while the country takes care of the other 70%. On top of this, free health examinations are conducted at schools and workplaces. Thanks to this, anyone who finds it inconvenient to visit the doctor is still able to ensure that any diseases he is found to have can be caught and treated in its early stages.