Why do Japanese people live so long?

And what you can do to live a long time too!

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Japan has the oldest life expectancy in the world. That means people in Japan live a really long time. In average, men live to 79 years old, whereas women live a little over 86 years old. 

After WWII, Japan had one of the lowest life expectancies in the world, which suggests it is not genetics that keeps them alive for so long. It is not even that Japanese people visit doctors 12+ times a year. The answer is something else, and it is something you can do as well to increase your own life expectancy (and get healthier, too).

The Japanese Diet

japanese-meal

Fish Vs. Red Meats: Japanese people do not eat nearly as much red meat. Red meat has a lot more cholesterol than fish, which causes you in your later years to have a much higher chance for heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and other unfortunate things. In Japan, fish is the primary “meat” to eat, which means not only do they keep their cholesterol lower, but they also get healthy fish oils, too. Now, there is probably something to be said about the nasty stuff that can come with fish (i.e. mercury), but no matter what you eat you are going to be getting something “fun”. Red meats also come full of hormones that the animals eat throughout life.

Less Milk, Butter, Dairy: Most Japanese people are lactose intolerant. In fact, people who can drink milk after becoming an “adult” are mutants anyways. People are not really meant to do dairy their whole life. Although non-fat milk is pretty healthy, a lot of people drink 1% and 2% milk. The amount of fat and cholesterol in those is pretty astounding and will kill you slowly. Japanese people do not really do dairy all that much, lactose intolerant or not, which means they avoid all the extra cholesterol.

Rice: Rice is eaten with almost everything and is high in nutrients (there are special rice strains in Japan that have been created to have more nutrients than normal rice, even). It is also low in fat and helps fill you up. Now, to make this even better (for yourself), you should try to mix in some brown rice as well. A lot of people do not like this, but it will help you get some more whole grains.

Lots of Soy: Tofu, bean sprouts, and so on are awesome for getting you proteins and help reduce heart disease and high blood pressure. Soy products are very healthy, and an awesome alternative to meats and milks, but be careful, because now, most of the soy sold in regular supermarkets are GMO products, and transgenic food has been related to cancer in the intestines and other organ dysfunctions.

Tea: Japanese people drink a ton of tea. While there is something to be said in regards to “everything in moderation”, I feel like one cup of tea is going to be better for you than one cup of coffee, especially when we are talking about large amounts. Green / Oolong Tea is full of antioxidants (good for preventing cancer), and apparently helps break up oils in the digestive system, keeping those bowels happy.

Seaweed: Mmm, seaweed. It is full of iodine and other nutrients you do not get as much of anywhere else. So incredibly healthy. Also supposed to help fight against many kinds of cancers, too.

More Vegetables: Vegetables tend to be a big part of every meal, not an afterthought or “oh, I should add a vegetable to this steak dinner” kind of thing. Everyone knows that vegetables are healthy and good for you. What else is there to say?

Smaller Plates: Here is a trick. If you are looking to lose weight, get rid of your big plates. Small plates cause people to eat smaller portions, which causes people to eat less. So many studies have been done on plate size and how much one eats, and there is a surprising correlation between the two. Japanese tend to serve food on smaller plates which means they do not overeat and get fat, which, of course, reduces chance of heart attack, heart disease, stroke, and other ailments.

What You Can Do: Eating healthier is not always easy. We get used to what we eat, and making a shift is hard. One of the best things you can do, though, is to decrease the amount of red meats you eat. They lead to all kinds of problems later on, and it is pretty easy to avoid. You do not have to stop eating red meat all together, but if you can really decrease the amount, your body will thank you. Also, for all you addicted coffee drinkers out there, switch to tea. There is a reason why older people are being forced (by doctors) to quit drinking so much coffee. Tea also has caffeine and is generally just a lot healthier. Drink it every day!

Walking vs. Sitting

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The Commute: A large portion of Japanese people walk, bike, and take the train to work (or wherever they need to go). Cars are kind of a luxury, and it is almost easier to take a train anyways (train system is awesome). This means Japanese people are standing up for longer periods of the day, whether that means they are walking / biking to the train station, or standing up in the train because there is not room to sit down. There have been plenty of studies done showing the correlation between how long you sit down per day and how likely you are to die early. Basically, if you stand up more every day, you will probably end up living longer. In Japan, standing and walking is just a necessity. If you want to live longer, try and stand up for a few hours every day. 

Squatting While You Poop: Apparently, it is also healthier to squat when you poop. Although this is becoming less and less the case, many Japanese toilets require you to squat, which has its own health benefits (even if it takes some practice). Some researches claim that squatting helps with your digestive system and actually help you to avoid hemorrhoids. While hemorrhoids are pretty common in Western countries, they are nearly nonexistent in Asia, squatting countries. Back in 1978 they even got Jimmy Carter a squat toilet because his hemorrhoids were so bad. I do not want to talk too much about poop here, so if you want to read more you can.

What You Can Do: It is probably too hard to squat on top of your Western toilet when you poop, but you definitely can adapt it with a small step close to the toilet, performing the squatting pose while pooping. At the very least, try to stand up while you work (instead of sitting down). Just standing will help you stay healthy and live longer, even if you are not moving around. We are not made to be sitting around all day long.

Cleanliness

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Japan is probably one of the cleanest nations in the world. There is almost an obsession with it in some cases. There is no doubt that cleanliness leads to healthiness (we learned that in the great plagues back in the day). If you live in a clean house, and wash your hands, you should be okay. It does not always seem like a cultural norm in other countries to wash your hands and shower every day (especially depending on where you are), but keeping clean and living around clean people will keep you healthy and help you live longer. It will help you to avoid diseases (especially important when you are old) and keep you from getting sick.

What You Can Do: Just wash your hands when you get home, after using the toilet, before cooking or even in places that you go after walking in the street.

The Family & The Social

japanese family

Taking care of grandma (and sometimes grandpa): In Japan, the oldest kid is supposed to take care of the parents when they get old. The parent(s) live with the kid and help out around the house. Although this is changing a bit and fewer kids are helping out with their parents, it is still really common. Having your kid(s) around, and grandkids around has to be a pretty nice psychological boost for the old grandma or grandpa, urging them to live longer and enjoy their time with their family. Plus, since they are helping out around the house, it means they are moving around (walking is important, right?), doing things, and staying active. Being old and living in a retirement home would be depressing, and probably helps a lot of old people lose the will to live as long.

Hanging out and socializing: When it comes to business in Japan, employees are often required to go out and socialize, drink (you do not have to drink alcohol), and have fun after work. Although this takes away from sleep time (probably not as good for people who want to live long), socializing is really important for your psychological health. The better that is, the more you will enjoy life and keep on living. By doing this you make friends, know more people, build a network, and so on. This means you have more friends later on in life, which means you will enjoy life more when you are older too. When you enjoy life, you just want to live longer. It’s as simple as that.

What You Can Do: While you probably cannot force your kids into taking you into their home when you get older, you can get out there and make friends. The more you socialize the better you will feel about life and the more social support you will have later on.

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