The life expectancy in Japan is 87 years for women and 81 years for men, some of the highest in the world. In contrast, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78 years for women and 74 years for men. What accounts for this difference? Here are 10 key reasons why Japanese people tend to live longer than those in many other countries:
1. Healthy Diet
The traditional Japanese diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, fish, and whole grains. Meals tend to focus on rice, miso soup, fish, and vegetables. Processed and fried foods are less common. The healthy fats in fish along with the fiber, vitamins, and minerals from produce likely contribute to lower rates of heart disease and obesity. The Okinawan diet in particular, with its emphasis on vegetables, soy, and fish, has been linked to exceptional longevity.
2. Smaller Portions
Even when less healthy options are chosen, portion sizes tend to be smaller in Japan. You are less likely to see supersized fast food meals. The smaller portions mean fewer excess calories and lower rates of obesity, which reduces risks for various chronic diseases. Paying attention to reasonable portion sizes can support longevity.
3. Active Lifestyles
Many Japanese, especially older adults, maintain active lifestyles well into old age. Walking and bicycling are common for transportation. Hobbies like gardening and community exercise groups also keep people active. Staying active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle can help you maintain health and independence as you age.
4. Universal Healthcare
Japan has a universal healthcare system which provides preventive services and ensures that people have access to medical care. Regular health screenings help catch issues early. Cost is less of a barrier to getting needed care. Accessible healthcare can extend lifespans by treating issues promptly.
5. Strong Social Ties
Japanese culture emphasizes community interdependence and filial piety. Strong family and social ties reduce isolation and may help buffer stress. Senior citizens often feel respected and cared for. Maintaining strong social connections as you age can provide emotional and practical support.
6. Lower Smoking Rates
Smoking rates have declined significantly in Japan, especially among men. In the 1960s, over 80% of Japanese men smoked, but that has decreased to under 20% today. Lower smoking rates reduce risks for lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. Avoiding smoking is one of the best things you can do for longevity.
7. Lower Alcohol Consumption
While alcohol consumption remains an issue, hazardous drinking is less common in Japan than in some other developed countries. Excessive alcohol intake is associated with increased risks for chronic diseases and accidents. Moderating alcohol consumption can contribute to longevity.
8. Lower Violent Crime
Japan has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world. Homicides and gun deaths are rare compared to many other developed nations. Avoiding violence reduces mortality from injuries and the long-term effects of trauma. A safe community encourages longevity.
9. Access to Quality Healthcare
In addition to universal coverage, Japan also has highly trained medical professionals and access to the latest treatments. The care is top notch once you are in the system. Cutting edge healthcare interventions can cure diseases and prolong life.
10. Genetic Factors
Research suggests there may be some genetic components that contribute to longevity among Japanese people. Certain gene variants may provide protective effects against heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other age-related conditions. Genetics are not destiny but can play a role.
The Japanese lifestyle, diet, healthcare system, and genetics all likely contribute to the long average lifespans enjoyed in Japan. Making positive choices for your health and wellbeing can help increase your own chances for a long and vital life.