Japanese Longevity Secrets

The people of Japan, particularly those residing in Okinawa, are renowned for their remarkable life expectancy, with men living up to 81 years and women exceeding 87 years! As the population continues to age, the archipelago is witnessing an increasing number of elderly individuals, with the number of centenarians setting new records. What are the secrets behind Japanese longevity? Is it their genetics, dietary habits, lifestyle choices, or spiritual practices? To shed light on this demographic phenomenon, we present eight secrets straight from the Land of the Rising Sun that can help you lead a long and healthy life.

Discover 8 Japanese Longevity Secrets:

1. Food

Japanese Food

As we all know, maintaining a healthy diet is one of the fundamental pillars of a healthy lifestyle. On the island of Okinawa, residents often harvest fresh vegetables from their gardens, including eggplants, red beans, and cabbage. The Japanese people consume seasonal, fresh, and natural products, which help them stay in shape for a long time.

The traditional Japanese meal centers around cooked rice, known as “gohan” (御飯), which serves as the basis for many dishes like sushi, donburi (rice bowls), and onigiri (a type of rice ball snack popular among children). A typical meal consists of a bowl of rice with three sides and miso soup. Key ingredients in Japanese cuisine include vegetables, fish (such as salmon and mackerel), eggs, pasta, soybeans, seaweed, ginger, and fermented foods. Conversely, Japanese people consume little meat, processed foods, and dairy products. Consequently, their food is rich in minerals, vitamins, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, while being low in bad fats and sugars.

However, consuming healthy food is only half the equation. The cooking method also plays a crucial role since high-temperature, long-term cooking can alter food’s nutritional value. Japanese cuisine often features raw dishes, which help preserve vitamins and nutrients. When cooking, Japanese cuisine emphasizes light and quick preparations, with a preference for “al dente” consistency.

Lastly, the Japanese consume a lot of green tea, especially the famous matcha, known for its antioxidant properties that preserve aging while maintaining good hydration. If you want to know more about matcha, read our complete guide.

So, incorporating these Japanese dietary habits into your lifestyle can be a great way to promote health and longevity.

 2. Hara hachi bu

Japanese Longevity Secrets

In addition to focusing on healthy eating, the Japanese prioritize the quality of their food over quantity by consuming only what they need to meet their nutritional requirements. They practice the principle of “Hara hachi bu,” which means “the 80% belly rule,” whereby they stop eating once they feel 80% full. This approach helps them avoid overeating and the associated weight gain.

Another significant difference is the manner of eating. In the West, meals are often consumed hastily, without much thought given to the flavors. However, the Japanese approach food mindfully, savoring each bite. In the Land of the Rising Sun, food is considered an art, and much attention is paid to its presentation. Japanese cuisine often combines textures, colors, and tastes to create a visually appealing dish that is as delicious as it looks. By eating mindfully and taking pleasure in their food, the Japanese can savor their meals fully and derive maximum satisfaction from them.

Japanese Snack Box

 3. The Japanese lifestyle

Japanese Longevity Secrets

The saying “the world belongs to those who get up early” holds in the archipelago, where many Japanese are early risers. Starting the day with physical exercise is crucial to gently awaken the body and improve vitality. To counteract the stress that often accompanies work and daily life, the Japanese engage in calming activities such as meditation, calligraphy, ikebana (floral art), or Kodo (the art of appreciating fragrances). Moreover, soaking in a thermal bath or onsen is a cherished tradition deeply ingrained in the Land of the Rising Sun.

A healthy diet, physical activity, and relaxation are the essential components of a healthy Japanese lifestyle.

4. Exercise

Japanese Longevity Secrets

In Japan, physical exercise is not just a hobby, it’s a way of life that is deeply ingrained in the culture. From an early age, children are encouraged to join sports clubs or engage in artistic hobbies, which they often continue throughout their school years. This emphasis on staying active continues into adulthood and even retirement, with many elderly people taking up cycling, jogging, or fitness walking to stay in shape.

One unique aspect of Japanese physical exercise is the rajio taiso, a gentle gym routine practiced by 27 million Japanese. This morning ritual is enjoyed by people of all ages and physical abilities and has even been adopted by companies as a way to keep employees healthy and productive. Studies have shown that regular physical activity can have numerous health benefits, such as reducing the risk of chronic diseases and improving mental health. In Japan, physical exercise is not just a way to stay in shape, it’s a way of life that promotes overall well-being.

 5. Access to healthcare

Japanese Longevity Secrets

The Japanese healthcare system is considered one of the best in the world due to its numerous clinics and specialized doctors. There are two types of public health insurance available to the Japanese. The first, accessible to all, is the national health insurance which covers up to 70% of healthcare costs. The second is employee social insurance, which benefits employees. This insurance, paid half by the employer, covers 80% of the employee’s healthcare costs as well as the expenses of their dependents. The quality of care and ease of access to healthcare services certainly contribute to the overall health of the population in Japan.

 6. Community

Japanese Longevity Secrets

In Japan, the value of “living together” is instilled from an early age. Community and group spirit are highly valued in Japanese culture, where the common interest is always placed before personal interest. Family is also highly regarded, and the Japanese often live in a warm and supportive environment surrounded by loved ones. In Okinawa, the village of Ogimi is home to a community of centenarians who enjoy chatting, helping each other, and laughing together. According to locals, living with others is the secret to a happy and long life.

7. Ikigai

Japanese Longevity Secrets

Living a long life is not just about adding more years to your existence, but about finding meaning and purpose in your life. This is the core philosophy behind ikigai, a way of life that originated in Okinawa and has gained popularity around the world.

In Okinawa, many elderly people continue to work not only to sustain themselves but also to maintain social connections. In the village of Ogimi, renowned for its artisanal textile production, older women practice “basho-fu” weaving, which is an example of a common ikigai.

Ikigai is about finding the perfect balance between what you love to do, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the community needs. When these four elements intersect, it creates a sense of fulfillment in your work, and your passions, and a feeling of usefulness to others. Discovering your ikigai can guide you on your path to happiness and a meaningful life.

 8. Spirituality

Japanese Longevity Secrets

Spirituality is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and many of its practices can help promote longevity. Rituals from both Shinto and Buddhist religions are common in Japan and provide a sense of purpose and connectedness to something greater than oneself. Studies have shown that people who attend places of worship live longer than those who don’t, and meditation is a common practice in Japan whose health benefits are well established. By concentrating on feelings and breathing deeply, one can release tension and bring calmness to the mind and body. This results in a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn can help preserve cells from aging. Moreover, scientific studies have shown that meditation can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Zen-like calmness of the Japanese is one of the keys to a longer and healthier life.