How do the Japanese achieve longevity?

Science and Health

Maintaining an active lifestyle as you age might seem challenging, particularly for those who consider themselves “too busy” or financially constrained to invest in gyms, classes, or personal trainers.

Yet, some demonstrate that staying fit and healthy is achievable at any age, even without breaking the bank. Take Japan, for instance, a country known for its high population of centenarians. A survey by Japanese research firm Rakuten Insight reveals that over half of people aged 20 to 60 in Japan claim to engage in minimal exercise.

Meanwhile, another study indicates that Japanese individuals walk an average of 6,500 steps daily, significantly surpassing the global average.

Walking, a simple yet potent activity, significantly reduces the risk of severe illnesses and mortality. This advice echoes across numerous articles on cultivating healthy habits and is endorsed by health organizations worldwide. Walking is a form of exercise that seamlessly blends into one’s routine, especially if enjoyed during work breaks, accompanied by pleasant music, with a furry friend, at sunset, or amidst nature.

Woman walking (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

The Art of “Casual Pace” Workouts

While walking offers health benefits, there are more potent activities. Yet, these activities can be perceived as strenuous and intimidating, causing individuals to quit or abandon them prematurely. Research suggests that the most enduring workout routines are those perceived as “effortless workouts,” elevating the heart rate by 60 to 70 percent. These routines, conducted four times weekly for 45 minutes each, yield remarkable health improvements.

Options include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and manageable activities.

In fitness circles, this level of exertion is often dubbed the “casual pace”—an intensity allowing for conversation without breathlessness.

For those seeking more intense challenges, sustaining commitment hinges on keeping workouts concise—no more than ten minutes—yet intense enough to elevate the heart rate to 80 to 90 percent of its maximum. Such routines might encompass high-speed running, CrossFit, or the trending fitness phenomenon: interval training. This training approach combines quick “sprints” with brief rest periods within a compact timeframe.

Body Weight Instead of Weights and Equipment 

Whether you exercise regularly or not, whether you’re genetically predisposed to building muscles easily or not, it’s essential to keep in mind that research indicates a potential decrease of up to 8 percent in muscle mass every decade after age 30. This decline becomes even more pronounced after age 60, elevating the risks of injuries, bone fractures, and chronic pain.

Nonetheless, studies demonstrate that individuals who incorporate exercise as a consistent part of their routine can mitigate the loss of muscle mass over time. The most effective approach for achieving this involves fitness training that relies on body weight exercises rather than extensive use of weights and fitness equipment, which can lead to unnatural movements and a higher risk of injuries and chronic pain.

Examples of such exercises include push-ups, squats, and resistance band workouts. According to a Harvard University article, individuals over 60 who engaged in this type of training experienced an average increase of 15 percent in muscle mass within 10 months. These exercises also promote joint flexibility and strengthen core muscles essential for daily activities. Furthermore, they can be performed anywhere and anytime, eliminating the need for gym memberships and hefty subscription fees.

Embracing Surprise for Enhanced Motivation 

It’s crucial to recognize the significance of occasional disruptions. Engaging in the same routine for an extended period can lead to boredom and a lack of motivation. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to occasionally seek out ways to infuse excitement and novelty into your fitness regimen.

  • What does this entail? Infusing “emotion” into your routine might involve:
  • Embarking on an adventure, whether locally or internationally.
  • Participating in a martial arts workshop.
  • Pursuing unexpected hobbies like surfing or mountain climbing.

Mastery is not the goal; it’s about adding vibrancy and intrigue to life while enhancing fitness.

A study conducted three years ago by researchers from Spain and the United States revealed that embracing new experiences and self-imposed challenges leads to heightened motivation for exercise. The researchers playfully referred to this phenomenon as “muscle confusion,” which profoundly impacts overall fitness levels.

Changing Your Self-Talk 

If you habitually label yourself as “lazy,” believe you cannot commit to physical activity, or maintain the notion that you’re too busy or tired to cultivate healthy habits, these subconscious beliefs can impede your desired transformation. If you’ve read this far, consider altering the narrative you tell yourself. Envision the enjoyment derived from engaging in at least some of the activities on this list and the satisfaction of developing healthy habits. It’s not just about capability; it’s about embracing and relishing the change.

To reinforce this perspective, reflect on studies demonstrating that individuals leading active lifestyles experience improvements across various dimensions of life—beyond physical health alone. These individuals encounter reduced stress and anxiety, improved sleep quality, and elevated energy levels, which fuel their determination to achieve diverse non-sports-related goals.