The latest life-expectancy figures around the world once more confirm that Japan ranks among the top countries for longevity. Although it is powerless in the face of the sharp population decline already well under way, Japan nevertheless continues its progress in this respect. Thus, according to a 2014 report from the Japanese Department of Health:
- Japanese women had a life expectancy of 86.83 years (ranking first of all countries);
- Their male counterparts had a life expectancy of 80.5 years (third place behind Hong-Kong and Iceland).
Needless to say that a long life expectancy is, for the greatest part, based on healthy living, and the Japanese are comparatively well positioned in this respect. Despite a recent tendency to gain weight, especially among the young, it is comparatively easier in Japan to remain slim.
There are two good reasons for this:
- A traditional low fat and sugar diet;
- A decent amount of physical exercise, pretty much imposed on the young and sometimes continued into adulthood.
And this is reflected by travelers too, who, although keen to enjoy the large range of delicious food offered by Japanese cuisine, sometimes lose a few extra pounds during their trip! An experience that runs contrary to that of most travelers to the US…
The Metabo Law
In 2008, the Japanese government passed a law called “Metabo” (with reference to the “Metabolic Syndrome”) in a bid to try and cut health-related expenses. This high profile law is supposed to impose penalties on companies hiring overweight employees i.e., according to its criteria, with a waistline larger than 85 centimeters for men and 90 centimeters for women.
According to the official campaign, these are the limits beyond which people run a higher risk of having high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes or being subject to strokes. Such persons should therefore take action in order to lose weight and reduce their health risks. It would seem that men are more at risk than women.
It has therefore become compulsory in most companies to undergo a yearly medical examination for screening purposes in order to target potential risk categories, i.e. all employees aged 40 and above. The said employees are provided with advice and information and even sometimes training to help them effectively curb their weight and lead healthier life styles notably through improved diet and physical exercise.
However, only 46.2 % of the persons concerned were screened in 2012, a slow progress since the law was first enforced. Among at-risk patients, only 16.4% were scheduled for follow-up visits, a far cry from official targets for 2017, respectively 70 and 45%.
One may also doubt the relevance of waistline measurements as a risk assessment factor.
A simple, healthy diet
In a country of Sumo wrestlers, life style habits of the general public are mainly based on a mix of healthy eating and regular physical activity.
Japanese people are certainly not ascetics feeding exclusively on refined sushi. They face temptation everywhere, and need to refrain from indulging in the careless consumption of:
- Soda from the vending machines on every street corner;
- High-fat processed foods sold at the numerous konbini;
- Pastries and deserts, each more delicious-looking than the other;
- Fast-foods from the huge numbers of fast-food restaurants (for example McDonald’s or Mos Burger) in particular in big cities;
- Alcoholic beverages, especially beer, that flow freely with or without meals;
- Or even traditional dishes like okonomiyaki and other donburi.
The staple foods of Japanese cuisine, however, such as fish (rather than meat), rice and tofu, eaten with green tea, are a source of low-fat protein.
Fruit and vegetables should also be eaten in large quantities (although these are expensive in Japan) especially at breakfast, for energy intake and expenditure throughout the day. A blender is the ideal solution for quickly-prepared meals.
In the West, the latest vegetable fad seems to be for konjac, which probably holds no more miraculous virtues than a global healthy dietary balance.
The Japanese have recently become more careful of the fat content in their processed foods and the number of calories is now more often mentioned on the labels of supermarket produced bento.
In the country of umami, it is unusual to thin a meal with sauce although meat or vegetable broth may be used. Similarly, the Japanese use very little salt, sugar, cream or milk.
Surprisingly, the use of chopsticks allegedly permits the Japanese to eat in smaller quantities, thus allowing for a better fat burning effect. And it may also be unnecessary to eat in great quantities in order to feel full.
This gives us no clue, however, as to whether it is also good for your dietary balance to noisily slurp your noodles!
Finally, since fat storage occurs mainly during periods of inactivity, it is very important not to eat anything up to two to three hours before bedtime.
Many people go jogging in the numerous green spaces or natural parks. Riding a bike, a very common practice in Japan, is also a great way to burn fat on your way to and from work or school.
Slimming, in fact, implies first and foremost achieving the weight ideally suited to your own physical and mental health balance.