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Japan an unhealthy longevity superpower

26 Comments

Want to live long? Laugh. Got nothing to laugh about? Laugh anyway. Force yourself. Seriously. Many factors go into longevity, some obvious, others mysterious. It makes sense, somehow, that a mirthful disposition would be conducive to long life, and so it is – people who laugh naturally and readily live, on average, seven years longer than those of sour mien. The surprise is that even forced laughter is life-promoting – not as much so a natural laughter, but by roughly two years over non-laughers.

Japan’s longevity is world-leading, men living on average 79 years, women 86. A closer look blunts the celebration that seems to call for, says Sapio (September): “Japan is an unhealthy longevity superpower.” Health ministry statistics illustrate the point. On average, they show, Japanese spend the last 10 years of their lives ill or incapacitated to the point of needing care.

The conventional wisdom on health and longevity is deceptively misleading, the magazine finds. Eat sensibly, exercise moderately, rest sufficiently – and live long. It’s still good advice, but far from the whole story. It fails to include what medical experts now consider the most important point of all – “connectedness.” Isolation is the biggest killer, the best promoter of illness.

Dr Yoshiki Ishikawa cites American research comparing the longevity of married people versus the single or divorced; people who socialize or engage in volunteer activities versus people who don’t. The difference is too marked to be mere chance: the death rate for “unconnected” men versus “connected” men is 2.3 times higher; 2.8 times higher for women.

Particularly striking in Japan are regional differences in longevity. Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures top the list. Nature in both places is abundant and beautiful (they share Mount Fuji) – leading to much hiking, climbing and vegetable consumption. Shizuoka in particular boasts an old tradition of fostering the “connectedness” Ishikawa touts. The prefecture is rich in “cooperative associations,” membership dues financing group travel, group dinners and drinking and other forms of life-stretching, health-promoting conviviality. (Presumably the dining and drinking doesn’t veer into the excess that would render it self-defeating.)

Okinawa on the other hand, with nature, sunshine and conviviality to spare, somehow went astray. For years it was Japan’s longest-living prefecture. Women still do well, ranking 3rd nationwide, but men have fallen to 30th place. The Westernized diet gets the largest share of the blame, with the stress of hosting military installations likely a close second. Too much fast food, too little exercise. “I see this as where Japan as a whole is heading,” Dr. Kazuhiro Nagao tells Sapio.

Laugh. It’s good for you, as was shown above, and life is funny, if you look at it correctly. Liberals, it seems, live longer than conservatives. Does that make sense? Maybe it does: the conservative fight to preserve the past is doomed and conservatives must, deep down, know it. Fighting losing battles, however meritorious. takes its toll. So does poverty, and it’s no surprise to find the rich living longer than the poor – but interestingly enough, rich people with solid academic records live longer than rich people who were mediocre scholars. Intellectual capacity may be life-enhancing, but why should it should be life-prolonging? Maybe for that reason. On the other hand, the intellectually dull spare themselves a lot of the ulcerous anxiety that plagues the intellectually sharp.

Cancer, the scourge of the body as dementia is of the mind, varies remarkably by region. Akita, Niigata, Yamagata and Ishikawa Prefectures are notorious for stomach cancer. All are on the Sea of Japan, all are snowed in in winter, and all, consequently, have diets heavy on pickles and therefore salt.

Bowel cancer rages in Akita, Aomori, Kyoto and Wakayama Prefectures; lung cancer in Wakayama and Ishikawa Prefectures; liver cancer in Fukuoka, Osaka and Wakayama Prefectures. Tokyo is tops in breast cancer, against which female hormones are the best defense, leaving busy urban women who don’t give birth especially vulnerable, Sapio hears from its medical sources.

A final anomaly: cancer death rates tend to be lower in prefectures where cancer rates are highest. That’s where the best care is to be found.

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

26 Comments
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Okinawa on the other hand, with nature, sunshine and conviviality to spare, somehow went astray. For years it was Japan’s longest-living prefecture. Women still do well, ranking 3rd nationwide, but men have fallen to 30th place. The Westernized diet gets the largest share of the blame, with the stress of hosting military installations likely a close second. Too much fast food, too little exercise. “I see this as where Japan as a whole is heading,” Dr. Kazuhiro Nagao tells Sapio.

The overwhelming majority of the population of Okinawa has no interaction and no stress from the military bases. Like a close second...BS times 100.

Number one is the westernized diet, more than likely a close second, lack of exercise. Unlike people in mainland Okinawa's get little exercise on a daily basis, they drive everywhere.as public transportation is unreliable and expensive as well. It is not uncommon for an average family to have 2 or 3 cars in the lot, and it's necessary too as everyone works in different locations. With the heat, a five minute walk feels like you walked a marathon on some days and kids dont walk either, parents take them everywhere.

So let's stay away from making assumptions based upon a popular social topic, "blame it on the bases" and face the reality, that with progress here the downfall has been and will continue to be health issues related to "improved lifestyles".

4 ( +9 / -5 )

I asked people about hiking in Okinawa when I visited. They said it's not really the done thing: snakes. I know they have the most poisonous ones, but I wonder how exaggerated that is when I hear people in Hokkaido talk about not swimming during Obon because of the (nonexistent) killer jellyfish.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Living longer ultimately won't matter if you're not reproducing.

-7 ( +5 / -12 )

Many factors go into longevity, some obvious, others mysterious.

DNA.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The Westernized diet gets the largest share of the blame

Just what does westernized mean? 15 out of the top 20 longest-lived countries are "western", ranging from France to Iceland and Canada to Australia. And when Japanese ate only Japanese food they only lived to an average of 55. Isn't olive oil western? Tomatoes? Salad? Root vegetables? Seeds and nuts? And countless other healthy foods.

28 ( +29 / -1 )

Funny how Okinawa has a reputation for being sunny. On the whole, it has less annual average sunshine and sunny days per year than Tokyo. https://www.currentresults.com/Weather/Japan/sunshine-annual-average.php

But then again, connectedness isn't Tokyo's strong suit so that extra sunshine doesn't seem to help the average Tokyoite. I'd like to see some stats on which areas in Japan have the highest rates of stress-related illnesses. I'd put 500 yen on it that it's not Okinawa.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

@Moonraker - "Just what does westernized mean?

"Industrialized' would be a more accurate world. 'Processed" is not as accurate as a baguette made at a local bakery in Paris with non-fortified flour would be "processed" food but a baguette made in an American factory in Cincinnati with fortified flour, additives and preservatives would be "industrialized."

You bring up a good point. Before WW2 the lifespan of a Japanese was only 55 or so. What were they eating? "Western" food?

17 ( +18 / -1 )

The much hyped Japanese longevity statistic is in large part due to the adoption of feeding tubes inserted into the stomach. The infirm and demented, no longer able to care for themselves are being given much longer lifespans.

12 ( +14 / -2 )

The main point is that longevity is one thing but living one's last years in a bed with tubes stuck in one or off one's head is the case for many here.

The rest is just a set of contradictions by prefecture.

So, say as the article says, the incapacitated period is 10 years, that makes 'capacitated' life averages of until 69 for males and 76 for females. Though this is all just statistical, the rest is economic, and would affect public planning. For instance, how much does it cost to support 'incapacitated' old people for 10 years per person? I am sure that there is more than one economist here pondering that question.

Medical care is one thing, but there is a suggestion the writer seems to want to make but doesn't, that wholesale lifestyle change is what is required to remedy the mass incapacitated-end-of-life scenario.

I am getting on just now too, but a throwaway line from Schwarzeneggar's first big movie, in which Conan's lover keeps asking him, 'Do you want to live for ever?' He seems to want to and so may a lot of people here. But I don't .

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Eat walnuts! This 1 simple step will change your life.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Too many variants to point to just one or 2 things. As I have posted before, quality is much better than quantity - being in a hospital hooked up to some tubes does not equate to being alive and well. However, Japanese people revel in numbers so if you have a high TOEIC score, it equals you being a great English speaker. You got a great score on your written driving test? You must be a great driver! Not so fast. In Jamaica, most of my relatives live well into their 80s. Don't need some census to tell us that.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have to agree about Tokyo being sunny. My SAD never flairs up even in January and February.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just what does westernized mean?

Very good point. I used to give a lecture about the sociology of obesity. I used video clips in which the decline in longevity in Okinawa males was blamed on a "Western diet." I explained that it was no such thing as a "Western diet" and not even an "American diet." Norwegians don't have the same diet as Italians, for example. It is a post 1990s American junk food diet. Americans did not start getting obese and morbidly obese in large numbers until the 1990s,

Unlike people in mainland Okinawa's get little exercise on a daily basis, they drive everywhere.as public transportation is unreliable and expensive as well.

You really should say in mainland major cities. You don't have to get far out of Tokyo before the public transportation is nonexistent or very infrequent and very expensive. It is one reason you see far more overweight even obese people in small provincial cities than you do in Tokyo or Osaka. The customers at some provincial shopping malls in Japan would not be out of place at a Walmart in the US: dressed to show their plumber's cleavage and their tattoos and carrying far too much excess baggage.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

It is a post 1990s American junk food diet. Americans did not start getting obese and morbidly obese in large numbers until the 1990s,

Yeah. When I was a kid growing up in the US, I remember there being larger people but not most people being that way. I just got back from a business trip in one of the more southern states, and I only saw about five skinny people there. The huge majority of people would at best be considered plump.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Okinawa is sorely lacking in eating vegetables. At supermarkets there they cost way more than the mainland, mainly because most veggies are brought in from Kyushu. Add that to the proliferation of A&W joints, a love of Spam and awamori, car culture, and how the heat makes one want to be indoors... its understandable how they've dropped off in healthiness.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Yeah. When I was a kid growing up in the US, I remember there being larger people but not most people being that way. I just got back from a business trip in one of the more southern states, and I only saw about five skinny people there.

I agree. It's always a shock when I return to the states and see how generally corpulent Americans have become. I'm left speechless every time. Prolonged prosperity, relatively low food prices, and ridiculous food portions, both at home and when eating out, combined with an almost pathological aversion to exercise will do that to a population.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The Okinawan longevity study showed that genetics didn't play a large part. They studied Japanese who went to Hawaii and Brazil and adopted a local diet. Note that if it had been DNA that protected them, the diet would not have affected them, but it did. First gen in any country were fine. Fit and trim because they cooked and ate similarly to the way they did in Japan. Their kids however adopted more and more of the local diet and as generations went on got progressively sicker.

You bloom where you are planted, and the Hara Hachi Bu 80% full Okinawan predominately plant based style of eating is a real longevity maker. The nice thing is that anyone can try it.

Look for The Okinawan Diet by Drs Wilcox brothers and Dr Suzuki

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The Okinawan longevity study showed that genetics didn't play a large part. They studied Japanese who went to Hawaii and Brazil and adopted a local diet. Note that if it had been DNA that protected them, the diet would not have affected them, but it did. First gen in any country were fine. Fit and trim because they cooked and ate similarly to the way they did in Japan. Their kids however adopted more and more of the local diet and as generations went on got progressively sicker.

You bloom where you are planted, and the Hara Hachi Bu 80% full Okinawan predominately plant based style of eating is a real longevity maker. The nice thing is that anyone can try it.

Look for The Okinawan Diet by Drs Wilcox brothers and Dr Suzuki

Didn't read the story, did you?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Finally, the truth about Japan's longevity of life has been polished. The mental health of most of the elderly is atrocious! There was a comment above about the financial costs of keeping people alive. The cost of hospitalisation is huge in Japan and the national pension scam doesn't cover it. You can then add the cost of so many partners, children and siblings of these ailing elders staying home to be full time carers because there are no facilities available to them. Then, you have all these other creeps that hide their dead parents and relatives in cupboards in order to keep receiving their pensions.

This trend of longevity of life will change drastically in the next ten years or so as the MacDonalds generation starts to grow old and will be dropping like flies!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Leigh

The Westernized diet gets the largest share of the blame, with the stress of hosting military installations likely a close second. Too much fast food, too little exercise

which refers to present generation, not the elderly, who do not eat a Western diet.

Maybe read my comment

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Perhaps, portion size are changing, and fast food popularity. Also I find that Doctors easely prescribe some drugs so make you feel good for the time being. (no much different that many other countries) No much support for life style changes so people tend to keep doing same thing all over. Fact of life in a big busy city I guess. Also diet is so personal and specific one cannot be apply across the board. We need to learn to listen to our bodies and enjoy nature in a small way or in a large scale.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Okinawa is sorely lacking in eating vegetables. At supermarkets there they cost way more than the mainland, mainly because most veggies are brought in from Kyushu. Add that to the proliferation of A&W joints, a love of Spam and awamori, car culture, and how the heat makes one want to be indoors... its understandable how they've dropped off in healthiness.

Mainly because veggies are brought from kyushu? What a load of crap,much is locally produced, or brought from all over japan and more importantly imported.

Dont know where you are buying your food but you do do some shopping you'll find cheap readily available veggies ALL OVER the island.

Proliferation of A & W's....there are what 10 maybe across the entire island. vs about 2,000 Lawson and Fami Mart , which are more of a problem than the high priced A&W. Your prejudices are showing

BTW, nothing wrong with awamori.....drink some everyday, better than taking some stupid assed pill.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

One thing missing is the fact the The USA and the EU using Medical cannabis to fight Cancers and dementia and with proven successes which make life easier and less painful in the Later years. Its been proven to help in many ways that normal medical practices do not. Opioids and other drugs are not required as much if at all or only at a minimal. dementia and seizures are reduced or eliminated. As research continues the plant will produce miracle cures in teh future and make life longer and more pleasant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just enjoy your life. What else really matters? Live well. Go to the grave without, or at least with the least regrets.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Finally, the truth about Japan's longevity of life has been polished. The mental health of most of the elderly is atrocious!

Polished?

Elderly (koreisha) in Japan is defined as being sixty-five and up. I'm 69 going on 70.

You can then add the cost of so many partners, children and siblings of these ailing elders staying home to be full time carers because there are no facilities available to them.

Not everyone who is cared for at home is their because of a lack of places. They are cared for at home because that is their preference or that of their children. There is very little economic loss from an elderly "partner" caring for a spouse. An 80-something woman caring for an 80 something guy could not get a job even if she did not have the spouse to look after.

Then, you have all these other creeps that hide their dead parents and relatives in cupboards in order to keep receiving their pensions.

How many? There are roughly 33 million people in Japan over the age of sixty-five (26% of 126 million). What proportion of them are dead but still receiving pensions?

A few cases have been taken up in the press. Even if the real number was a hundred or a thousand times larger, it would not amount to much.

And, it's not just a Japanese issue. I just had to prove to the British government that I was sill alive and entitled to my state pension. This is explicitly to prevent fraud of the type you describe. It would not be necessary if there were no "creeps" trying to scam the system in Britain.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The longevity issues only refers to a very small population. This group were born around the turn of the 20th century in Japan. Is not a demographic caused effect but a political effect of that era. 95% of Japan during this period were peasant. They were work hard and tax to the max. So they had to adapt and source food from the surrounding wooded areas making there diet more healthy and not realising.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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