Almost everyone is familiar with the famous old fable about the town mouse and the country mouse, attributed to Aesop and widely disseminated by other storytellers. The country mouse, who, at the urging of his more urbane counterpart, visits the city, finds that the pleasures of high living incur too many risks, and is led to conclude, "I'd rather gnaw a bean than be gnawed by continual fear."
Human beings, of course, are not rodents. But occasionally the debate arises over how the stress and pollution of life in a large metropolis can drive men to an early grave. Or conversely, that the clean environment and demanding physical activity in the countryside will help prolong life.
Utilizing demographic research from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, Nikkan Gendai (Feb 11) sets out to debunk such beliefs. According to a 2005 survey on male longevity broken down by district, the area with the top longevity in Japan was Aoba Ward in Yokohama City, whose average stood at 81.7 years. This was followed by four more suburbs of Tokyo: Aso Ward in Kawasaki City with 81.7 years, Mitaka City in Tokyo (81.4); Kokubunji City, Tokyo (81.4); and Tokyo's Nerima Ward (81.2).
In previous demographic surveys, Okinawa and Nagano prefectures had scored at or near the top, but in the 2005 survey, rural parts of the country were clearly outclassed by residential areas of major cities and the suburbs.
"A person's longevity is strongly affected by his economic and physical vitality," author Shoji Shinkai, author of several books on health topics and operator of a health clinic, tells Nikkan Gendai. "The top-ranked areas are bed towns, where many retirees who formerly had worked for major companies are living. They lead fulfilling lives, are well informed about health issues, and are able to take control over their lives."
"Another factor," adds Shinkai, "is that compared with people in the countryside, the physical vitality of urbanites has been improving. Salarymen working in major urban areas are more physically active than one might expect. They climb stairs and use their muscles to hang on to straps while standing during their morning commute. And they walk a lot, too. When the elderly overexert themselves, they become rickety. Since people living in cities only exert themselves to a limited degree, they are better able to maintain their vitality."
The article then introduces the case of a certain Mr A, age 69, a former white-collar worker at a Tokyo think tank. His wife having already passed away, he moved to a village in a mountainous area of Nagano Prefecture. Since Mr A had found it difficult to form close relationships even in the city, he felt that the rustic life of a hermit would present no problems.
However, his physical condition weakened and he eventually found he was unable to care for his own basic needs. Just to go shopping or to visit a doctor, he had to drive a car. But his vision declined, and no longer able to drive on his own, he had to rely on neighbors for his transportation. Meal preparation being troublesome, he would only prepare one simple dish and a bowl of soup.
The poor diet further exacerbated his physical decline, and now Mr A is no longer able to walk unassisted.
Now contrast Mr A's situation with your typical town mouse.
"In the city, people have a high interest in eating out, and they get lots of variety in their diet, including Japanese, Western and Chinese cuisine," says the aforementioned Shinkai. "While it is said by some that eating healthy, simple meals is conducive to longevity, I disagree."
Why? Apparently seniors' bodies have less ability to absorb nutrients, so cutting back on volume through a Spartan diet can contribute to malnutrition. Then the blood vessels weaken, and the brain, lacking nutrients, suffers a decline in cognitive functions.
So to be healthy, stay in the city, the tabloid's readers are advised.© Japan Today