Why Japanese People Live Longer – The 10 Main Reasons

Why Japanese People Live Longer

In recent years, Japanese people, in particular, Okinawan inhabitants, have surprised people around the world with their life expectancy rates.

Many factors contribute to the increasingly long-life expectancy rates of Japanese people, but among the top reasons sits one that is almost painfully obvious: the Japanese diet.

It’s no secret that Japanese cuisine is not only delicious and fresh, but it’s also considerably healthy as well. The Japanese traditional method of preparing meals utilises seasonal ingredients, many of which are sourced directly from nature itself, to create balanced meals that satiate the appetite.

This is one of the reasons why Japanese people tend to live longer than many other populations around the world. Of course, it’s not the only reason! 

The Japanese philosophy of ‘Zen’ living, the opportunity to escape to the refreshing countryside whenever they want, and access to extraordinary levels of fish and root vegetables are also major contributing factors amongst many others.

In this article, we’ll run through the main reasons why Japanese people live longer. Maybe you can adopt some methods as well!

1. Low Consumption of Red Meat

Kobe Beef
Kobe Beef

The Japanese people are famous for having relatively low levels of red meat consumption. Whilst the country is well-known for breeding some of the best cattle in the world (Kobe beef, anyone?), rarely do people there implement it regularly into their diet.

Red meat is known to have high levels of saturated fatty acids. Reduced intake of red meats means that Japanese people are not as affected by obesity, ischemic heart disease, and cancer.

2. Plant-Based Foods, such as Soybeans 

Healthiest Japanese Food - Natto

Soybeans are a food and ingredient that is a staple in most Asian diets. In particular, Japanese people tend to consume it across various traditional dishes and throughout the day. It is consumed as edamame, through fermentation as thus as natto, and even cooked into tofu.

Soybeans are a major source of isoflavones, which are believed to have anti-cancerous properties and are beneficial for cardiovascular health.

3. High Consumption of Fish

Japanese Dishes #1 - Sushi Nigiri

Japan is the largest island country in East Asia and it’s also the fourth largest island country in the world. Located in the North Pacific Ocean, its access to daily fresh seafood is enviable.

The Japanese, on average, eat almost twice as much fish and seafood when compared to Canadians, for example. The intake of high quantities of fish and seafood equates to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which is associated with a reduced risk of ischemic heart disease.

Thus, the high levels of fish and seafood consumption also greatly contribute to why Japanese people live longer.

Read More: Different Types Of Traditional Sushi Rolls

4. Low Levels of Sugar Consumption

Traditional Japanese Wagashi Making Class in Kyoto 1

It is not often that you witness obesity in Japan, and that’s because of the extraordinarily low levels of sugar consumption across the country.

People tend to steer clear of sugars and sweeteners, and instead, opt for 0 sugar drinks.

Whilst desserts are part and parcel of most diets, the Japanese people tend to control the number of times they indulge per week, as well as the portion sizes of their desserts.

5. They Drink Lots of Green Tea

Private Tea Ceremony by the UNESCO World Heritage Site

Japan is amongst the world’s highest annual green tea consumers. Green tea is globally known to have incredible health benefits. It’s loaded with antioxidants and is believed to be one of the healthiest beverages in the world. Some studies have concluded that high levels of green tea intake directly affect cardiovascular-related illnesses.

Not only do the Japanese people drink green tea for its health and restorative properties, but it’s also an ingrained part of their culture, with roots deeply entrenched in Japanese history.

Read More: 12 Health Japanese Foods You Should Eat More

6. They Lead Fairly Active Lifestyles

Japanese People Walking

One thing to note about the Japanese population, regardless of age, is that they all generally lead fairly active lifestyles. Each suburb in the cities has been built within walkable distance to train stations, and not many households own cars.

Because of this, the main transport method anywhere, for most people, is on foot! On a daily, people are walking to the station, to the grocery store, to the local restaurants, and then back home. 

The regular levels of cardio maintained by the local Japanese people help them manage their weight and overall mental wellbeing.

7. ‘Hara hachi bu’ – Everything in Moderation

Japanese man eating

The Japanese people have a rule when they’re eating: ‘Hara hachi bu’ – stop eating when your stomach is 80% full.

Studies have shown that it roughly takes 15 to 20 minutes for the brain to register when the stomach has reached its capacity. Therefore, keeping this in mind, Japanese people tend to eat slower, with purpose, to ensure that their minds will register then they are almost full.

The average westerner, in particular, Americans, tends to consume much more calories than Japanese people. Combined with less nutritional foods and the natural instinct to eat quicker, and you can already see the difference between an American and a Japanese diet.

Dr. Brian Wansink, the author of “Mindless Eating”, sums this up perfectly: “There’s a significant calorie gap between when an American says, ‘I’m full’, and when an Okinawan says, ‘I’m no longer hungry’”.

You May Also Like: Why Japanese Don’t Wear Sunglasses

8. The Okinawan Plant-Based Diet

Goya Chanpuru in Okinawa, Japan

The Okinawan diet is famous around the world now. Ever since reports were published that Okinawa was home to the most centenarians around the world, people have been fascinated about what makes people live longer there.

The fact of the matter is, their plant-based diet has a lot to do with it!

Their meals, from morning to night, consist mainly of beans, spinach, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, and tofu – all of which are super high in nutrients and are sourced from Mother Nature. The lack of regular processed foods in their diets means that they’re not consuming unnecessary calories and fats to be full.

A secret ingredient in the Okinawan plant-based diet is ‘goya’. Goya is also known as ‘bitter melon’, and it is super rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Eating goya on the regular can help lower sugar levels and improve the immune system!

9. Rice Over Wheat

Japan Etiquette - Chopsticks Rice Bowl

Bread is undeniably one of the most delicious foods to have ever been produced by humankind. From rye loaves to seeded bagels, bread is just as universal as it is versatile.

However, if we’re talking specifically about the Japanese diet, you will find that bread is often completely missing or it does not play a major role at all.

Japanese people have historically eaten rice over wheat as their dietary staple. This is believed to lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Compared to wheat, rice is believed to be relatively free of gut irritants, phytic acid, and lectins (anti-nutrient).

However, even rice is always portioned and eaten in moderation, as white rice can quickly break down into sugar once consumed.

10. Simple: Use Smaller Dinnerware!

Yumotoya Ryokan

One thing you’ll notice when you visit a country such as the United States is that everything is served in relatively humongous-sized portions. From their ‘small’ sized meals being as big as your regular large sized meal, the ‘supersize’ factor is as much a fascination as it is a detrimental factor to population health.

When you travel to Japan, what you’ll notice is that most restaurants will serve their delicious food in portions that are fit for an individual, and nothing more. Of course, you will have vending machine restaurants that offer various sizes, depending on what kind of eater you are. But even then, the largest size is still an acceptable portion.

The smaller portions do not mean that you won’t be getting a full meal. Witness the artistic craft that is each Japanese dish in itself. From eye-catching bento boxes full of an array of delicious and complementary ingredients to simplistic yet abundant teishoku Japanese breakfast that fit exactly what you need for a balanced meal, no more, no less.

We hope you gained some valuable insight after reading this interesting article on why Japanese people live longer.

Whilst there is a myriad of other reasons not listed here as to why Japanese people seem to live longer, it appears that these top ten reasons are universally understood, recognized, and even applauded by people around the world. 

Clean diets, regular exercise, no decrease in movement at old age – it seems there is quite a bit for us to learn and practice if we want to live as centenarians like them!


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