London - While we eat vegetables and fish, all slathered in olive oil, hoping to benefit from the healthy Mediterranean diet, the Japanese way of life is attracting the attention of research scientists studying health and longevity.
Those who live on the East Asian islands have the longest life expectancy, at 82.5 years, and the highest proportion of centenarians, including Misao Okawa, 116, perhaps the oldest person in the world.
Their obesity rate is just 3.5 percent. Rates of breast cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease in Japan are low.
Here, experts reveal the Japanese habits that can help you live to 100...
SWAP SALAD FOR SEAWEED
THE HEALTHY HABIT: Experts link Japanese health and longevity to a diet low in fat and high in fruit and sea vegetables such as seaweed.
THE THEORY: Seaweed is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants and can help you to lose weight.
THE EVIDENCE: In March, scientists at Newcastle University reported that alginate, a compound found in seaweed, stops the body absorbing fat. Their study showed that a fourfold increase in intake of alginate boosted suppression of fat digestion by 75 percent.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE If you want to try seaweed, buy wakame flakes, available at health- food stores, soak in water for five minutes and add to salads.
STOP BEFORE YOU'RE FULL
THE HEALTHY HABIT: The remote Japanese island of Okinawa has the highest proportion of centenarians in the world, and some credit this to the practice of “hara hachi bu” – eat until you’re eight-tenths full.
THE THEORY: If you stop before you’re full, and wait, you’ll find you don’t need those last few mouthfuls after all, so you’ll eat less, staying slim and healthy.
THE EVIDENCE: This theory is based on the delay between the stomach becoming full and the brain receiving this signal, which experts agree takes 20 minutes – which means many of us, by eating too quickly, end up having more than we need. While the British love “a clean plate”, evidence shows calorie restriction helps to maintain a healthy weight, and protect against diseases such as heart disease and cancer. A 20-year study on monkeys showed that those whose calorie intake was restricted by 30 percent had longer life spans and showed slower ageing of the brain.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE: Have dainty portion sizes and you’ll be less likely to overeat, says Naomi Moriyama, author of Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat. ‘The Japanese daily calorie intake is ten percent less than in the UK. That’s because the food pattern is more filling, and food is served on much smaller plates.’
SAVOUR SUSHI (BUT HOLD THE SOY SAUCE)
THE HEALTHY HABIT: Sushi is a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, important for brain and heart health. The Japanese eat 80g to 100g of fish every day, while the British struggle to eat one portion of oily fish a week.
THE THEORY: “Sushi is a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, and it’s also a healthy way to eat protein because you’re not accompanying it with saturated fat as you do in a Western diet,” says Dr Craig Wilcox of the Okinawa Research Center for Longevity Science.
THE EVIDENCE: Research has found that Japan’s low rate of heart disease was down to their enjoyment of fish and seafood. Japanese men had less cholesterol in their arteries than US men, even though they had similar blood-pressure readings and higher rates of smoking. A high fish diet may have a protective effect against artery-clogging.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE: Have sushi or oily fish at least once a week, but Dr Wilcox warns not to cover it in soy sauce, or it becomes very high in salt.
WALK TO WORK
THE HEALTHY HABIT: Driving is expensive in Japan, so many people rely on public transport and walking. “One of the biggest health secrets of the Japanese lifestyle is walking,” says Naomi Moriyama. “People walk two or three times per day on average, and spend radically less time in cars.”
THE THEORY: Going places on foot results in a daily dose of at least 30 to 60 minutes of routine, incidental exercise, which gives a very powerful health boost.
THE EVIDENCE: Walking for two-and-a-half hours a week could add seven years to your life, Harvard University researchers reported in 2012. They reviewed six long-term studies and found that even 75 minutes of brisk walking could extend life by almost two years.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE: Incorporate walking into your daily routine and think about whether you really need to drive, says Moriyama. ‘Most people can find a way to briskly walk for 30 minutes a day.’
BALANCE YOUR LIFE
THE HEALTHY HABIT: It’s common to see groups of adults practising tai chi in parks in Japan. The ancient Chinese martial art combines deep breathing and very slow, graceful movements.
THE THEORY: Tai chi is considered a good form of exercise for older people because of the minimal impact on the joints. It’s also thought to be good for improving balance and mobility and reducing stress.
THE EVIDENCE: A 2011 study reviewed a number of studies on tai chi and concluded that the practice can prevent falls by improving balance, and that it is also good for psychological wellbeing.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE Tai chi is suitable for everyone. Find an instructor in your area.
THE HEALTHY HABIT: For centuries, the Japanese have been eating fermented or pickled vegetables.
THE THEORY: The vegetables are pre-digested by bacteria, which make their nutrients easier for the body to absorb, and stimulate the growth of “good” bacteria in the gut.
THE EVIDENCE: Research shows this healthy gut bacteria is linked to the immune system – 80 percent of our immune cells are in the gut. Fermented vegetables provide a rich source of lactic acid bacteria which are thought to be the most useful for gut health.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE: Research shows suguki, a pickled turnip, could protect against flu. Miso is also made from fermented soy beans.
TOFU BEATS MENOPAUSE
THE HEALTHY HABIT: Amazingly, there is no word for “hot flushes” in Japan and studies show that women there suffer much less during the menopause than women in the West. Why? Some experts suggest it’s down to their high intake of soy beans and soy foods, such as tofu.
THE THEORY: Soy foods contain isoflavones, which mimic the effect of oestrogen, the hormone that naturally falls in women in middle age.
THE EVIDENCE: In 2012, a major review on the subject found that two daily servings of soy can reduce the frequency and severity of hot flushes by 26 percent, compared with a placebo. The paper, published in Menopause: The Journal Of The North American Menopause Association, reviewed 19 previous studies which looked at a total of 1 200 women.
Melissa Melby, a medical anthropologist at the University of Delaware and co-author of the study, said the effect is probably greater in Japanese women who have eaten soy products from birth.
“But if you’re 50 and you’ve never touched soy, it’s not too late,” she added. “We’ve found that it still helps.”
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE “In Japan they have tofu a couple of times a week,” says nutritionist Marlene Watson-Tara. “It’s best to get soy beans in this fermented form rather than a soya burger, as it’s much more easily digested.” Try tofu in stir fries or Asian broths and stews.
KNOW YOUR NUMBERS
THE HEALTHY HABIT: Everyone in Japan is strongly encouraged to attend a free annual health check. Employers are charged with ensuring that their workers do not gain weight.
THE THEORY: Gerontologist Dr Craig Wilcox says Japanese people are encouraged to be health-conscious, to eat well, take regular exercise and listen to the body. “There’s a sense of responsibility to take care of yourself as you get older – you don’t want to be a nuisance so you stay healthy.”
THE EVIDENCE: A study in The Lancet concluded that a major reason for Japan’s excellent life expectancy was heavy government investment in the public healthcare system, free annual health checks, and a sense of health-consciousness among its citizens.
Increasingly, doctors are stressing that changes in lifestyles are the key to reducing disease, death and the strain on the NHS.
LIVE LIKE THE JAPANESE: Although there are no free health check-ups in SA, hat doesn’t mean you can’t pay attention to your health and diet and keep a healthy weight.
THE HEALTHY HABIT: “In Japan people tend to finish off meals with green tea or fruit rather than a pudding,” says Dr Craig Wilcox. “Dessert is something to be taken with coffee in the afternoon, if at all, and the portions are much smaller than in the West.”
THE THEORY: Increasing evidence has linked sugar to weight gain, and related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
THE EVIDENCE: Japanese people consume on average 48.8g sugar per day, compared with the British who get through 100.4g a day, according to recent statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. - Daily Mail