According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, the average life expectancy in Japan is 84 years, while it is 72.6 for the rest of the world population. The island nation currently has more than 29 percent of its population over the age of 65 and the country has consistently topped the list of centenarians and a growing community of healthy senior citizens.
On January 2, 2021, Japan’s Tanaka Kane officially became the third person ever to reach an unbeaten 118 years. Tanka’s claim was earlier verified by the Guinness Book of World Records and later by a team of academicians at the Gerontology Research Group. Even though she is at present the oldest person in the world to reach 117, but is unlikely to be the last.
The unusual high life expectancy enjoyed by the Japanese is often credited to their diet. In Japan, exercising daily, consuming a balanced diet, and maintaining good hygiene is taught from a very young age and is a mandatory part of their educational program. These habits, if formed early, help establish a strong foundation for a person's well-being.
But the land of the rising sun was not always a leader in longevity. The OECD report also quotes that in the 1970s, its age-adjusted mortality rates were average when compared with the rest of the world. Its citizens had a high frequency of cerebrovascular deaths, a condition caused by blood failing to reach the brain. However, its levels of cancer and heart disease were relatively low.
In the later period between 1970 to 1990, its cerebrovascular mortality rate fell towards the OECD average. The country also topped the world figures on cardiovascular related diseases and fewer strokes among its citizens. Since then, Japan has consistently figured in the longevity league of nations.
Other studies suggest that the Japanese relatively consume less meat and dairy products in their regular diets. Meat was banned on a large scale for nearly 1,200 years in Japan. Over reliance on these can be damaging since they contain saturated fatty acids, which relate to heart diseases. But studies have also advised against eating too little meat as it provides cholesterol that is needed for blood-vessel walls.
A study published in 2016 by the National Centre for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo concluded that diet was a major factor behind the country’s high life expectancy figures. The study tracked dietary patterns of nearly 80,000 men and women between 1995-2009 showed that people who closely followed the dietary guidelines set by the then Japanese government were in better health than those who ate more processed meat cuts and dairy products.