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Consider Turning Japanese for Good Health and Long Life

It’s no secret that our children are not the healthiest in the U.S.  One in three children in America are overweight or obese. Today’s toddlers can expect good health until about age 65 and live about 76 years. By contrast, Japanese children have the highest healthy life expectancy in the world, with Japanese boys and girls expected to live to 73 without any major illness or disability and overall life expectancy in the 80s.

Why is this the case?  The Japanese eat fewer calories per day including more fish, more vegetable products, less meat and dairy and consume more reasonable portions. There are a few lifestyle tactics that the Japanese use that are believed to contribute to their longevity.

Choose less calorie dense foods. A typical Japan-style meal is a small bowl of rice, soup, and a modest-sized portion of fish, meat or tofu and two vegetable-based side dishes.  The food is served in smaller dishes compared to the 12 inch plates on which many Americans eat their meals.  To eat in the Japanese style, consider more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish, which are lower in calorie density. Consume fewer processed foods and items with excessive sugar. To learn more about how the size of our plates influences how much we eat, read the book The 9-Inch Diet by Alex Bogusky.

Practice flexible restraint. Severe food restriction or demonization of food (“bad” foods vs. “good” foods) are not part of the Japanese lifestyle. Enjoy treats and snacks, but in the right amounts and frequency. There is little super sizing in Japan. Enjoy pizza, ice cream, cookies or chips from time to time,  keeping the portions smaller and less frequent.

Eat rice! Rice is a staple of Japanese and other Asian cuisines because it is super-filling.  Choose brown rice for the most nutrients.

Get moving. More than 98% of Japanese children walk or bike to school, according to the World Health Organization. That means that these kids are meeting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day just by walking to and from school, establishing a life-long habit of regular exercise.

Be a lifestyle authority. Japanese parents inspire their children from infancy to try to enjoy a wide variety of different healthy foods, including many different fruits and vegetables. Rather than being “authoritarian” parents, the Japanese strive to be “authoritative” parents,  modeling healthy eating.  Remember, you may have to present a food to your children more than once before they are willing to try it.

Let’s do lunch. Japan has a famous school lunch program. Kids are served a mid-day meal of very healthy dishes that are often made from locally grown foods and freshly prepared on site. Unhealthy food choices are simply not available. If you aren’t able to influence what your child eats for lunch, make a concerted effort to present healthy options at breakfast and dinner.

Andrea Groth Wellbeing Detective

Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available.
A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives.
When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.

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