Going Japanese to Prevent Disease

For many years Japan has surpassed the rest of the world in life expectancy with the average person living to be 83.7 years. Unfortunately, with a life expectancy of 79.3, the US has fallen quite behind most industrialized nations. I became interested in how the state of health between these two nations could be so different when Akina Azama of Life Reset asked me to present on the subject at her retreat center in Japan last June. Here are some of the major differences I discovered which could be a guide to helping you make better health choices.

Go Fish!
If you've ever been to Japan, then you know there is no escaping the "Sakana Song." The lyrics literally translate to "when you eat fish it makes you smart." So it's not rocket science that the rate of dementia and Alzheimer's disease in Japan is about 1/10 of that in the US when the average Japanese person eats twice the amount of fish as we do in the US. The omega-3 fatty acid content in fish plays a large role in maintaining cognitive function as well as decreasing inflammation and improving cardiovascular health. Some studies have correlated low levels of the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, with an increased risk of dementia. One study showed by increasing fish consumption, patients over 50 with cognitive impairment showed improvement in 'functional brain age' by 4-13 years! In order to get the most benefit out of fish, evidence supports eating 8 or more ounces per week.

Commute with Your Legs
I remember, when I lived in Japan, being surprised to find everyone on bicycles even business men in suits or how women would walk up temples with 1,015 steps in heels. The Japanese are big movers taking an average of 7,168 steps in comparison to the 1,136 the average American takes. Although Americans tend to hit the gym more then the Japanese, the benefits might fall short of actually walking and standing. The main reason for this is sitting negatively impacts our metabolism. For example, the molecule, lipoprotein lipase that plays an essential role in how our body processes fats is only produced when our muscles are in use. Even in healthy people who exercise regularly, it has been shown that those who sit the most during the day have larger waists and worse blood pressure and blood sugar profiles than those who sit less.

Take the Time to Eat Less
The rate of obesity in Japan is 3.5% while the current rate in the US is 30%. Obesity is related to chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Besides moving more the Japanese simply eat less (1000 calories less daily to be exact.) In general, portion sizes are much smaller in Japan. Even though most meals in Japan include soup, salad, entrée and dessert, tourists are often surprised when they are served a thimble full of ice cream at the end of the meal. There is also a lot of attention paid to presentation and incorporation of a wide variety of foods, mostly vegetables. As children, the Japanese are taught to eat until they are only 80 percent full and eating until their stuffed is considered shameful. But probably one factor that is really tipping the scale is that Americans consume 10 times more the amount of sodas and other sweetened beverages than in Japan. This is roughly over 4000 added calories in sugar alone!

More Tea, Please
When dining in Japan, you often have two choices water or tea. Tea is very much a part of Japan both in ceremony and its appearance in practically every type of food item. So it should be of no surprise that the Japanese drink four times the amount of tea as we do in the states. Tea especially green tea is rich in antioxidants known as catechins which play the principle role in its touted health benefits especially in the prevention of certain cancers. Daily green tea drinking has been shown to help increase HDL (aka good cholesterol) while decrease LDL (bad cholesterol) and improve liver function. Also studies have supported the beneficial effects of green tea on brain health and the slowing of the progression of Alzheimer's Disease.