5 ways to unlock the amazing health benefits of a Japanese lifestyle

The Japanese enjoy one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, so what helps the nation live long and live well?

If you want to live a long and healthy life, adopting some aspects of Japanese lifestyle may help.

The average life expectancy of Japanese females is 87.3 years and 81.2 years for males.

In Australia, life expectancy is 84.6 for females and 80.4 for males.

“There is a lot to be learned from the Japanese,” says counselling psychologist Dr Mandy Deeks.

“Simplicity, quietness, being in nature, acceptance of imperfections and stillness can be hugely valuable for our physical and emotional wellbeing.”

So how can we adopt some of these qualities in our own lives?

Balance work with getting back to nature

Japan is one of the hardest working nations in the world – they even have a word for “death by overwork”: Karoshi.

The term recognises that working too hard for too long can take a serious physical toll.

Japanese people balance this by valuing the Shinto religion and its appreciation of nature.

Spending time in forests is particularly popular and “forest bathing” has positive effects on blood pressure, stress levels and cardiovascular health.

“Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan – with participants spending time in the forest sitting or lying down, or just walking around,” says UK researcher Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett in findings of a study into the benefits of spending time in nature.

“Much of the research from Japan suggests that phytoncides – organic compounds with antibacterial properties – released by trees could explain the health-boosting properties of forest bathing.”

It’s perfectly okay to be imperfect

The Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi is all about accepting imperfection.

“I see so many people who are anxious and depressed because they aim for perfection – the perfect home, perfect career and perfect looks,” says Dr Deeks, director of The Health Information Company.

“And in striving for perfection we throw out things we think are ugly or old without appreciating what that thing has done for us.

“It’s better for our self-esteem if we recognise that life isn’t perfect and that things that aren’t perfect are still important parts of our life.”

forest bathing
Forest bathing is a popular type of therapy in Japan.

Learn to love your ‘battle wounds’

The Japanese call it kintsugi – the art of repairing and sticking together broken ornaments and ceramics with gold lacquer.

So when something breaks, it is repaired and proudly displayed with its gold “scars”.

That same concept can be used to help heal scars in our life, says Dr Deeks.

“The Dalai Lama says failure is our greatest teacher, but we think that if we fail at something then people will judge us as useless,” she says.

“An open wound can be a sign that something painful has happened to us but when it heals that scar reminds us not to do it again. Scars teach us to be careful and build strength.”

Find a sense of purpose

The Japanese believe in the power of Ikigai, or the sense of a life worth living.

A 2008 Japanese study found people with a lower sense of ikigai had a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

“It’s a common indicator of psychological wellbeing if you have a sense of contribution, accomplishment and a devotion to something,” says Dr Deeks.

“What are your values? What is important to your beliefs?

“Find that and it will help self-esteem and give you a sense of achievement.”

Uncover creative ways to be mindful

The Japanese art of ikebana, or flower arranging, isn’t simply about creating something simple and beautiful, it helps us be mindful.

A 2015 Japanese study found ikebana can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety by helping to calm breathing patterns.

“Doing something like flower arranging keeps you in the moment. You can feel the stem of the flowers in your hand, smell the flowers and create something that looks beautiful to you,” says Dr Deeks.

Written by Sarah Marinos