Why do the residents of Nagano live so long?

06/16/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:24 AM

You may remember Nagano, in the Japanese Alps, as the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Kirk Spitzer, writing in the May AARP Bulletin, notes a different distinction: The 2.15 million residents of this prefecture have the longest life expectancy in Japan, which has the longest life expectancy in the world. Women live an average of 87.2 years, men 80.9.

It’s even more impressive because a little more than 30 years ago, Nagano led the nation in strokes. Nutritionists blamed the locals’ excessive consumption of salt: The short growing season in the mountains meant Nagano residents traditionally preserved homegrown vegetables to eat year-round – and most of them were pickled. An aggressive government campaign was mounted to reduce salt consumption, including seminars at supermarkets, clinics at community centers and home visits by nutrition workers. Within a decade, the effects of the campaign were felt: Strokes declined and life expectancy rose by three years for men and 3 1/2 for women.

Inspired by the success, healthy-lifestyle programs were sponsored by both businesses and government. Life expectancy continued to climb until the region topped all of Japan in 2010.

Other healthful habits promoted in Nagano are physical activity and a long work life, often involving a second career. Nearly one in four people older than 65 are still in the workforce, the highest rate in Japan. Some of them leave an office after decades and turn to farming. “We don’t really know if people in Nagano continue to work because they are healthy, or if they are healthy because they continue to work,” a gerontology professor says in the article. Whatever it is, it’s working.

Avoiding germs

Ladies, a lot of you religiously spread out one of those paper toilet-seat covers when you use a public restroom. But you probably don’t wash the handle of your favorite purse once a week – and as a result, you may be coming into contact with more germs than you would on an uncovered toilet seat. So say health-care researchers in “Seven Ways to Steer Clear of Germs,” an online article in Women’s Health magazine.

The warning isn’t all that surprising – nor are some of the other “germ hubs” that writer Kenny Thapoung has identified from a variety of articles and blogs. Take your smartphone and swab it with an alcohol-free wipe once a week, then dry it with a soft cloth. When you consider all the escalator rails and ATM buttons and maybe doggie cleanup bags you touch, it’s not surprising that any object you pick up and put down several times a day is filthy. (One “gag-worthy” study showed that one in six mobiles was contaminated with E.coli, Thapoung says.)

So clean your phone, and use a disinfectant wipe on your handbag. And if it’s one of those big hobo bags, avoid tossing in used tissues, your dirty gym socks or the bag with the remains of your lunch unless you’re willing to wipe out the inside once a week.

Other advice: Use a metal water bottle (and wash it often), because plastic bottles retain more germs. Wash your makeup brushes. And that old standby: Wash your hands often, and correctly.

Entertainment Videos

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service