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 31 / 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.