They say that the Japanese are the healthiest people alive. They live on average 74.5 years in health, and 86 years thereafter. The Japanese diet–high in fish, rice, and seaweed–is said to be the main reason. Cancer rates are low and heart disease is pretty much held in check. Bravo to the Japanese, especially in honor of their 6th Healthy Food Expo held last week in Tokyo. When it comes to diet and nutrition the Japanese are, without a doubt, ahead of the game.

But if any of you have read my latest book, The Six Keys to Optimal Health, you know that diet is just one factor determining a person’s health and longevity. Multiple factors play a role, each having a profound effect on health and life expectancy. One of these factors is a balanced mental and emotional life–that is, one’s mental health.

When it comes to mental health, then, the Japanese may not be so ahead of the game after all. According to a government report released last week, suicides from work-related stress has doubled in the last five years. And the number of people developing work-related mental conditions such as depression has reached a record high of 268 in 2006 (the last year of complete statistics on the subject). Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world–32,160 people killed themselves in 2006. People in their 30s and 40s were most prone to stress due to working too many hours or personal relationships at work. Some of the people attempting suicide worked 160 hours of overtime a month. 160 hours overtime! The typical work week in Japan is 40 hours.

Dang! That’s whole lot of workaholism. And you thought Americans were bad. Listen, what difference does it make if you eat well and are nutritionally healthy if you drive yourself into the grave by overworking? Just doesn’t make sense. I get that there are pressures: one-third of these poor people were working between 80-100 hours overtime a month! Put this in perspective: That’s twelve or more hours a day for five straight days every week. That’s damn near chiropractic hours. Sheesh. What family time? What social life? What time for personal hygiene (I know if that was me, I’d probably quit cutting the ol’ toenails to gain a few minutes every week). And throw in a little cultural mind trip–many people don’t discuss their stress in order to not seem weak–and you’ve got a severe mental health issue at hand.

The bottom line is this: If you strive for good health you can’t neglect your mental and emotional wellbeing. Eating well is essential, but so is balancing one’s mental perspective. You ain’t gonna do that by working non-stop for extended periods. You need rest, social time, creative time, family time, and simply time to be alone with your thoughts. Sometimes we forget how important alone time actually is. And even if you do all this stuff regularly, you need a vacation every once in a while, too. Trust me when I say that burning the candle at both ends when it comes to work is the quickest way to burnout, and worse. Just ask the Japanese–it a national tragedy over there.

One Response to Healthy, Healthy Japan

  1. Dimitri says:

    I was just watching a PBS show about Dr. Weil speak about how healthy the people are in Okinawa. He spoke about how much value was given to old age in their culture. In contrast, we seem to value the youth and have very little interest in productive aging. This seems to affect their lifespans, if one has the will to live and others share that will for them, let them live long. I find it sad when families don’t want their parents to live in the home because it will be a hassle. Dr. Weil spoke about how in Okinawa family members would routinely fight over who gets to take care of the parents! Go Japan!

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