Health

The secret of Japanese longevity: ‘Believing life is worth living’


While Westerners insist on eating and exercising, the Japanese believe “life worth living” is the secret to helping them have the highest longevity in the world.

Recognizing the effects of “ikigai”, ie “purpose of life” or “life worth living”, on longevity, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has incorporated this concept into its advanced strategy. national health.

In an epidemiological study of 43,000 Japanese people, people with no purpose of life had a 60% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This is a very large number, while eating lots of fruits and vegetables each day can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by only 27%.

Many elderly Japanese said that the purpose for them to wake up every day is “taking care of the children”, “volunteering” or “keeping the streets clean and beautiful”.

According to Naoki Kondo, a health sociologist at the University of Tokyo, one of the key factors in having a goal of life is having a paid job. “I want to work until the very end of my life,” he said.

Western researchers also pointed out that purpose and meaning in life can have a significant impact on one’s fitness.

One study found that the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body of those who believe in life goals are lower than those who do not. If a 90-year-old person with Alzheimer’s has a clear life goal, his body can function relatively well, regardless of the brain disease.

Another analysis of 10 studies in more than 136,000 people found that living purposefully reduced the risk of death by about 17% – comparable to the effects of a Mediterranean diet, which has a reputation for being good for health. .

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, there has been an explosion of studies linking happiness in various forms with health indicators. In the beginning, we didn’t expect resurrection to be the factor. critical health predictions, ”said Carol Ryff, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, director of Midlife in the United States (Midlife in the United States) American research.

The Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, who survived the Nazi genocide, once hypothesized that life gives people the will to survive. Research is exploring that idea. People with a life goal can be more active, or get a checkup. Or, people with a better life goal spend less time in the hospital, have twice as much diabetes risk and death risk from heart disease than others.

Survival affects our response to stress. In experiments, when volunteers are worried about having to speak in public, stress signals, like the hormone cortisol, tend to spike. Eric Kim, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, says people with a higher sense of purpose in life have the ability to “calm down more quickly”.

The effects of survival on stress have also been documented in the study using MRI scans. In particular, the study subjects were shown negative images such as plane crashes, fire cars. As a result, the amygdala – the place that processes fear emotions in the brain – of people with more than one purpose to live is not as agitated as in those who are less likely to live.

Unfortunately, finding an “ikigai” for yourself is not easy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 out of 10 Americans have yet to find it.

The main challenge is to find the starting point. While Aristotle in ancient Greece aimed to nourish the soul from noble gestures, 21st century psychologists aimed at setting direction and goals in life.

Besides, we can completely feel more meaningful life through very simple jobs like volunteering. “People become more compassionate and see life through new lenses as they volunteer,” said Eric Kim, “It can really warm the soul.”

Kim says joining clubs where people share your values ​​can also help you find meaning. However, such measures have not been tested in research.

Campbell Martin, Volunteer is distributing food at the Santa Fe Place mall in Santa Fe, New Mexico, December 2020. Image: The Washington Post

While volunteering or joining a club can be difficult in the wake of a pandemic, history has shown that in dark times the light is still there with opportunities for people to notice. purpose of life.

According to a report analyzing historical documents, since the end of World War II, the French were no longer as happy as they were during the war. Similarly, in the 1980s, the British seemed less happy than in the 1940s.

There are some indications that Americans and Europeans have more life purposes in the pandemic than before. Charitable donations are on the rise in both the US and UK. According to research conducted by IPSOS, nearly half of Americans surveyed began to care for their elderly or sick neighbors when the pandemic began, while 20% chose to help others even if they did. possibility of getting infected with a virus.

In the Irish survey, 57% of respondents said they are looking back on life. During the spring blockade in France, people applauded to cheer for doctors and nurses for 52 consecutive days without rain or shine. It connects people, helps them see a reason to continue living. Although it is not possible to save the patients, but at least they can assist the medical staff.

If we continue to nurture such things, find purpose and meaning in this gloomy reality, we may not only be happier but healthier, live longer and perhaps also resilient. .

Mai Dung (According to the Washington Post)

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