Lost workdays due to worker illnesses cost American employers many billions of dollars every year. They also significantly reduce workplace productivity. Especially in the R&D, scientific, engineering, IT, technical and manufacturing fields I cover as an executive recruiter. One solution may be to adopt some of the lifestyle changes of Nagano.
Home to the 1998 Winter Olympics and tucked high in the Japanese Alps, Nagano produces some of the longest life expectancies in the world! For example, women in Nagano have an average life expectancy of 87.2 years according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. This contrasts with 84.7 for women in the state of Hawaii, which has the highest life expectancy in the U.S. This results in the lowest per capita medical costs in Japan, saving consumers and taxpayers many millions of dollars per year.
However, Nagano has not always been a poster child for healthy living. Until 1981, men in particular suffered from high rates of stroke, heart attack and cerebral aneurysm. Much of the blame fell on the area’s high sodium intake. One survey found that Nagano residents averaged 15.1 grams of salt per day due to their high sodium intakes associated with their beloved foods including pickled vegetables and miso soup (which was served three times per day in many homes). That’s almost three times the U.S. maximum daily dietary guidelines!
Then in 1981 three major efforts were undertaken. First, health officials promoted lower sodium intakes. For example, volunteers provided cooking demonstrations at markets near Nagano’s main train station showing onlookers how to prepare similar stables, such as a dish of sesame pork with shiitake mushrooms and sliced pumpkin, with only fractions of the salt! These efforts paid off and by 1990 life expectancies had risen by 3 years for men and 3.5 years for women.
Second, local leaders encouraged vigorous lifestyles. For example, in Matsumoto, officials developed networks of more than 100 walking routes to encourage residents to exercise. Also, community groups and neighborhood associations organized communal walks. Even in the winter, clusters of residents can be found regularly walking along Matsumoto streets, parks, and canals and around its historic medieval castle downtown.
Finally, nearly 25% of Nagano residents over 65 are still in the workforce. This is the highest in Japan. Though professor Hiroko Akiyama at the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Gerontology says, “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. But we believe working does affect health.” Therefore, working longer is a catalyst for longevity and better workplace health.
Though adopting all practices of Nagano may not be possible, I believe that all IT recruiters, R&D recruiters, engineering recruiters, scientific recruiters, technical recruiters and the internal management recruiters should instruct their companies and clients to adopt and benefit from some of the three keys to Nagano’s longevity success. For example, sponsoring health and cooking seminars and exercise programs can significantly benefit our American workers making them a lot more healthy and productive.
What are your thoughts?