August 4, 2020

Average Lifespan and Healthy Lifespan

On July 31, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced that the average lifespan for Japanese people had reached a new record in 2019, at 87.45 years for women and 81.41 years for men. Compared to 2018, the figures were up 0.13 years for women and 0.16 years for men. In each case, it was the 8th consecutive year of growth. That puts Japanese women in second place globally, for the fifth consecutive year, and Japanese men in third place, for the third consecutive year.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare attributes the extension of average lifespan to “rising awareness of health, and advances in medical technology. Gradual extension is likely to continue”.

The average lifespans in major countries and regions are as follows:

Average Lifespans by Major Country and Region (2019)
1Hong Kong82.34Hong Kong88.13
4Singapore81.4 South Korea/

Note) Switzerland and South Korea show figures for 2018.
Sources: The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare

More than average lifespan, healthy lifespan is the focus of attention. Healthy lifespan is the period in which the person can carry on lively and independent activity, without needing nursing care or becoming bedridden. In 2016, healthy lifespan was 74.79 for women, and 72.14 for men. That is shorter than average lifespan by about 9 years for men and 12 years for women.

The following three actions are recommended as ways to extend healthy lifespan. The first is an appropriate amount of exercise. The guideline amount for prevention of lifestyle diseases is around 9,000 steps for men and 8,000 steps for women. Next is an appropriate diet. On average, Japanese people consume around 280g of vegetables per day, but the daily consumption needed for prevention of lifestyle diseases is put at 350g. It is also necessary to limit salts and avoid taking too much sugar and fat. Social participation is also key for healthy longevity. “Learn well, play well” is a Japanese proverb. That kind of balanced activity and way of life appears to lead to healthy longevity.