August 11, 2021 Hello Kids

Lifestyle lessons from Australia (and Japan)

Australia has outperformed at the Tokyo Olympics, beating far larger nations to win gold medals in swimming, sailing and other events. Are there tips for Japan and other countries in Australia’s healthy, sports-loving lifestyle, which stresses work-life balance?

The Tokyo Olympics have highlighted nations’ sporting performance, with Japan and Australia among the best-performing nations in the medal tally. While Japan delivered its best result ever with 27 gold medals, Australia equalled its previous best haul with 17 gold medals, dominated by its female swimmers.

Australia’s sixth-placed finish in the medals tally is especially admirable considering its small population of around 25 million, compared to Japan’s 126 million and the even larger populations of second-ranked China (1.4 billion) and top-ranking United States (328 million).

With the world still struggling to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, what lessons can be learned from Australia’s sporting prowess?

 

Healthy lifestyle

The Queensland Government provides a guide to healthier and happier lifestyles via its website, with a range of materials on fitness, food and families.

Among its tips for getting started are:

  • Make a plan – it offers a weekly meal and exercise planner
  • Add fruit and vegetables to your day – these reduce risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes
  • Less sitting, more moving – physical activity not only burns excess kilojoules but also reduces stress, protects against ailments and helps sleep
  • Choose healthier options when eating out
  • Cut back on sugary drinks and replace them with water or unsweetened tea.

The guide suggests getting 30 minutes of exercise daily. For the time-poor, this can be achieved through incidental exercise such as taking the staircase instead of the elevator, or walking or cycling to work instead of driving or using public transport.

The Australian Government’s Department of Health also provides physical activity and exercise guidelines for a range of age groups.

For adults aged 18 to 64 years, physical activity is recommended for most days, with a weekly total of at least 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate activity or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of vigorous activity, together with strength exercises twice a week. It also recommends sedentary time be minimised and broken up to prevent long periods of sitting.

A 2012 report for the department noted a proven relationship between physical activity and reduced risk of mortality, with a significant risk reduction shown for those physically active. For example, around a quarter of all cancer is attributed to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

 

Woman feet standing on Weight Scale on wooden background

Obesity rising

Yet despite the guidelines and proven evidence concerning the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, Australians are struggling to live up to their sporty image.

In fiscal 2018, an estimated two in three of all Australians aged 18 and over were overweight or obese, particularly men, with obesity more common in older age groups.

“Overweight and obesity increases the likelihood of developing many chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, back problems, chronic kidney disease, dementia, diabetes, and some cancers…It is also associated with a higher death rate when looking at all causes of death,” the report noted.

The OECD’s “Obesity Update 2017” found the United States had the highest obesity rate, with 40 percent of its adult population aged 15 years and over considered obese. This compared to Australia’s 27.9 percent.

Japan had an obesity rate of just 4.2 percent, making it the best performing in the OECD. This reflects data showing Japanese typically consume fewer calories than Westerners, helped by healthy traditional diets, as well as high levels of incidental exercise such as walking and cycling.

Japan also enjoys world-beating life expectancy levels, with an average life expectancy for men of 81.6 years and women of 87.7 years. Japanese women have the world’s highest life expectancy, with the men second only to Switzerland.

Australia’s life expectancy is also high, with a boy born in 2017-19 likely to reach the age of 80.9 years and 85 years for a girl.

 

Work-life balance

Finding a suitable balance between work and daily living is “a challenge that all workers face,” according to the OECD.

“Evidence suggests that long work hours may impair personal health, jeopardise safety and increase stress,” the report notes. More time spent working means less time for other activities such as personal care or leisure, diminishing overall quality of life.

In Australia, 13 percent of employees work “very long hours,” above the OECD average of 11 percent, the report said. Full-time workers devote 60 percent of their day on average to personal care and leisure, below the average of 15 hours.

In Japan however, 17.9 percent of employees reported working very long hours, with less time than the OECD average spent on personal care and leisure.

“Parents in Japan find it difficult to combine work and family commitments. Workplace practices, private costs (housing and juku), and social norms put pressure on young people,” the OECD states.

The organisation suggests better access to childcare and improved workplace practices would enhance Japan’s work-life balance, with indications that COVID-19 restrictions are forcing changes such as teleworking on companies.

Are there lessons from the data? The evidence suggests Australians could learn from Japan on diet and incidental exercise, while Japan could improve its corporate culture to facilitate a better work-life balance.

And if you are looking for a taste of Australian lifestyles, contact Hello Kids to see what opportunities are available once COVID travel restrictions are eased.