Japan is the world’s oldest society and a third of Japan’s population is over age-60! Think about that. One-third of the entire population. Japan is in the lead of graying societies. So we asked, what has Japan learned? What are they doing to support their graying population? And can we incorporate any of these lessons to benefit us in our own Aging with Freedom? We looked at Japan’s experience. And found eight healthy HAN habits.

Japan’s Healthy Aging Cooperatives

Japan today is America’s future. We began reading about Japan’s healthy aging cooperatives. These cooperatives are local, voluntary centers. They support the senior population, much like the senior centers popular in the USA.

These co-operatives pioneered voluntary preventive health practice in the 1960s. How? They created han groups – units of three or more local residents. Han group members get together like a little club. They check their blood pressure, body fat and other indicators. Medical professionals help. Members learn about diseases, risk factors, and prevention. Education covers cancer, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’ s, heart attacks and more. And what to do about the risks. [Paraphrased]

Anca Voinea (https://www.thenews.coop)

Han groups provide members small-group education, support, and accountability for successful habits. The eight healthy HAN habits are simple.

HAN Acronym Mnemonic

In historical Japan, the Han was the smallest level of feudal organization. The han was the local warrior’s domain or jurisdiction. As used by Japan’s Healthy Aging Cooperatives, “han” appears to mean “small group.” So, we’ve applied HAN as an English acronym for Healthy Aging Network as a mnemonic. Healthy HAN habits protect against disability and loneliness. The habits delay the worst effects of aging.

8 Healthy Han Habits Healthy Aging Nettwork (HAN), a list of Japan's 8 Healthy HAN Habits
8 Healthy Han Habits of Japan’s Healthy Aging Cooperatives

Healthy HAN Habits vs the Double Threats

Aging individuals and societies want to delay the onset of disability and decline. The threats are more than physical. Social isolation is a contributing risk factor. Loneliness is as much the enemy as physical disease. Japan’s HAN groups provide both social connections and lifestyle support. Especially support for the eight healthy HAN habits. Next, the HAN habits.

2 Not-To-Do Habits:

  1. Smoking – not at all
  2. Excessive Alcohol – alcohol at most in moderation

5 To-Do Habits:

  1. Orderly Lifestyle – tidy, minimalist space and a structured, socially engaged schedule
  2. Good Sleep – quality and quantity
  3. Stress Management – laugh often and avoid isolation and loneliness
  4. Regular Exercise – sustained movement and flexibility
  5. Balanced Diet and Oral Hygiene – low sodium, minimal snacking and brush teeth

1 Measurement Habit

And the eighth habit is measuring the results. You can’t improve what you don’t measure. The first seven habits yield reduced health burdens and improved cardiovascular function. So the HAN group tracks:

  • Burden — Healthy weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist size; and
  • Function — Healthy Blood Pressure

Dimensions of Health

Health professionals talk about the multiple dimensions of health and wellness. Recognizing that health is more than physical. For instance, intellectual, emotional and spiritual health all affect physical health. HAN habits are an action-oriented version of dimensions of wellness. You can think of the habits as practical recommendations to create wellness. Wellness in all dimensions of health. The eight healthy HAN habits support the dimensions of health and wellness. https://agingwithfreedom.com/2016/04/20/wellness-dimensions/

Cooperatives and the Village Model

This article on Japan’s healthy aging cooperatives is Aging With Freedom’s source.

Bridging divides in health: community-based health promotion in Japan

Cooperatives are a key aspect of Japan’s aging support strategy. Cooperatives supplement help from family and friends and paid younger workers. The cooperatives instead provide mutual support among seniors. The co-ops function to help seniors help each other. Labor shortages are already obvious in American senior living and support services. Labor shortages come with an aging population. The cooperative idea is Japan’s answer. And a likely American solution. An American version already exists. Look at the growing network of Village Model local senior self-help groups. https://www.vtvnetwork.org/content.aspx

Don’t confuse these cooperative-like Village Models with The Villages 55+ development. The Villages is a popular Florida age-restricted retirement community. https://www.thevillages.com/ But, The Villages and the Village Model share something. Florida’s The Villages features an emphasis on social interconnections and support. This is the same strategy employed by the Village Model minus the real estate component.

Instead, the Village Model is a virtual senior network. Inside a geographic civic community. The virtual village helps seniors age-in-community. And stay longer in their existing homes, so-called aging-in-place. Villages feature mutual self-help. It’s the pay-it-forward of traditional farm cooperatives. Only now applied to seniors as they age. Villages extend health and social connections. All without moving to a new home or location. Just like Japan’s han groups and healthy aging cooperatives. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2013/05/23/socially-minded-seniors-keep-co-op-spirit-alive-in-cambridge/#65d1c17165c3

Conclusion — How’s this help you?

So, what’s this mean for us? For you? For your community? Successful aging avoids early disability and social isolation. It is not a solo effort. Japan’s healthy HAN habits? The habits fight both the physical and social causes of decline and disability. This includes avoiding deadly loneliness. Mutual self-help by seniors helping seniors is a proven strategy. And it works both for societies and individuals. Loneliness is as dangerous as smoking to long-term health. Use the eight healthy HAN habits. Join or create a small group of motivated friends for encouragement and measurement. These habits deliver benefits across all the dimensions of wellness. Live well and live longer.


4/12/2021 Inverse: Do We Really Need to Walk 10,000 Steps a Day?

1/1/2021 Science Daily: Attitude of gratitude’ keeps older people in Japan feeling hopeful as they age