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Wake up, hike out, tune in, move it: Learning from Japanese Radio exercise

Daily exercise and social interactions are key for preventing fall and promoting healthy aging; both reinforce each others.

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In a previous challenge on vibrant cities, Katsuyoshi Ueno posted an idea on Daily Radio Exercise that will promote social interactions across generations and healthy living. I like how this idea was about promoting daily exercise in a public space where all generations could meet. Not only it nurtures cross-generational relationships but also infuses healthy habits in younger generations.

This exercise has a long tradition (see

"The “rajio taiso” (radio exercise) on NHK dates back to 1928, created by the “kampo” postal insurance system with the help of experts to commemorate the coronation of Emperor Hirohito, known posthumously as Emperor Showa.

Currently, 20 percent of the entire population, or around 27 million people, and 76.4 percent of elementary schools, still do the warmups, according to the National Radio Exercise Federation."

A few learnings from the article:

"Why are the exercises aired in the morning?

According to the National Radio Exercise Federation, morning workouts have an awakening effect. It takes around three hours for someone to fully wake from sleep, but with the radio exercise, which airs at 6:30 a.m. daily, nerve functions are activated and the blood gets circulated to muscles and the brain."

"What do the exercises entail?

The radio exercise involves easy movements that stimulate blood circulation and improve flexibility, according to the book “Itsudemo, Dokodemo, Daredemo” (“Whenever, Wherever, Whoever”) published by the kampo insurance system.

The warmups entail two parts, each consisting of 13 rhythmic movements. The second part is designed specifically for young people. After the exercise, pulse rates average around 140."

Interestingly the concept has its roots in the US (and I wonder why it stopped and if we could revive it):

"Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. sponsored 15-minute radio broadcasts daily for exercise accompanied by piano in the 1920s in six cities, including New York and Washington, according to the kampo book on the history of the workouts.

Around that time, the average Japanese lived until sometime in their 40s, and many died of infectious disease and tuberculosis, which made the insurance business unstable.

Looking for ways to improve the nation’s health, two kampo employees visited the American insurer and brought back examples of the radio exercise to start similar workouts in the mid-1920s."

The show was cancelled in 1947 but resumed in 1950. 

School kids are also encouraged to do the exercises every day during summer vacation: "This got started when NHK and kampo began distributing radio exercise stamp cards to spread the activity. Elementary school children collect a stamp each time they exercise. When the card is filled at the end of the holiday period, the children get free prizes, including stationery or snacks."

Interestingly it seems that Japanese immigrants in Peru and Brazil are increasingly adopted the Japanese Radio exercise. 

This echoed my observations and readings on the importance of social interactions and regular physical activities for healthy aging that I posted on the Healthy Aging challenge (I love this cross-pollination across multiple challenges! :-)). Studies suggest that people in Asia, in particular Japan and China, lived older and "well" and the reasons for this are: regular physical activities and social interactions.

I lived two years in Singapore and traveled quite a bit in Asia, and I always noticed group activities (tai chi, badminton, etc.) in parks in Asian cities, in particular among older adults. In particular, I remembered a morning in a park in Shanghai observing various activities taking place among people who were for the most part 60+: Tai Chi, handkerchief dance, ballroom dance, gym, choir, badminton... 

I also remembered a local coffee shop in Takayama, a small city in the Japanese Alps, where we went a couple of morning. It was busy with older people chatting, reading the papers, and drinking coffee. They all look happy and lively! When a new person came in, the others welcome her / him. It made me reminded the importance of social interactions. 

All in all, this is something quite simple to put in place. All you need is as Katsuyoshi Ueno noted in his post:

- A (relatively) large public space
- Exercise facilitators 
- A radio
- A special radio program for the morning exercise
- Participants from all generations

I would note that the radio can be replaced by a laptop or a phone. 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

- Daily social exercising as a powerful recipe for healthy aging -Learning from other countries: how can we spread best practices across geographies? - How can we spread regular daily exercises to help older people keep in shape but also socially connect with their peers and other generations.

Tell us about your work experience:

Passionate about human-centered design and social impact. Teaches design thinking, organizational behavior and qualitative methods. NYU Faculty, Design for America of NYU advisor and OpenIDEO member.

1 comment

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Photo of An Old Friend

If an idea like this were to be implemented, it doesn't even have to be radio anymore, thanks to technology. It can be a YouTube video, projected on a wall/screen so people can follow along.