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AARP Bulletin

Secrets From the Longest-Living Place on Earth

A healthy diet, among other things, contribute to town's remarkable turnaround

Staying active for life

Another not-so-secret key to Nagano's remarkable longevity is a vigorous lifestyle, encouraged by local leaders.

In Matsumoto, officials have developed a network of more than 100 walking routes to encourage people to exercise. Community groups and neighborhood associations organize communal walks — not difficult in group-oriented Japan. Even in winter, clusters of residents can be found regularly walking along Matsumoto's streets, parks and canals and around its historic medieval castle downtown. Sugenoya says the walking trails are a cost-effective way to promote health and control medical costs. "The first thing we wanted was just to get people walking. Everyone can do that. You walk, you talk, you get exercise and that helps build up a sense of community," he says.

Japanese officials encourage people to postpone retirement or begin second careers, in part to maintain a healthy lifestyle longer.

Nagano is ahead of the curve there as well. Nearly 1 in 4 people over 65 are still in the workforce — the highest rate in Japan. "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," says Hiroko Akiyama, a professor at the University of Tokyo's Institute of Gerontology. "But we believe working does affect health."

Kuroiwa says he doesn't think about all that. He retired as village accountant a few years ago, but came back to manage a new tourism center last year. As before, his spare time goes into running his family's small farm, where he grows apples and rice along with an array of vegetables. His parents worked regularly into their late 80s, and Kuroiwa figures he and his wife will do the same. "No one here is particularly aware that we live longer than other people. We don't have any secret. We just go about our normal everyday lives and it just turns out that way."

Kirk Spitzer, a former USA Today defense correspondent and CBS News producer, is now a freelance writer living in Tokyo.

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