Japanese workers limber up with office workouts

Hanging on:A Fujikura employee stretching with playground equipment at the firm’s health activity room in Tokyo. — AFP

Tokyo: At the stroke of 1.00pm, a group of Tokyo IT workers spring from their desks for a few minutes of rigorous bending, stretching and thrusting as a voice on the radio instructs them – “ichi, ni, san (one, two, three)”.

The suited staff are taking part in a regular callisthenics drill implemented by Adoc International, while over at electrical equipment firm Fujikura, the staff can be seen dangling from multi-coloured monkey bars.

A growing number of Japanese companies are encouraging exercise breaks, in the hope of keeping employees limber – and productive – for longer, as the nation contends with a shrinking labour pool and one of the world’s fastest ageing populations.

“Japan’s population is quickly getting older and there are fewer and fewer kids – this is a very big risk for companies,” said Kenichiro Asano, who works in Fujikura’s healthcare strategy group.

“Keeping workers in shape is an important corporate strategy,” said Asano.

The government wants to keep citizens healthy as the growing number of retirees with medical problems strains the public purse.

Adoc International’s staff practises rajio taiso, a stretching routine that is often learned in schools and dates back to the 1920s.

“We chose rajio taiso because it was the simplest exercise to put in place,” said Clifton Lay, who works in Adoc International’s human resources department.

“Most Japanese and people who grew up here already know it and have no trouble with the movements,” he added.

Instructions for the three-minute exercise are played daily on public broadcaster NHK, with different sets tailored for building strength or for the elderly and disabled.

Automaker Toyota has its own in-house version, while Sony employees – ranging from blue collar assemblers to top executives – are supposed to join in a group stretch at 3.00pm daily, although it’s not mandatory.

More companies need to adopt a health-focused mindset, said Koichiro Oka, a professor of health behaviour science at Waseda University in Tokyo.

“A lack of exercise during the week can lead to heart disease, diabetes and other health problems,” he explained.

Rajio taiso is considered by many as a Japanese tradition, although the idea was actually borrowed from a similar programme sponsored by an insurance company in the United States. — AFP

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