Japan’s elderly age groups weakening physically, according to govt survey

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.

The physical fitness of the elderly ages 65 and older appears to be declining, according to the fiscal 2021 physical fitness and exercise capacity survey released by the Japan Sports Agency on Wednesday.

For men 65-74, this age group’s physical fitness score was the lowest in the past 10 years.

“It is necessary to take a longer-term look to determine whether this is due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” an expert said, cautioning that the trend of exercise habits spreading among the elderly and leading to improved physical fitness “is peaking out.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The pandemic meant small sample sizes were used to compile reference figures for the fiscal 2020 survey, so this was effectively the first regular survey in two years. Data was collected from about 48,000 people ages 6-79 from May through October 2021. Scores were calculated for tests such as grip strength and sit-ups. The total scores were lower than the pre-pandemic fiscal 2019 scores for the majority of age groups.

For the elderly, scores in all three five-year age groups for men and women dropped about one point from the fiscal 2019 survey. In particular, the 65-69 age group for men scored 40.76 points, down from 42.44 points on a 60-point scale. Compared to fiscal year 2012, the total score for the age group of men 65 and older was lower, and the percentage of those who exercise at least once a week also declined for the men’s 65-74 age group.

As for women in their late 30s to early 50s, this age group’s scores also dropped compared to a decade ago, with the percentage in their late 20s to 40s who exercise at least once a week also declining significantly. This perhaps indicates that the age range in which people tend to lose physical fitness is widening due to limited opportunities for sports activities as a result of balancing work and child-rearing.

“Support for the core generation of working women is not yet fully in place,” said Juntendo University health and sports science Prof. Hisashi Naito.

“Scores for the elderly had been steadily increasing,” he said, “but the generation that did not do much exercise may have started to enter this age group.”