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Offices in Japan Offer Exercise Sessions to Employees | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Employees of a Tokyo information technology company exercising together in their office after lunchtime. (AFP)

Tokyo, London – In a common scene in Japan, employees with serious faces and formal outfits regularly exercise in order to maintain their fitness and activity during work hours.

Three years ago, Adoc International for information technology in Tokyo started to apply these daily habits known as “rajio taiso” or “Radio Gymnastics” that are exercises practiced while listening to a radio program that combines piano music and instruction. The program has been broadcast on national radio stations since the 1920s, reported AFP.

Clifton Lay, who works in Adoc International’s human resources department explains that the company chose rajio taiso because it was the simplest exercise to put in place. “Most Japanese and people who grew up here already know it and have no trouble with the movements,” he added.

To start a workday with a positive spirit, in the morning or noon, employees participate in these quick exercises.

Lay pointed out that doing these exercises in the morning when you arrive at work or just after lunch, makes employees more ready and prepared for their work.

Practicing rajio taiso, which emerged over 100 years ago, started in a US insurance company, and has rapidly spread all across Japan, in workplaces and schools.

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

The daily radio broadcast was temporarily banned by the Allied occupiers following Japan’s defeat in World War II because it was seen as being too militaristic. But it was reintroduced in 1951. Today, as many as 28 million Japanese are believed to take part daily.

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 3:00 pm daily, although it’s not mandatory.

A growing number of Japanese companies are encouraging exercise breaks in the hope of keeping employees limber and productive for longer.

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

“Keeping workers in shape is an important corporate strategy,” said Asano, adding: “Good health means a sound company.”

He said tracking weight, measuring blood pressure, calculating steps and fatigue levels on a daily basis, helps assess the employee health.

At e-commerce giant Rakuten, some 12,000 movable desks were installed when it moved its head office. Workers can switch between standing and sitting throughout the day.

Rakuten engineer Liu Xiaolu says: “I get tired easily when I’m sitting too long so it’s nice to be able to stand up from time to time.”

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

“If you think it is all right not to move much on weekdays because you’re exercising on weekends, you’d be wrong,” he said.

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