The world’s oldest people credit this 5-minute mobility routine for their longevity

For nearly 100 years, people of all ages in Japan have practiced a simple mobility routine. It’s called Radio Taiso, or radio exercises, and it only takes five minutes to complete.

If you spend time in Japan, you’ll notice groups gathering in outdoor parks to practice Radio Taiso in the morning, or office workers practicing after lunch to aid digestion.

“In Japan, everyone knows about Radio Taiso because we had to do it every day at school,” says Kumiko Kanayama, Shiatsu Grandmaster and founder of The Five Lights Center of Shiatsu. “Beyond the school, it is broadcast on public television and radio. Many large companies organize their own Radio Taiso every day, so everyone exercises together in the office.”

For many in Japan, it’s not just about exercise, but also about coming together as a community.

“When I come back to Japan every summer, I go to the park every morning because there is Radio Taiso,” says Kanayama. “I see people who are 80 or 90 years old exercising, and they’re strong and healthy because they get out of the house and exercise and meet people.”

That said, you don’t have to live in Japan or be of a specific age to experience the benefits of Radio Taiso for yourself. Here’s how Radio Taiso came about, the benefits of practicing it, and how to try it at home.

What exactly is Radio Taiso?

The Japanese practice of Radio Taiso was originally inspired by morning exercises broadcast by the American insurance company Metropolitan Life, according to the Japan America Society in Houston. In November 1928, Japan launched the National Health Exercise Program (which was a precursor to Radio Taiso) to honor the formal ascension to the throne of Emperor Hirohito.

It began airing on public radio in 1951 and has continued to air every day at 6:30 a.m. (and several times throughout the day). In a 2003 survey, more than 27 million people said they participated in morning calisthenics more than twice a week, according to the Japan America Society in Houston.

Since Radio Taiso was launched, it has barely changed, although it was banned for a time after World War II due to its association with militarism, for the guardian. Construction, factory and office workers participate in the practice, and in fact all 10,000 Tokyo Metropolitan Government employees are required to practice it every weekday.

Although it is so widely practiced throughout Japan, many in the United States are unaware of it. Alessa Caridi, founder of JōbuFIT (a workplace wellness program inspired by Radio Taiso), attributes some of this to cultural differences between East and West.

“A few years ago, I created a 12-minute movement routine that was very reminiscent of Japanese routines, but with more of a foundation in alignment and Pilates,” says Caridi. “When I started shopping it around 15 different offices in New York, they all loved the idea, but I hated that they had to do the same thing every time.”

Repetition is a key part of Radio Taiso. Although the practice is short, it incorporates signature moves like raising your arms above your head and bringing them back down. Although Caridi has since changed his offerings to fit more with the Western mindset, he notes that repetition is important to achieving excellence in many forms of exercise, from dance to Radio Taiso .

What are the advantages of Radio Taiso?

in the book Ikigai: the Japanese secret to a long and happy life, authors Héctor García and Francesc Miralles spoke with 100 of the oldest people in Okinawa, Japan. This island is considered a “blue zone” with the highest concentration of people aged 100 and over in the world. Almost all of them practiced Radio Taiso, even if that meant doing it from a wheelchair. (Radio Taiso can be done sitting or standing.)

Mobility exercises are useful for older people because they help maintain functional independence.

“Because joint flexibility and mobility tend to decrease with age, incorporating mobility exercises can help older adults maintain their independence by improving balance, reducing the risk of falls, and helping daily activities like bending, reaching, and walking,” says Kyle Krupa, DPT. CSCS, physical therapist and founder of KRU PT + Performance Lab.

However, all ages can practice and benefit from mobility exercises like Radio Taiso. For example, doing these exercises can help improve performance and reduce injuries in athletes, counteract the effects of prolonged sitting in office workers, and control pain in those with chronic pain such as arthritis.

Mobility, after all, isn’t just about muscles. “It involves mobilizing the joints and stretching the capsule that surrounds the joint, to improve the gliding and gliding movements of the joints themselves,” says Krupa.

In particular, Radio Taiso mobility exercises can help promote fluidity of movement and increase flexibility, with the added benefit of fostering a sense of community because it’s usually done in a group. It’s also very doable for everyone, including those who may not have access to a gym.

“Most of the movements are done in extension and rotation, making it a great routine to address poor posture, limited spinal range of motion, balance, and coordination,” says Krupa. “Progressions go from simple to more complex patterns that challenge the nervous system to increase joint awareness, also known as proprioception.”

Consistent practice of these full-range movements is what will help you maintain your mobility and flexibility over time.

“If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it, and one of the great things about mobility training, and specifically Radio Taiso, is that you’re stretching your limbs all the way,” says Caridi. “It’s not just a bicep curl, for example: you’re practicing really big swinging movements that we don’t do in our everyday lives anymore.”

Note that since Radio Taiso is relatively low in intensity and doesn’t vary much in difficulty, it may not be as useful if you have very specific strength, endurance, and flexibility goals. That said, many people in Japan practice Radio Taiso as their primary form of exercise.

“Radio Taiso is the foundation of exercise in Japan and this is how they can maintain their health and their minds,” says Kumiko. “You can also do walking, cycling, running or swimming, but you don’t need to do too much extra exercise.”

How to practice Radio Taiso yourself

Radio Taiso consists of seven seated movements designed to relax the mind and body, while increasing flexibility, blood flow and energy flow.

For each movement, demonstrated by Kylee McKay, assistant at The Five Lights Center of Shiatsu, don’t hold the stretch, but move rhythmically as you inhale and exhale.

Here’s how to get started at home. (For a permanent Radio Taiso routine, you can also try this video from The Japan Society.)

Move 1

Taiso Radio Movement 1
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap.
  2. Relax your legs and keep your core straight.
  3. Stretch your arms up and then out, breathing deeply.

Move 2

This stretch helps strengthen the spine, increases flexibility and increases muscle tone.

Taiso Radio Movement 2
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap.
  2. Relax your legs and stretch the left side of your body by lifting your left arm up and to the right side with your palm facing up.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

Move 3

Taiso Radio Movement 3
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap.
  2. Cross your arms in front of your body.
  3. Reach your fingertips to opposite sides of the room, breathing deeply.

Move 4

Taiso Radio Movement 4
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. From move 3 above (arms crossed in front of body), open your arms out to the side, keeping your wrists relaxed and palms facing down.
  2. Breathe deeply.

Repeat movements three and four together four times to help increase blood flow.

Move 5

Taiso Radio Movement 5
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap.
  2. Hold your hands behind your back, open your chest, arch your back and pull your head back.
  3. Breathe deeply.

Move 6

This movement relieves shoulder and neck pain.

Taiso Radio Movement 6
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your arms at your sides.
  2. Raise your shoulders toward your ears and then release.

Movement 7

Movement Radio Taiso 7
Photo: Kylee McKay

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet on the floor and your hands in your lap.
  2. With your legs relaxed, stretch both arms up and out to your right side with palms facing each other.
  3. Repeat on the other side.

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