Lead researcher says pumping iron gives salarymen a joy “that they can’t get from work.”

The stereotypical life of a middle-aged salaryman is supposed to go something like this: Wake up and go to work. After work, go drinking with your boss and coworkers at an izakaya pub, then go for a second session of drinks at some hole-in-the-wall bar, grab a bowl of late-night ramen somewhere, head home, go to sleep, and do it all again the next day.

Dai-Ichi Life Insurance’s Economics Research Institute, though, says there’s another activity that’s becoming increasingly common on salarymen’s schedules: weightlifting. According to a report authored by the institute’s chief economist, Toshihiro Nagahama, a growing number of Japanese businessmen in their late 30s, 40s, and 50s are following up a day of pushing paper and clacking keyboards by pumping iron.

Nagahama himself is a midlife convert to weightlifting, following a scathing physical roughly five years back which showed him to have hyperlipidaemia (excessive fat in the blood), something he’s largely alleviated through improved fitness and diet. As to what’s triggering the trend, Nagahama says that weightlifting, or “kintore” as it’s called in Japanese (from kinniku toreningu/”muscle training”), is a good fit for mature white-collar workers in Japan. Recent workplace reforms have led to less overtime in conscientiously managed companies, giving salarymen more time to use for other activities, such as taking care of their health.

However, Japan’s baseline work culture being what it is, it’s not like these weightlifting salarymen are clocking out of the office at 3 in the afternoon. They still have busy lives, and Nagahama explains that weightlifting is a more time-effective way of getting/staying in shape than other exercises like jogging.

“For jogging, you have to run every day [to see results],” Nagahama says. “But with weightlifting, you need to give the muscles you use time to heal, so it’s actually counterproductive to lift every day. Even if you only lift once or twice a week, if you couple that with a moderately healthy diet, you’ll easily notice positive results.”

Nagahama stresses the visible rewards of weightlifting as a major motivator: “If you do a proper one-hour workout once or twice a week, and keep at it diligently, your muscles will become visibly bigger, and your physique will noticeably change.” The economist also asserts that unlike high-impact activities, like jogging, or sports that require other participants, like tennis, weight-lifting is something that’s easier to start in middle age, and that the metabolism-boosting effects of bigger muscles is another attractive point for salarymen, since it helps to mitigate the effects of those mugs of beer and bowls of ramen even on days they’re not actively exercising.

Finally, Nagahama thinks there’s also a psychological factor at play. Many Japanese companies promote employees based on experience and seniority, but the higher you get in the corporate pyramid, the fewer spots there are above for you to rise into. Once they hit their mid 40s, some salarymen start to be able to see the endpoint of their career trajectory, and for someone whose primary reward-for-effort in his adult life has been moving one more rung up the ladder, that slowing of momentum can leave them feeling a little empty.

Weightlifting, though, with its easily trackable performance statistics (weight lifted, number of reps in a set, number of sets in a workout), plus the visible body changes mentioned above, gives these salarymen something to strive for. “One of the great joys of weightlifting is how it gives you a sense of personal development that you can’t get from work,” Nagahama says.

An additional bump in attention for weightlifting came with the fall TV season’s anime adaptation of fitness manga How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift?, though that’s something that’s been occurring primarily among younger demographics than Nagahama’s report is focused on. Still, the combined effects have been enough to make “Kinniku ha uragiranai,” “Muscles won’t betray you,” a new rallying cry for amateur weightlifters in Japan. Nagahama even references the saying in his report, and it sounds like the weight rooms at Japanese gyms are going to be at least a little more crowded than they used to be.

Source: J-Cast Kaisha Watch via Livedoor News via Hachima Kiko
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he misses being able to lift weights outdoors in Los Angeles.