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Children, seniors in better shape, but decline seen among people in 30s-40s: survey

School-age children, men in their early 60s and women in their late 70s are in increasingly better shape, while people in their 30s and 40s have been on a downward trend over nearly the past two decades, according to physical fitness test results released by the Japan Sports Agency.

    The fiscal 2016 physical fitness and motor skills test -- released Oct. 8, ahead Japan's "Health and Sports Day" national holiday -- found that 7- and 10-year-old boys and 9-, 12- and 13-year-old girls had notched their best scores since the current testing methods were introduced in fiscal 1998. Joining them, however, were men between the ages of 60 and 64, and women from 75 to 79 years of age. The results highlighted an overall trend of improving athletic performance among both the young and the elderly in Japan, leaving their compatriots aged 30 to 49 -- the least fit age bracket for both men and women -- in the dust.

    The survey began when Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympic Games, and starting from fiscal 1998, it began including those in their 60s and 70s among the target groups. For the most recent survey, the agency conducted fitness tests of some 65,000 men and women aged 6 to 79 from May to October 2016. Each area of the test had a maximum score of 10, with the results broken down by specific age until 19, and those aged 20 and older separated into five-year age brackets.

    Those between the ages of 6 and 19 were tested in a total of eight tasks: sit-ups, touching their toes, jumping side-to-side over a line, a 20-meter shuttle run (those in junior high school age and above could choose either a shuttle run or endurance running), a 50-meter run and a standing long jump. The subjects' performance in these tasks for both sexes showed improvements in almost all age brackets since fiscal 2008. However, their throwing strength dropped along with the strength of their grip.

    For those over the age of 65, however, in their six tests areas such as grip strength and standing balanced on one foot, not only their overall scores, but their scores per area were almost all high compared to the fiscal 1998 survey.

    But while both women aged 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 scored record highs, the 35 to 39 group and the 40 to 44 group scored the lowest, with men in the same age group also receiving low scores -- lower than those of the same groups in the 1998 survey. In a separate Sports Agency survey of how often people exercise, only 11.7 percent of both men and women in their 30s answered that they exercise more than three days a week, the lowest of any age group.

    Professor Hisashi Naito of Juntendo University, which was involved in the investigation, explained, "When you reach your 30s, you have work and a household, get caught up raising children, and don't have time (to exercise)."

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