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9 Sep

Rajio Taiso: Why You Should Start Doing Light Morning Workouts

CalisthenicsIn the early 1920s, MetLife Insurance sponsored daily 15 minute calisthenics programs to be broadcast over the radio to American audiences in an effort to make them healthier and fitter. It didn’t catch on here, but visiting Japanese officials loved the idea enough to bring it back to Japan. To commemorate the coronation of Emperor Hirohito in 1928, Japanese public radio began daily broadcasts of rajio taiso, or “radio calisthenics.” Every morning Japanese citizens, young and old, would gather to perform a short circuit of dynamic stretches, joint mobility drills, and bodyweight exercises in time to broadcasted piano music. Participation has dropped off in recent years, but even today about 20% of the Japanese population (and three quarters of elementary school students) still does the daily routine, which has remained unchanged for almost a century.

The actual routine is about what you’d expect: lots of arm circles, bending over, squats, toe touching. Constant movement, none of it very intense. If you live in an area with a large Asian/Asian-American population, particularly Chinese or Japanese, you’ve probably seen the older folks walking around in the morning swinging their arms, clapping, or doing light circuit routines with each other in parks. Maybe even a little tai-chi. This is very similar to rajio taiso, and it seems quite popular in many Asian countries. China and Vietnam have their own traditions of morning workouts.

What makes rajio taiso and other similar traditions so interesting and useful?

It fosters a culture of physical activity. CrossFit and other similar programs also foster a healthy fitness culture and community, but it’s not available to everyone. Not everyone wants to pay a couple hundred bucks a month or hoist barbells. But everyone can do ten to fifteen minutes of light, moderate movement to start the day and see real benefits that should promote further activity.

It’s better than nothing (which is what many people do). I’m just being honest here, folks. Some people won’t ever work out or even walk around the block if they can help it. A quick little warmup in the morning that gets the blood flowing and heart rate up is better than doing absolutely nothing.

It employs dynamic, rather than static stretching. It’s unclear whether static stretching is useful or not and, for many types of exercises, it’s probably counterproductive. Rajio taiso stretching is almost entirely dynamic. You’re moving through full ranges of motion as you would when exercising, not pausing in extension for as long as you can stand the pain. Most athletes (recreational or professional alike) would benefit far more from dynamic stretches.

There aren’t many formal studies on rajio taiso. A Pubmed search for “radio calisthenics” and related terms comes up empty. The rates of degenerative diseases caused by physical inactivity, however, are much lower in Japan and neighboring countries with a tradition of morning calisthenics.

  • In the United States, for example, about 37% of adults 20+ have prediabetes (impaired glucose tolerance and/or elevated blood markers) and 12.3% have full-on diagnosed type 2 diabetes (PDF). In Japan, 13.5% of the population has either impaired glucose tolerance or type 2 diabetes.
  • Rates of impaired functional capacity – the inability to take care of oneself and perform normal everyday tasks – are much higher in American seniors than Japanese seniors.

This doesn’t prove anything, but it hints at the benefits of a culture where physical activity is integrated into everyday life. And it’s certainly intriguing. I’ve always admired the spryness of the elderly Asian folks I see exercising in parks or squatting to grab a choice bunch of broccoli at the farmer’s markets. I run with a fairly fit crowd of oldsters, so I’m no stranger to able-bodied elderly. But comparing the average Japanese senior citizen to the average age-matched American senior citizen? It’s no contest. What if these early morning workout traditions are a big reason for the difference?

So for the past week, I’ve given the rajio taiso routine a trial run using these two videos (part 1 and part 2). I’m quite impressed. Here’s what I found:

My joints felt warm the rest of the day. Whenever I’d go to do my actual “real” workout, I felt warmed up and ready to go – even if it was a late afternoon workout. The warmth persisted.

My heart rate was mildly elevated. This wasn’t a CrossFit WOD, nor was it trying to be. It was a pleasant way to get your body moving in the morning.

It didn’t wear me out. The rajio taiso never impacted my performance in subsequent workouts. I wasn’t fatigued, nor had I lost the motivation to work out.

It took ten minutes, max. The important thing was just setting aside the brief chunk of time to do it. For me, it was while my coffee was brewing. I’d stand barefoot in the backyard on the grass (still wet and cold from dew) and do the routine, then have my coffee. Painless and it’s not like I had anything else going on.

It energized me. Maybe it was standing in the damp cool grass first thing after waking. Maybe it was the coffee I had immediately after. But these rajio taiso routines got my blood flowing and my brain working well. It felt right.

My buddy and PrimalCon presenter Angelo dela Cruz has been telling me about the innumerable benefits of daily morning movement sessions – his particular version is called VitaMoves, which I strongly recommend – for so long that I felt I had to give it a shot. I’ve flirted with the morning movement session, but never daily, and never for a week straight.

Now that I have, I’m a convert. I’m not sure I’ll stick with this particular routine exclusively – that rajio taiso piano piece gets a little grating, after all, and I’d like to try some new moves – but I’ll definitely be doing morning movement sessions.

If you’re interested in trying morning movement sessions or light workouts, you don’t have to follow rajio taiso. You could try out the aforementioned VitaMoves or even Winnie the Pooh’s morning routine. But doing something, even just a few sets of air squats and pushups to get your body moving when you wake up will make a big difference. Let me know how it works out for you guys.

Thanks for reading! What’s your morning movement routine?

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  1. Getting out of bed is a heavy morning workout for me!

    Groktimus Primal wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • I have some trouble to get started in the morning and certainly can not do intensive workouts, but these are my suggestions:
      – primal moves
      – short form of exuberant animal
      – superjoints from Pavel
      – mobility exercises from Movnat
      see the websites for more infomation

      Jos Bruinenberg wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • Getting out of bed used to be a problem for me as well. This went away when my asthma went away. My asthma was very light, a little wheezing once in a while, especially at night when breathing out. Typical for asthma is that you wheeze when breathing out and not when breathing in. My doc noticed it when I had my lungs tested because running produces much lactate.

      What solved the asthma for me was 1) walking more, in the beginning multiple times a week multiple hours, nowadays only 1 hour a day. And 2) sleeping on a firm surface, rather than a mattress. (It probably wasn’t the dust of the mattress; I still sleep next to one. ) In both cases, I noticed improvements within a week. Hope these ideas will help some others too.

      Victor Venema wrote on September 11th, 2014
  2. I know as a runner I’m not the norm for what most people do in the mornings, but I do believe for everyone that doing SOMETHING in the morning when they wake up is really important to get going for the day. I like that this seems really simple and unintimidating and only takes a few minutes. I could see this really working for a lot of people who otherwise would drag and then rush through the morning.

    Michele wrote on September 9th, 2014
  3. I always see these folks in the park on my way to work and I’m sometimes tempted to join in! :) I do barre in the mornings and when i skip a day or two, i just don’t feel as good. The benefits of morning stretching/activity are overlooked too often, imo. Great post!

    Charlotte wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • Check out qigong as a morning routine. Combines movement, meditation and breathing as one practice and has powerful effects. Is the root of many martial arts and tai chi but much older. 10 minutes in the morning gets everything done mentally and physically. Crazy good results.

      Turtleboy wrote on September 9th, 2014
      • I was going to post qigong too.

        However, I’ve also started doing a Makkaho routine daily. It comes from the shiatsu tradition and takes you through a sequence that work on the 5 elements one after another. They are pretty much yoga postures held for 3 breathes. You do the sequence twice through to constitute one round which lasts about 10 minutes. The effects have been awesome, you feel balanced and ready to get on with the day having had all your moving parts oiled!

        This is an example here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kduP24Sp2s the earth posture isn’t attainable for everyone but google the yoga bow posture which works in its place.

        And no background music required Mark :-)

        Kelda wrote on September 9th, 2014
      • Wouldn’t these be the same as the exercise mentioned in the article, but without the music? I’ve seen people in the park doing this sort of stuff, only in silence–it’s like they were on the same mental wave, because they’re all synced.

        Wenchypoo wrote on September 10th, 2014
        • That’s most likely Taiji you’ve witnessed and yes there is an energy connection that regular practitioners feel as a oneness as they practice.

          The Makkaho sequence I mention can be done as a group or individually. When my yoga group goes through 4-6 rounds together there is a wonderful quiet and peacefulness that is felt as you move together.

          Kelda wrote on September 10th, 2014
  4. Yes! I’ve recently gotten back into regular t’ai chi first thing in the morning, just a 10 minute session. Like walking, it gets my heart rate up into that 60% of MHR range, but the meditative aspect, and perhaps also the “grounding” seems to confer greater benefits than a 10-minute walk. Glad to hear this given a bump here. And thanks for re-posting the VitalMoves–forgot about that.

    Tom B-D wrote on September 9th, 2014
  5. I’ve been getting into the habit every morning of starting my coffee pot, heading outside for a walk and then stretching with my foam roller and a few floor and dynamic stretches before having my coffee. I love taking the time to do something like this before I start getting ready for work. When I get out of bed in the morning my first thoughts and actions don’t have to be about work. They’re about coffee, walking and stretching. :) And then I get on with my day.

    Kristie wrote on September 9th, 2014
  6. If you go to a park early in the morning anywhere in China, you’re likely to see dozens and dozens of older adults practicing tai chi together. Great way to start the day – especially if you’re old and your joints are stiff!

    Kate wrote on September 9th, 2014
  7. Love that Pooh!!!

    KariVery wrote on September 9th, 2014
  8. Good article. I plan to give Radio Taisou a try. One caveat: It appeared to me that the young model in the video flings herself into the moves quite a bit, particularly with the arms. If you are older or have trouble with muscles and joints, a slightly slower, less jerky approach might be a good idea.

    Shary wrote on September 9th, 2014
  9. Yep. Winnie the Pooh’s morning routine looks good to me… With honey in tow.

    Erin wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • +1 !!!!

      Vince G wrote on September 10th, 2014
  10. For about the past 15 years, I have been doing a morning routine. It wakes me up, gets me up to full functionality, and keeps me at least at a minimal level of fitness, even during times when I have no opportunity for other activity in a day.
    I don’t leap out of bed and hit the mat, or anything bizarre like that! But after I’ve gone to the can, brushed my teeth, washed my face, etc., I do a few stretching moves, then go into a light series of pushups, planks, and crunches. (It took me perhaps 2 years to get to the point that I could do full pushups, and I’m very proud to say I now do 2 sets of 35.)
    The whole thing takes about 15 minutes. It’s calming, invigorating, and keeps me from starting the day stiff and slow. I think it is a wonderful habit to acquire!

    Marge wrote on September 9th, 2014
  11. As always, I love the focus on the real world. I’m old (71) and have arthritis. I take chair yoga and an aerobics/light resistance class for seniors. So this kind of movement is familiar to me.

    I just watched a different rajio taiso style video in which one of the participants was seated. Nearly anyone could do this kind of exercise.

    Hehe. I also do VitaMoves while waiting for my coffee to brew.

    Harry Mossman wrote on September 9th, 2014
  12. I seriously don’t understand the reason why people are so lazy when it comes to this stuff!

    10 minutes!!

    I believe every word of this. I myself have done some highly intense workouts in the workouts and have seen the benefits last throughout the entire day. If I’m recovering, I’ll do some light activity for the sake of staying in top physical and mental condition.

    10 minutes is nothing when you compare it to how long it takes to prepare ourselves in the morning. Some activity actually helps with making things go smoother when we’re short on time.

    Great article Mark!! :)

    Nader wrote on September 9th, 2014
  13. Yes yes yes! Even a quick 15 minute yoga workout in the morning makes me feel great.

    Bev wrote on September 9th, 2014
  14. I love the fact that it didn’t wear you out and that it energized you. I love doing Qigong in the morning for 10 minutes along with the 5 Tibetan Rites. I also love my hard gym workouts but these get me going on the morning. Thanks for sharing!

    Justin wrote on September 9th, 2014
  15. Anyone ever heard of the “Five Tibetans”?

    Go read up.. great little story with a bit of adventure and mystery attached to it for those that like that type of thing.

    One of the morning routines that has absolutely transformed my body (yes transformed) is crawling.

    Getting up from my desk now for some “desk-taiso” :-)

    Marc

    Marc wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • I’m doing this Five Tibetans too 😉
      A really good way to start the day !
      Charles.

      Charles wrote on September 9th, 2014
  16. Thats just plain WEIRD.. Justin posted while I was typing
    I guess :-)

    Great community thinks alike.

    Marc wrote on September 9th, 2014
  17. Finally,

    Something I can do while at work. I need to get out of my office and yet, have numerous conference calls – this will work well. Great idea if your business does not provide for standing desks – or desks with treadmills.

    Tammi wrote on September 9th, 2014
  18. Incorporating something like this to my morning sounds like a pretty good idea. I’m not one for heavy workouts in the morning, but something mild just to warm up joints and get the blood going sounds great!

    Jacob wrote on September 9th, 2014
  19. My husband has a morning session workout that he uses instead of coffee to wake him up- it’s a lot like these things, more for agility and strength than anything. He has been trying to talk me into doing them for ages. I might just have to give it a try now. :) Good post.

    Stephanie wrote on September 9th, 2014
  20. Many years ago, one of my college professors taught the class a tai chi routine. I really enjoyed it. I have even found myself trying to repeat it many times just for a moment alone to relax & breathe deeply.
    Maybe it’s time to go look up a good routine I can remember.
    I love this idea!

    Beth wrote on September 9th, 2014
  21. Mark you read my mind. I was thinking of starting a short squat routine in the morning to see if it got my energy level going. I do Crossfit 3 times a week and I feel great on those days, but I was looking for something light to do on my rest days. PS I too considered looking for an Asian group to learn those neat looking moves. Have a great day everybody out there in the Primal world ready to move.

    Irene wrote on September 9th, 2014
  22. My two main workouts alternate between bodyweight HIIT and some seriously vigorous swimming. But each morning begins with a little vinyasa style yoga and hopefully some meditation (I recently did my own little blog post on the topic, but with a slightly different twist) and it makes all the difference in my day. Ideally I love to do both, but if I only have time for one, I will choose yoga, as it is meditative in its own right.

    Starting the day with even 10 minutes of light movement, especially for people who have any kind of health or mobility (or any other) challenges that make hardcore workouts just seem too overwhelming, is great way to ease into better health (mental and physical). Hopefully your post will inspire everyone, no matter where they are on their journey to health, to start the day this way.

    Lauryn wrote on September 9th, 2014
  23. Back when I was running, I saw a piece on tv with Angela Lansbury doing graceful morning stretches that didn’t seem like they’d accomplish anything. Now I know. My doc showed me a tai chi head to toe movement routine that loosens me up to prevent pulled muscles and strains. Ten minutes makes me flexible and energized. I usually use it when I’m uncomfortable but I’m going to start doing it while the morning coffee is brewing.

    granny gibson wrote on September 9th, 2014
  24. zhealth full body RPhase, dynamic swings and Tai Chi every morning. Takes about 15 minutes. Joints feel great and I am eager to move more throughout the day. I would guess its the old object in motion thing.

    Jim wrote on September 9th, 2014
  25. I run every morning – but before I run, I get in a quick and easy 30 minute yoga practice. Perfect way to start the day!

    Barefoot girl wrote on September 9th, 2014
  26. I take a short walk (when weather allows) then do a10-15 qi gong set. Feels great and wakes me up better than coffee!

    Danielle wrote on September 9th, 2014
  27. I love this idea, and I love all the positive comments and suggestions from those who are already doing a morning routine, and the benefits they get. Thank you everyone, I’m definitely going to add this as a regular routine as well as my morning walk.

    Julie wrote on September 9th, 2014
  28. I love this article. Everywhere in China, people were walking, dancing, moving. Including people of my generation and up….(other side of 50.) Xian (a walled city), my husband and I were going up the stairs of the wall and octogenarians were moving up the stairs with ease. Inspirational!

    Judy wrote on September 9th, 2014
  29. Would you be willing to put together a formal recommendation for a morning routine? Your post provides a few examples. Once you get a routine down, would you mind sharing it with all of us?

    Ryan wrote on September 9th, 2014
  30. Love it! I use that 10-15 minutes (even as little as 5) to not only get you going for the day, but to also help recovery from a case of delayed onset muscle soreness, joint stiffness, or a slip into the 20% food wise.
    I start with Sun Salutes and add on a few Warrior’s Pose variations as the mood suits.
    I imagine that making a daily routine of it would push in to prevention mode, rather than cure mode.

    CappyGrok wrote on September 9th, 2014
  31. When I was in primary school in the early 80s, my school had a morning “health hustle” where all the kids gathered to do a similar set of exercises to some 70/80s tunes. I vividly remember Crocodile Rock!
    I’ve been fascinated by tai chi for years, I really must get into it. I love seeing the older Asian men and women running and moving in my local park each morning.

    healthyservesone wrote on September 9th, 2014
  32. Mark, you should really post a video of yourself doing these workouts with the piano music in the background…and dressed as an Asian woman.

    Adam wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • Yes–I’d like to see you dressed as an Asian woman, too. :)

      Wenchypoo wrote on September 10th, 2014
  33. If I’m gonna do 10-15 minutes of movement, I’d just as soon do my normal bodyweight HIIT for another 10-15 minutes more. I get my coffee first thing, read newpapers online for an hour and then do my workout. I do a few squats and a little stretching while reading and that seems to be all I need before hitting it harder.

    Nocona wrote on September 9th, 2014
  34. Earlier this year I became a fan of the “A Morning Cup of ” exercise books.

    Linda wrote on September 9th, 2014
  35. Love this! I had no idea of the history behind the senior citizens in the park doing arm circles and such every morning :) I will be incorporating some morning movement like this going forward.

    mister worms wrote on September 9th, 2014
  36. The first thing I do when I decide it’s time to wake up is play with my phone for 20 minutes: check email, Facebook, etc. I tell myself it’s because I need that transition to fully wake up. However, I’m sure if I got my butt out of bed and did 10 minutes of taiso I would be much more awake!

    Emily wrote on September 9th, 2014
    • I am glad you said that, I just realized there’s no reason you cant do some type of movement WHILST doing all this on your phone. Imagine holding your phone up in front of you and checking all of that (it’s second nature by now). And bending at the waist, forward and back, and laterally. Dynamic stretches, walking around, all while checking messages, etc. BOOM, I just made up the newest morning movement routine! The Tech stretches! Win.

      Vince G wrote on September 10th, 2014
  37. Love this! I’ve been doing morning movement as part of my getting ready for the day routing for the last several months, and it really improves my mood and productivity.

    Kim wrote on September 9th, 2014
  38. Great article Mark,
    I found a 30 minute walk in the morning really helped in Winter here as well to warm me up and not feel so cold. Without the movement in the morning I would remain cold for hours.

    Daniel Freeman wrote on September 9th, 2014
  39. Love the winnie the pooh link – reminds me of my niece – but it truly also can be one of those early morning stretches that you refer to here.

    also, when we lived in northern California – I saw many groups of Asain folks on lawns doing these light morning exercises – and it always looked so “balancing” – and I think I will try and do this more – especially on the days I cannot seem to get to workout.

    healthywings wrote on September 9th, 2014
  40. Doing a full set of Theresa Tapp’s hoedowns will also get you warmed up for the day. http://www.t-tapp.com/articles/hoedowns/hoe_downs.html Her beginning posture setup seems weird when you first study it but it becomes natural as you progress and will help you keep your body in alignment throughout the day. I stand much straighter when I do T-Tapp regularly.

    Linda Sand wrote on September 10th, 2014

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