Called hatake no gyuniku (beef from the fields), soybeans are known for the healthy, high-protein punch they pack and their contribution to lowering cholesterol. In Japan, consumers are lucky enough to receive their benefits in many forms, including tofu, miso and natto.

But the potential of the super-beans’ health bonanza may stretch the imagination even more.

In Noda City in Chiba Prefecture, for instance, edamame taiso (green-soybeans exercise) has recently become very popular. “When people first hear about it they don’t seem to get what it’s all about,” said Takashi Suzuki of the health center in Noda City. “But in fact, it’s been getting popular, and we have had inquiries from as far afield as Hokkaido, asking if they can get the DVD of the exercise.”

The exercise is called edamame taiso because the program is based on the movements involved in soybean farming. It includes poses mimicking harvesting and swinging into a basket bunches of soybeans — and then wiping your sweat. Believe it or not, these movements performed in a class setting help to strengthen your legs and arms as well as improve your shoulders’ flexibility.

Suzuki also explained that the “bean-picking poses” not only help to tone muscles, but also stimulate the brain as well.

Ideally, edamame taiso is best done to the accompaniment of Edamame Samba, a jaunty tune that dispels any worries about this being some form of very strenuous exercise. It doesn’t involve any hard or fast movements, as it’s specifically designed for age groups from kindergarten kids to senior citizens. (In fact, the Edamame Samba — a Noda City original — was arranged to a slower tempo especially for the exercise.)

But why is Noda City so obsessed with green soybeans? Well, the city was known until 2002 as the nation’s prime producer of edamame. Now it may be in third place behind Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture and Niigata City, but edamame production is still a local pride, Suzuki said, and they have an edamame party every summer after the harvest when everyone enjoys the Edamame samba.

Originally, the edamame exercise was created as a fitness program for Noda City’s growing population of seniors aged 65 or older, who comprised 19 percent of the population in 2007. It was developed in response to their increasing desire to keep fit and retain their ability to live independent lives.

Now the program has been introduced to 130 groups of senior citizens in the city. Older people are apparently particularly pleased that it’s so easy to remember, Suzuki said.

Suzuki also said he was surprised that the popularity of edamame exercise had far exceeded his expectations — perhaps, he observed, because of its unique use of edamame farming motions into exercises along with people’s ever-rising interest in health and fitness.

“I think it is very important to gauge the effects of this exercise after a few months, and to see if older people keep enjoying it while keeping fit,” he said.

For sure, keeping fit the soybean way is far from being small potatoes.

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