Japanese people are living longer than ever, with the average life expectancy now 86.05 years for women and 79.29 years for men, the health ministry said Thursday.

Japanese women extended their life expectancy by almost 22 days in 2008 from the previous year, while men added another 37 days, the ministry said.

The Japanese are renowned for their longevity attributed in part to a healthy traditional diet and active .

But longevity is also set to cause serious problems for , which has one of the world's lowest birth rates, leaving a shrinking working population to support a mass of retirees.

(c) 2009 AFP