Why Spaniards Are the Healthiest People in the World
How can a country known for its smoking habit, wine, and late nights have one of the highest life expectancies around the globe? These factors could play a role.
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Bloomberg News recently ranked the health of 169 countries around the globe based on factors like life expectancy, weight, and clean air. For the 2019 list, Spain rose five spots to number one, pushing out fellow Mediterranean nation Italy as the healthiest in the world. With a “health grade” of 92.75 (out of a possible 100), Spain easily surpassed countries like the United States, which got a 73.02 and came in 35th. In fact, Spain is predicted to push past Japan for the world’s highest life expectancy by 2040; experts predict that Spaniards will live, on average, to be 85.7 years old. What can we learn from the Spanish in fostering a healthy life?
They follow a Mediterranean diet
Spaniards are also famous for their version of the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes olive oil, nuts, fish, and legumes—and less red meat, processed meats, and baked goods. A 2018 diet study found that after five years, people eating a Mediterranean diet had a significantly lower risk of a major cardiovascular event like heart attack or stroke compared to people eating a low-fat diet. Find more foods to add to your diet to help you live longer.
They’ve got an appetite for vegetables
While Americans are reaching for more and more packaged foods, the Spanish are upping their vegetable intake. About 39 percent of Spanish men and half of Spanish women eat vegetables every day—figures that have actually increased since 2001, according to a European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies report. Meanwhile, only 9 percent of Americans eat enough vegetables on the daily, according to the CDC.
They eat plenty of fruit
Veggies aren’t the only popular type of produce in a Spanish diet. About 58 percent of men and 67 percent of women eat fresh fruit every day, according to the health report. Compare that to the measly 12 percent of Americans who meet the daily recommendations of eating 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit a day. You should also load up on the 10 most nutritious foods in the world.
They have close family ties
Spain ranks at the top among European countries for having multigenerational households—grandparents and grandchildren all living under the same roof; even when they don’t live together, they stay close. “Spain really values that family richness: The bonds of family; the closeness of family,” Antonio Abellán of the Research Group on Ageing at Spain’s National Research Council told the Guardian. “It’s a bonus. If you live better, you end up living longer.”
They don’t drive everywhere
The commute to work in Spain is much less car-centric: About 37 percent walk or bike to work, and only 52 percent drive, according to 2012 data. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of Americans commute by walking or cycling, and 83 percent drive on their own or with someone else. Find out how the world’s healthiest village lives so long.
They value walking over gym time
Forcing yourself to go to the gym isn’t the only way to get healthy. Spain is home to the highest percentage of walkers in Europe, according to a report from research group Eurobarometer. About three out of four Spaniards reported walking for at least ten minutes at a time, four to seven days a week—higher than any other European country. Oddly enough, they were one of the least vigorously active countries: Only 12 percent of Spanish people said they did things like aerobics four-plus times a week. Read up on the 100 easy habits that could help you live to 100.
But they walk a lot
Spaniards do love to walk: According to the same report, they were among the top four countries in terms of the amount of time spent striding. At least one in four Spaniards walks for more than an hour at a time, meaning that, as a nation, they took more long walks than any other Europeans.
They aren’t couch potatoes
Plenty of research links a sedentary lifestyle—sitting six or more hours a day—with a higher risk of death from all causes. And Spaniards definitely don’t spend their days inactive. Only 7 percent said they sit for more than 8.5 hours a day, according to the Eurobarometer report, which is the least of any other country in Europe. Meanwhile, 26 percent of Americans sit more than eight hours a day. Commit to trying these 10-minute activities you can do to live longer.
Dinner isn’t the biggest meal
Spaniards don’t eat dinner until at least 9 p.m., and often as late as 11 p.m. This might sound exactly wrong to people trying to lose weight or who are aware of research that links late-night eating to a larger waistline. But the key is that the last meal of the day in Spain isn’t a large one. They get most of their calories at lunch; Spanish workers typically take a full hour or two (and sometimes more) for that midday meal. And Spaniards might want to think twice about the movement to change this tradition: According to weight-loss study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating a bigger lunch and a smaller dinner helped women shed more pounds.
They have stellar health care
Over the past decade, Spaniards have managed to lower their rate of preventable deaths. In 2015, they had one of the lowest rates: 45.4 preventable deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 60.9 in the rest of the European Union. A focus on primary care is one factor playing into the fact that things like cardiovascular deaths and cancer deaths have decreased in the country. Spain’s universal healthcare program, which aims to close the gap between rich and poor, asks doctors to focus on controlling high blood pressure and diabetes and engage in discussions with patients about their tobacco and alcohol use. Next, make sure you know these 30 healthy habits from every type of doctor.