Learning from the world’s healthiest nations

Lily Marchetto, Staff Editor

People are constantly searching for ways to live longer, be healthier and feel better. Perhaps the best study of what habits best lead to the fulfillment of these goals is by looking at the macrocosm of the healthiest nations in the world and the lifestyles of their citizens.

Bloomberg just released their 2019 Healthiest Country Index that studies 169 nations throughout the globe. The index takes into account positive factors such as life expectancy and sanitation as well as negative factors like drug use and obesity.

The United States dropped to 35th this year as life expectancy for Americans continues to decline, primarily due to climbing suicide and drug overdose rates. This shortening life expectancy is a troubling trend nonexistent in the U.S. since the years of World War I and the influenza pandemic.

The top ten countries were:

  1. Spain
  2. Italy
  3. Iceland
  4. Japan
  5. Switzerland
  6. Sweden
  7. Australia
  8. Singapore
  9. Norway
  10. Israel

So what can be learned from these top nations? Fresh, fine ingredients are of utmost importance in these places, and there is far less consumption of processed foods. People walk everywhere (or just go for a paseo in Spain) and find far more flights of stairs than elevators. When it comes to one’s diet, the first key is moderation. Italians emphasize eating to enjoy your food rather than to get full, with high-carb foods like pasta usually eaten as a small first or second course rather than as an entire meal while the Japanese have a phrase hara hachi bu, which means to eat until you are 80% full.

In each of the top four countries, red meat is shunned and people are crazy about fish (from Spanish paella to Japanese sushi), which is high in omega 3 fatty acids, boosting cardiovascular health. Another healthy fat that is a staple of Spanish and Italian diets is extra-virgin olive oil—the average Spaniard consumes more than ten times the amount of olive oil of an American each year. In Iceland, canola oil is more common which has less saturated fat and both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Besides diet and exercise, all of these nations have components that contribute to a high quality of life and happiness. Meals are eaten with friends and family in beautiful moments of community and connectivity. Iceland is ranked as the best country for gender equality. Finally, the Japanese encourage finding your ikigai or “reason for being” so that everyone has a purpose and something to contribute to their community.