Because there's so much information available regarding what actually works to become healthy, it’s easy to become overwhelmed if you're on the hunt for practices to incorporate into your life. Sites sell vitamins for hundreds of dollars, influencers swear by diets that will detox your impurities, and the debate about what a superfood actually is will likely never quiet down completely. If you’re concerned with improving your overall health, one smart way to begin is to learn from those who are already leading super healthy lives.
There are multiple things any of us could be doing at any time to improve our health. So where do we begin? One great potential starting place is to look to people who are already doing awesome — those who have been named the healthiest people in the world.
The top 10 countries with the healthiest people and culture.
The World Health Organization defines health as being “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” To be healthy goes beyond being free from illness.
The Bloomberg Global Health Index ranks countries from most to least healthy based on several factors. Using their definition, they account for life expectancy, rate of malnutrition, and causes of death. Countries that were deemed to be the healthiest have citizens who show lower uses of tobacco, low blood sugar and lower rates of obesity. Additionally, environmental factors were considered, such as the availability of clean water. With these factors in mind, here are the top 10 healthiest countries as ranked by Bloomberg Global Health:
Spain’s life expectancy is predicted to increase to 85.8 years by 2040, thanks largely to the reasons we'll address down below. Out of 169 countries, the United States was ranked 35th, down dropping from 34th in 2017.
5 things the healthiest people have in common:
1. They take preventative measures.
Preventative measures are all about being proactive. This is made easier by the healthcare systems that many of the top healthiest countries have in place. Preventing health problems is easier than treating them. Spain’s seen a major decline in cardiovascular deaths in recent years, which was one major factor that helps the nation rise to the top of the list, largely thanks to the country’s predominantly public-funded healthcare system.
Because citizens access healthcare providers regularly regardless of their income, they are often able to prevent health issues before or as soon as they occur. The U.S.’s low ranking is partially to blame because preemptive measures are less commonly taken.
Schedule regular check-ups to keep an eye on any health issues that may be brewing. According to the Center for Disease Control, the five most common causes of death in the United States (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, and unintentional injuries) are largely preventable if proper measures are taken.
This includes going for regular screenings and annual physical examinations. Taking health precautions can also save money in the long run: according to the Center for Disease Control, three-fourths of yearly spending is allocated toward chronic diseases and those that are mostly preventable.
2. They follow the Mediterranean Diet.
Eating healthy isn’t about eating less; it’s about eating smarter. Following a diet that is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial for many reasons, including reducing risk of heart disease and lowering cholesterol according to experts who studied the impacts of following a Mediterranean diet. Incorporating foods such as salmon, sardines, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables can also decrease the risk of cancer and Alzheimer's disease. Incorporating healthy eating habits and enjoying fresh food contributes to longevity and quality of life. The next time you're at the market, reach for fatty salmon over red meat or fresh veggies over heavily processed foods.
3. They make socializing a priority.
Making time for those you love or care about is more than just having fun — it’s also life-saving. Maintaining a close social group can boost your life expectancy and increase overall happiness. The Okinawa Program, the book based on a 25-year study of the lifestyle habits of Okinawans, details the practices that contribute to their being the healthiest and longest-living population in the world.
One huge takeaway: They highly value their social networks. Okinawans regularly participate in social clubs and strongly believe in upholding strong bonds of communal support. The study even suggests that maintaining strong relationships can have a stronger impact on health than giving up smoking cigarettes.
4. They regularly exercise.
In Switzerland, hiking is a favorite pastime. Spaniards and Italians live active lifestyles that are easy to perform in their active climates in their mild climates. Regular walking in Japan is one way that the country stays so healthy. Routinely participating and sports and outdoor activities is a major staple in many of the countries that top the list. One of the factors that led to the United State’s low rank is the obesity rate, in part thanks to the relatively sedentary lifestyles.
If you're physically able to do so, making physical activity a priority to the best of your ability can turn around your health. Whether you schedule in lunch break walks, opt for a standing desk, or take a weekly workout class, there are many ways to add movement in your daily life.
5. They chill out.
It’s likely unsurprising to learn that people who have higher instances of chronic stress are more likely to experience a slew of adverse health-related consequences, including heart disease and mental illness, but a study conducted by the University of California - San Francisco revealed that chronic stress is so detrimental that it shortens overall lifespans.
One key to reaching longevity is to make time to destress as frequently as possible. In addition to holding the No. 3 spot for the world’s healthiest country, Iceland consistently tops lists for having one of the most content populations in the world thanks in no small part to their plentiful hot springs that are found in nearly every town where Icelanders frequently congregate to soak for hours at a time. Incorporating time to relax is an essential part of the Icelandic schedule, so consider making time to decompress a must in your daily life.
Do you feel like your lifestyle could use a few changes? Remember, you shouldn’t make major changes to your diet or exercise regimen without consulting a doctor first. Incorporating these tricks in moderation to the best of your abilities can lead to living a healthier life. Finding ways to use these strategies in a way that fits your budget and lifestyle can pay off in the long run.
Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is an MFA candidate at Columbia University, and her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.