As longevity in the United States begins a publicized decline due to the “diseases of affluence” such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, the public is on the lookout for health tips that they can use in their everyday lives. Fortunately, a number of studies have taken a look at the healthiest populations in the world to glean aspects of their lifestyles that can be applied to our own. What do these populations eat? What kind of healthcare services do they have access to? How often do they exercise?
Certainly, what we eat plays a huge part in longevity. The body is dependent on a wide variety of nutrients and has a limited capacity for metabolizing sugar, alcohol, and certain kinds of fats. A trademark of the healthiest populations in the world (Japan comes to mind here) is that they eat responsibly: whole foods like fish, soy, and green tea. In countries with high food costs, one of the natural side effects is that the population tends to consume less food. Some countries (Iceland, for example) work exercise into their schedules much more frequently than in less healthy nations. In Iceland the weather can be extremely unhospitable during long stretches of the year, so Icelanders use exercise to circumvent the winter doldrums.
Cardiovascular exercise, proper weight management, and healthy dieting are all elements of a preventive lifestyle. That is, making positive personal health choices over the long-term, since many common health problems (such as heart disease) are linked to gradual damage to the heart and its arteries. A long-term sedentary lifestyle can lead to high blood pressure, chronic neck or back pain, and muscle spasms. Due to your body’s orientation while sitting, your heart also has to work harder to pump blood. If your work environment is overly sedentary, try light aerobic exercise at set intervals throughout the day to build cardiovascular strength.
In addition to living a preventive lifestyle, another commonality among the healthiest populations in the world is their access to healthcare services. Many of these nations (Iceland, Sweden, Japan, New Zealand, and Finland, for example) feature some form of socialized health insurance (also known as a single-payer system) accessible to all of its citizens. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 (also known as Obamacare or the ACA) in the US represents a step toward that ideal. Along with an online health insurance marketplace (SHOP, the Small Business Health Options Program), the Affordable Care Act mandates that employers with 50 or more full-time employees must provide health insurance for their full-time staff. In time, this may shift US healthcare towards a healthcare delivery system modeled after these other nations.