Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 14th 2015 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, December 14, 2015
People are living longer than ever before. Today,
the majority worldwide can safely see themselves
living into their sixties, according to the World
The country where people live longest---measured
as life expectancy at age 60---is Japan.
Coming a close second are a string of countries
spanning the Mediterranean and East Asia, as well
as countries with strong economies and healthcare
systems. By measuring life expectancy at age 60,
factors such as childhood illness and issues earlier in
life are discounted and longevity is more related to
an individual s lifestyle and environment during older
We asked a selection of aging experts why these
countries are outliving the rest---and what secrets
they hold to longer life.
Japanese people who make it to age 60 will live on
to an average age of 86---longer than anywhere else
in the world. More than a quarter of the country s
population are now over the age of 64 and the com-
munities of Okinawa house the greatest proportion
of centenarians of anywhere worldwide.
"Part of that is the traditional Japanese diet," says
John Beard, director of Aging and Life-course at the
World Health Organization (WHO). That diet includes
plenty of fresh fish and vegetables, combined with
low levels of meat and saturated fat. "But the traditional
diet has changed," says Beard, speculating there is
more to it than simply food.
"Another part of it is lifestyle...and that they have
systems which identify and treat key issues like blood
pressure," says Beard. Active lifestyles into older years
are the norm in Japan, helped by the country s extensive
rural landscape getting people outdoors, and further
aided by a well-established health infrastructure.
Sarah Harper, professor of Gerontology at the Uni-
versity of Oxford cites other reasons for Japanese
longevity. "They tend to have a society which tends
to promote a strong family set up and stress-relieving
cultural activities," she says. Furthermore, Japan has
less social inequality than many other countries,
enabling everyone to experience these benefits.
A good diet, active lifestyle in the older years, stress
relief and lots of support---whilst we may know this
is crucial, not all countries are adopting it.
Raise your glass to Southern Europe
"We have more older people in Europe than younger
people already," says Harper. In the continent as a
whole, more than half the population can expect to
live into their mid-eighties, particularly in the south
- helped by their Mediterranean diet.
"Even if people take up a Mediterranean diet in
older age, it can have health benefits," says Beard.
The highly regarded diet traditionally consists of a
small amount of wine, fresh vegetables, olive oil and,
again, little meat and saturated fat.
Harper says the diet is better than ones rich in
meat, fried foods and alcohol. "It s just a healthier
option than what people in northern Europe tend to
eat," he says. A recent study found that people con-
sistently consuming a Mediterranean diet were both
physically and mentally healthier as they aged.
Italy, Spain and France have populations with an
average life expectancy of 85 after passing the age of
60 and Beard thinks their cultures and warmer climates
have a role to play.
"There s a culture of physical activity, and the
climate is one that makes that relatively easy," says
Beard. In countries with cold, harsh winters, main-
taining an active lifestyle becomes a challenge.
Israel also has a life expectancy of 85 at age 60 and
Glaser speculates this is most likely due to the diet.
"So much morbidity at older age is due to heart dis-
ease," she says. The social nature of these populations
also comes into play. "Social relationships
are important in these countries and family
ties are strong," says Glaser. She believes
that when people have a greater sense of
belonging to a community, or family, and
maintain a healthy work-life balance, their
health improves. "If one person engages in
healthy behavior, others might also as well,"
Thriving in old age with a thriving economy
In the other countries outliving the rest
of the world, good health comes from
wealth---and the consequences of a strong
economy and health system. Singapore,
Monaco, Andorra, Australia, Canada, Lux-
embourg, New Zealand and Switzerland are
all on the list for a joint silver medal for life
expectancy at 60---living to an average of
85. "Places like Monaco have a huge wealthy
immigrant population," says Harper, who
believes immigration can also plays a role
in the diet of a country s population and
therefore its longevity. "Countries like Aus-
tralia, Canada and New Zealand have large
European populations that are probably eat-
ing similar kinds of diets," she says.
In general, countries with a smaller wealth
and class divide have a healthier aging pop-
ulation. "(In Singapore) there s a range of
wealth and advantage; there are very few
people at the bottom," says Beard. This uni-
formity means more members of the pop-
ulation can live the lifestyles needed to ensure
good health---well into their eighties.
And to top this all off, the outcome of a
strong and equal economy is also a strong
health system. "The health system in Aus-
tralia starts to play a more significant role
than in some other places as there is universal
access to health services," says Beard.
If entire populations can access good
health programmes---such as screening serv-
ices---chronic conditions that generally affect
older populations can be picked up early
and treated before they re irreparable.
But one thing helping us all live longer is
that our lives today are easier than those of
our ancestors. (cnn.com)
These countries hold the secret to long life
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
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