In recent years, the U.S. has developed a reputation for being an unhealthy country, rife with obesity, processed foods, and little time built into our busy schedules for a proper sit-down meal. That's not to mention the problems faced by city dwellers when it comes to accessing affordable, healthy food.
Can looking to other, healthier global populations inform us about where we're going wrong in our own lifestyle choices? Check out 10 of the healthiest countries in the world, and what they're doing right.
Despite its high stress business culture and increasing urbanization, Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world – 86 for women and 80 for men. The traditional Japanese diet – which features a lot of fresh fish and seaweed – may be the reason. Additionally, the Japanese government sponsors exercise programs for its citizens. Should the U.S. government start sponsoring exercise programs for us?
The land down under apparently has extremely low rates of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Why, you ask? Apparently, it's the athletic lifestyle (playing high intensity sports like volleyball) and red meat. Shocker! We're hearing constantly that we should cut down on red meat, but in Australia, the cattle is range-fed and all natural. So try out an organic steak and a game of volleyball once in a while!
Sweden takes an all-inclusive approach to health. The government spends a ton on its citizens' well-being, from universal healthcare to well-lit streets to promote evening walks. They're well known for their excellent workers' rights, children's healthcare, and cancer survival rates. Maybe in this case, happier means healthier! Could this system work in the U.S.?
In addition to touting the famed Mediterranean diet, Greek culture emphasizes the social aspect of eating. Meals are lingered over in good company – which, in turn, lowers stress, aids digestion, and promotes well-being. Remember that eating can be a social activity! Make time to sit down and enjoy a leisurely meal with family or friends once in a while.
Grocery shopping in Italy is totally different from the American experience. Rather than supermarkets packed with processed, pre-packaged foods, there's a specialized store for everything you need, where they stock only the freshest local goods. You walk to the butcher, to the greengrocer, to the baker. Quite simply, buying and consuming fresh, whole foods is becomes an everyday part of life. It might be more expensive to do this in America, but it could be worth it!
They're celebrated for the world's lowest infant mortality rate – just two deaths before the age of five for every 1,000 births. Their healthcare system guarantees new parents (mothers and fathers alike) three months of paid leave in the wake of a new birth, so families overall are both happier and healthier. Taking the time to nurture your children is a wonderful thing; thankfully, U.S. paternity and maternity leave policies are slowly improving at some companies.
Even though medicine and medical equipment is often outmoded or in short supply, Cuba enjoys some of the best healthcare in the world. Physicians focus on early detection and prevention in order to make the most of short resources. Know your risk factors and take charge of your health; early detection saves lives.
Finland used to have an extraordinarily high death rate due to heart disease, but smart government programs promoting healthy living have brought this down significantly. Since they started spreading the message of whole foods and healthy living, fruit and veggie intake has more than doubled, and smoking has decreased significantly. For those who want to improve their health, education is critically important. Seek out the resources you need to educate yourself on how to best take care of your body.
In Germany, citizens are happier and healthier for many reasons: very clean air, which promotes outdoor activity; universal healthcare; easy access to fresh, whole foods. In the U.S., being unable to afford fresh produce or travel easily to the nearest grocery store means that many people are stuck in very unhealthy habits. How do you think the U.S. could improve fresh food availability?
The French eating style is world-renowned. Lingering over meals and shop-hopping to gather fresh, local ingredients has had a huge effect on French health. Yes, there's a good amount of fat in their diet, but it's eaten in a way that emphasizes quality over quantity. Snacking in discouraged in favor of three well-balanced meals. Take your time when you eat, and savor every bite – choose foods that satisfy both nutrition and flavor.
If you want to get your health on track, follow my Easy Health Hacks collection! Also, don't forget there's an entire Health Community on Vingle, where you can find great diet, exercise, and even mental health tips :) I'm there all the time, so come hang out with me – let's find health inspiration together! :D