The World’s Healthiest Countries (and What We Can Learn From Them)
Posted Nov 04 2008 10:01am
Breathe in, breathe out.
More than anything, the Primal Blueprint is a pragmatic approach to diet and lifestyle. It is not dogma; rather, it is based on empirical evidence suggesting that following the diet and many lifestyle behaviors of our early ancestors is the healthiest way to live. Though we keep abreast of the latest scientific news, how we feel when we eat, exercise, and live Primally is what motivates us to follow the Primal Blueprint. Results matter, and so we feel it might be useful to take a look at some of the healthiest countries in the world and understand what works for them.
We’ve drawn from several recent surveys of the healthiest countries. The Forbes survey, for example, focused almost entirely on healthcare, life expectancy, and air quality, which are certainly important issues - but how much can we really learn when the top ten countries all make the list for the same reasons? The Foreign Policy and Men’s Health lists offered different perspectives, tending to focus on nutrition and exercise. By looking at all three, I think you’ll get a fairly complete picture of what works, and what doesn’t work, to make these countries the healthiest.
Here are our top 10 countries (America not included) in no particular order:
With an average life expectancy of 86 for women and 79 for men, Japan has some of the longest-lived citizens in the world. And amazingly enough, much of Japan no longer features the bucolic, serene environments of the Kurosawa films that many assume still flourish. Japanese business culture has grown high stress and impacted, but the healthy diet - rich in seaweed and fish - has remained the same. Government-sponsored exercise programs contribute to the longevity, too.
What can we learn from Japan? Eat fish and exercise - so basically, just keep doing what we’ve been doing.
Men’s Fitness gave the Outback its top ranking. Their reasoning? The low rates of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure resulting from all the volleyball they play and steak they eat. Huh? A mainstream mag promoting red meat consumption? Amazing! What they fail to mention is that much of Australia’s cattle is range-fed, meaning most of their steak is raised the way nature intended.
Not that we needed to tell you, but intense bouts of exercise - like in beach volleyball - and grass-fed steaks are perfect for the Primal lifestyle.
Sweden’s claim to good health is pretty undeniable: high cancer survival rates and excellent children’s healthcare. And their public healthcare is famously comprehensive, owing in part to the high government spending. But plenty of other countries have universal healthcare with less impressive results. Why is that? Sweden approaches healthcare from a holistic point of view, knowing that happier citizens are healthier citizens. From well-lit public places promoting evening walks to creating happier professional lives for its workers, Sweden understands the Primal idea that health isn’t just about medicine.
Sometimes, it’s not what you eat that’s important, but how you eat it. Greece puts heavy emphasis on the social aspect of dining. A meal is to be enjoyed, savored. And, in turn, the relaxation that accompanies a nice leisurely dinner aids in digestion. Now, though we doubt Primal man was much of a slow eater, not having to watch your surroundings for possible predators and being able to enjoy your food would have been a luxury even Grok would welcome. Don’t forget that eating is a social activity; eat Primally, but do so with friends and loved ones.
Shopping for the day’s groceries in Italy often means making several stops - at the butcher, the grocer, the baker. The Costcos and Ralph’s are few and far between, meaning that the focus is on fresh, unprocessed foods. Go to an American grocery store and you’ll be assaulted by cans, packages, and Styrofoam (as well as fresh vegetables and meats, provided you stick to the perimeter); but in Italy, you simply aren’t inundated with all the processed, pre-packaged food. And that means buying fresh, whole foods becomes an everyday part of life.
Just like Sweden, Iceland places a heavy emphasis on healthcare, offering extensive pre- and post- birth healthcare for mother and child. The result? The world’s healthiest infants, with just two deaths before the age of five for every 1,000 births. Primal man knew the evolutionary imperative of providing for your offspring, and so does Iceland. Parents are also guaranteed three months of paid professional leave for every child, which undoubtedly makes for happy families.
Longtime trade embargo notwithstanding, Cuba enjoys some of the best healthcare in the world. Cuban healthcare focuses on early detection and prevention. Medicine and medical equipment are often in short supply, making prevention a necessity. Cuba highlights the effectiveness of such a strategy. If Cuba can keep its citizens healthy despite the embargo and substandard equipment, what does that say about the American tradition of popping pills and chronic treatment? It sounds like maybe Primal, healthy living is the best healthcare around.
Thirty years ago, Finland had the highest death rate from heart disease among men - about 5 deaths per 1,000. Local governments began promoting healthy living, and today, fruit and vegetable intake has more than doubled. Smoking has dwindled, too. Nowadays, Finland men have a heart disease death rate about average for the region - 1 per 1,000 - and one of the lowest infant mortality rates. Just goes to show what a little focus on fresh whole foods and clean living can do.
All the usual culprits are here: nationalized healthcare, high tax rates, fresh, whole foods. So it’s no surprise that Germany ranks among the world’s healthiest countries. But Germany also has incredibly clean air, promoting a very active, outdoorsy culture that relishes walking and bike riding. Fresh, whole foods and clean air - what’s not to like?
Experts marvel at France’s low rates of heart disease in spite of the high fat content of its cuisine. Conventional wisdom says fat = bad! Of course, fat’s never turned us off, but it’s nice to see it being praised, rather than demonized. France also tends to eat longer, slower meals and use fresh, whole ingredients.
What activities, habits, or traditions of cultures around the world have caught your eye as being particularly health? Hit us up with a comment in the boards!