In order to discover which countries are the healthiest in the world, we look at their life expectancy. Why people live longer and healthier lives in certain areas is based on a number of factors, and not necessarily limited to a country’s healthcare system.
The top 12 countries ranked by life expectancy, according to Worldometer, are Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Switzerland, Singapore, Italy, Spain, Australia, the Channel Islands, Iceland, South Korea and Israel. All relatively prosperous countries, it would seem a country’s wealth almost certainly informs its wellness.
Below we take a closer look at a handful of the abovementioned nations and some of the other reasons for their overall good health and long life expectancies.
With the highest life expectancy, sitting at 85.3 years, Hong Kong is listed as the healthiest country in the world. Hong Kong’s rapid economic development post World War II has certainly contributed to this, bringing with it a world-class health system, and a clean and developed city.
Hong Kong is safe and promotes active living, with easy access to public transport and a high concentration of outdoor spaces, including parks and trails. The local diet is also extremely healthy, consisting of fish, fruit, vegetables, rice, healthy fats, and dishes including pieces of chopped up meat, rather than entire portions. This diet is nourishing for the body and promotes longevity. It is also a part of the culture in Hong Kong for elderly relatives to be taken care of by the family, instead of placing them in nursing homes. This care and attention given to Hong Kong’s elderly certainly help them live longer.
With a life expectancy of 84.3 years, Switzerland is the fourth-healthiest country in the world. One of the reasons for this is high government spending on accessible healthcare for its residents. Another important factor is low unemployment rates and high salaries, meaning people can afford a good standard of living.
The Swiss work-life balance is excellent, providing residents with more time to spend with their loved ones or doing what they enjoy and, in turn, keeping stress levels down. Swiss people are extremely active and remain active in old age; young and old can be spotted on ski slopes or hiking trails, while Swiss cities are built to promote walking or cycling to get around. There is also a strong sense of community in Switzerland, minimising the toll that loneliness can take on one’s mental and physical health.
The Spanish life expectancy is 84 years and is largely attributed to the fantastic climate and high levels of sunshine that Spaniards enjoy throughout the year. The climate also means Spaniards generally live rather active lifestyles and enjoy being outdoors. Another major influence on Spanish life expectancy is the Mediterranean diet, which is heavily based on fish and olive oil, and is extremely healthy for your body and, more specifically, your heart. As Spain is a big producer of fruit and vegetables, these are also a staple in the local diet.
Finally, the country’s welfare policies and culture of solidarity ensure that the older generations are well looked after. Not only do they receive a high standard of care by the public healthcare system, but they are also supported by family and community. People in Spain look out for one another, and that sense of security and support contributes to the happiness and longevity of the country’s residents.
Interestingly, it has been predicted that, by 2040, Spain will have the highest life expectancy in the world, topping Hong Kong, with an average lifespan of 85.8 years.
Australians can expect to live for 83.9 years thanks to various factors including climate, plenty of sunshine and active lifestyles, as well as the country’s excellent social welfare policies, high living standards and prosperous economy. Most people in Australia earn well, and the country’s education policies means the population is well educated and able to find employment. The standard of housing is also high, while excellent healthcare is readily available.
Throughout the world, the general trend is that elderly people in facilities tend to be lonely and unhappy and therefore often die sooner than they would in a family home. For a country that relies on age care for their citizens, as opposed to this being the responsibility of family members, it is interesting that Australia’s life expectancy is so high. That said, the Australian government has done a great job in creating a culture in which being old is not seen as a liability, and the care provided is of an excellent standard.
Iceland, with a life expectancy of 83.5 years, is an interesting case. Unlike many of the other countries on this list, Iceland has a harsh climate and limited daylight hours. Something they do have in common with many of their competitors, however, is a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids thanks to high fish consumption. Pollution is also incredibly low in Iceland, meaning the water and air are clean, and the locals live extremely active lifestyles.
That said, the most influential factor in determining Iceland’s life expectancy is believed to be genetics. A study done on Iceland’s elderly population found that those aged 90 and older are more closely related to each other than those in other countries. This suggests that, due to the country’s harsh conditions in the past, only the strongest people were likely to survive, reproduce and pass on their hardy DNA. Over time, as we develop and become more advanced, genes may mutate and dilute, changing their life expectancy. With that being said, the Icelandic way of life does promote wellness, regardless of genetics.
Tied with Iceland, Israel’s life expectancy is also 83.5 years. With such a turbulent history, it’s interesting that Israel was able to develop to such an extent that it falls within the top 12 healthiest countries in the world. This is in part thanks to diet – Israelis follow the Mediterranean diet, and therefore consume high quantities of fruit, vegetables and fish.
Alcohol consumption in Israel has increased over the last few decades, but remains very low, and the average Israeli is therefore less likely to contract alcohol-induced illnesses or suffer accidents due to inebriation. Israel also has an efficient and well-resourced healthcare system that provides excellent care to all its citizens, no matter their means. The close family structure in Israeli culture is yet another determining factor, as the family looks after and supports their elderly. People who grow old in a nurturing and loving environment tend to live longer and happier lives.