Travellers throughout history searched for a mythical spring with healing waters that promised everlasting life. Although a true Fountain of Youth remains to be found, people today live longer than ever.
Common sense says that the more developed the economy, the better chances it has for longer life expectancy with access to a high level of healthcare. Plus, a healthy diet never hurts. [Read more about the happiest countries in the world.]
The UN relied on longevity around the world as one factor to weigh into rankings of the happiest countries in its latest report. Here are some secrets travellers can learn from the countries where people live the longest.
PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEXANDER SPATARI, GETTY IMAGES
A combination of a Mediterranean-influenced diet, strong family and cultural values, and a sharp health system helps Israel rank fifth for longevity. Plus, the rate of alcohol consumption in Israel is one of the lowest in the world, despite Tel Aviv’s hedonistic reputation. Life Lesson: To balance the late nights, soak up the sun while running or biking along the coast, like here on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv.
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People in Japan continue to outlive those in other countries, thanks to healthcare improvements, a fresh diet, and active lifestyle. National Geographic expert and author on the subject Dan Buettner visited centenarians on the island of Okinawa, once called the land of immortals. He found that older Okinawans possess a strong sense of purpose, or ikigai, which translates roughly to “that which makes one’s life worth living.” Life Lesson: Practice ikigai through daily exercises, like joining a free tai chi class in the Roppongi Hills area of Tokyo, to learn how locals go with the flow.
3. SOUTH KOREA
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South Korean women will be the first in the world to have an average life expectancy above 90, a new study suggests. Researchers looking for answers find some consensus: investments in medical care, a health-conscious culture, and a healthy diet underpinned by the ubiquitous presence of fermented vegetables. Life Lesson: Load up on kimchi during Kimjang season in late August, when communities prepare for harsh winters by collectively preparing and sharing large quantities of kimchi, earning a recognition by UNESCO’s intangible heritage list.
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In second place, Switzerland boasts wealth, a sense of well-being, and superior healthcare–although a love of blood pressure-reducing chocolate doesn’t hurt. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) notes that the nation’s high water quality contributes to a healthier population. Life Lesson: As far back as the Bronze Age, travelers sought the iron-rich waters and invigorating alpine air in the country’s natural thermal pools, like around Lucerne in the Alps or near Lake Geneva in Valais.
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The Italian pace of life—which values free time, close family bonds, frequent walks, and plenty of sunshine—helps the country top the life expectancy charts. Buettner traveled to the island of Sardinia to investigate a rare genetic quirk found in inhabitants: the M26 marker linked to exceptional longevity. Life Lesson: Bring the benefits of a Mediterranean diet back home by joining one of the many culinary classes, like the Golden Buddha Yoga and Sicilian Cooking course. Students not only learn to cook, but also tune into their inner selves during daily yoga practice.
LEAD IMAGE: A combination of a Mediterranean-influenced diet, strong family and cultural values, and a sharp health system helps Israel rank fifth for longevity. Plus, the rate of alcohol consumption in Israel is one of the lowest in the world, despite Tel Aviv’s hedonistic reputation. Life Lesson: To balance the late nights, soak up the sun while running or biking along the coast, like here on HaYarkon Street in Tel Aviv. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALEXANDER SPATARI, GETTY IMAGES