Live long and prosper, they say – though it would seem like a more accurate statement to say, "Prosper, and live long." Taking a glance at the countries around the world with the longest life expectancy, it's pretty obvious that money might not buy love, but it can buy you a much longer time to have a shot at it.
The citizens of Monaco, one of the richest countries on Earth, have a life expectancy of 89 years. That's four years longer than their closest rivals, and those rivals come in the form of Japan and Singapore – not exactly places where people are struggling financially.
Still, there's more to a long life than simply earning a heap of money. For travellers, it can be an interesting experience visiting those destinations where people have a long life expectancy to see what it is that keeps everyone so healthy, and to soak up a little of that goodness for yourself.
Is it the food? The lifestyle? The relationships? The medical care? And is it something you can learn from and take home with you?
If ever there was an advertisement for lifestyle over financial gain, it would be Italy. According to the CIA World Factbook (which all of these stats are taken from), the life expectancy of a newborn in Italy right now is 82 years, which puts the country right up there with the best of them – one position, in fact, above Australia. Visit Italy and you'll see what keeps people hanging around so long: the focus on family and friends, on sitting down for a long lunch of excellent food instead of going to work for 12 hours a day, on balancing the necessities with the things you really enjoy.
The life expectancy in South Korea is skyrocketing – it's expected to be up beyond 90 years by 2030. So what are they doing so well? It's probably not diet, or so you would think after witnessing the Koreans' passion for fried chicken and beer. It's probably not lifestyle, either, given the long hours Koreans put in at the office. In fact, the longevity here is popularly attributed to excellent healthcare, and a love of vitamin-rich kimchi.
See also: The real deal - How Koreans like to eat
You might expect that living in an area of such high tension as Israel would cause people's lives to be cut short – but you would be wrong. Israelis can now expect to hit the ripe old age of 82, something many of the locals put down to the strong sense of family and community that most Israelis have, as people band together in times of difficulty. A good healthcare system and a Mediterranean climate also help.
It would come as no surprise to anyone who's visited Switzerland to discover that the life expectancy is high there. At 82.6 years it's the ninth highest in the world, and no wonder: Switzerland is not just a prosperous country, but a peaceful one, a clean one, and a beautiful one. It's a well organised society where very little ever seems to go wrong. No wonder people hang around to enjoy it.
Here's an interesting one. The common assumption is that big cities and polluted skies are not conducive to long life, but here you have a densely populated and, in some cases, fairly dirty place where people are expected to live past 82. Much of Hong Kong's success is put down to diet, with plenty of fresh seafood and vegetable-heavy soups, as well as low consumption of hard alcohol, and a very low smoking rate. That's good news for travellers: eat as much as you like.
Could stinky, fermented shark meat be the secret to a long life? Some in Iceland would have you believe so, crediting their seafood-heavy diet – including the national "delicacy", hakarl – for their life expectancy of 83 years. Visitors to this island nation would probably also credit the clean air, the low population, and the general prosperity, while geneticists also point to the Iceland population's strong genes. Which is good news: you can give the hakarl a miss.
The tiny nation of Macau shares many of its cultural traits with nearby Hong Kong, which probably explains the similarly long life expectancy. At 84 years, however, the residents of Macau do have the edge. What's their secret? Surely it isn't legal gambling. My feeling is that it's probably the addition to their diet of Portuguese tarts.
Japan has long been famous for the lifespan of its residents, with stats propped up by the phenomenal longevity of those in the islands of Okinawa, where the average expectancy is 87 years, and plenty make it into triple figures. It's the Okinawa diet that's often cited as the reason they live so long – plenty of seafood and vegetables – however, for the rest of the country it's not only the fresh, healthy cuisine, but also plenty of exercise, and time set aside for socialising. That's something even visitors can enjoy.
Singaporeans are wealthy, and they also live in one of the cleanest, safest and most strictly ordered societies on the planet – all of which contributes to a life expectancy above 85. Of course when you're there you notice both the up sides and the down sides of the Singaporean model. Yes, it's orderly and safe, but the rules can feel just a little constricting. Many would argue, however, that that's a reasonable trade-off.
There's little to be learned, unfortunately, from the country with the world's longest life expectancy. The good citizens of Monaco can expect to reach the ripe old age of 89, thanks in large part to predictable factors such as being one of the wealthiest places on the planet, and having – despite the fact no one pays income tax – an excellent healthcare system and good social services. It would appear that in Monaco, neither death nor taxes are inevitable.
Have you visited any of the countries with the longest life expectancy? What do you think we can learn from them?
See also: The world's best places to retire to
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