Which countries would you predict are most—and least—healthy?
If you’re like me, you imagine the top of the list consisting of countries like Japan, where they eat a lot seafood, and maybe some European countries where they walk and bike frequently but indulge in a glass of wine over dinner. (Have the experts landed on whether that’s still good for you?)
At the bottom of the list you might imagine the archetypical image of the slovenly American, face-deep in a bag of pork rinds as he sits on his la-Z-boy recliner staring at a big screen for hours on end.
If so, your instincts are right.
While researchers use different metrics to assess societal health, here are 10 countries that make it to the top of the list, according to Samir Becic and his Health Fitness Revolution team, who researched global data on life expectancy and health outcomes, but has been re-ranked based on estimated life expectancy changes in 2016, compared to original data from 2013.
Think of ancient Greek culture and their famous athletic feats may come to mind: the Olympics, and the famous first Marathon. Even today, being active is part of Greek culture, bolstered by the country’s varied terrain and water surroundings. Add to this the Mediterranean diet of olive oil and fish and you get an impressive average life expectancy of nearly 83 years!
The Spanish enjoy tapas—small tasting portions of a variety of foods, often shared—which made portion control a natural way of life. They also partake in a mid-day siesta, which may lower stress and ensure sufficient rest, both of which help to prevent disease.
While their diets are rich in meat and dairy, the French are known for their habit of enjoying food in moderation—which includes a moderate amount of heart-healthy red wine over dinner. Like other Europeans, the French walk a lot, protecting them from the harm of a sedentary lifestyle.
While we Americans may associate Italian food with Olive Garden fare comprised of never-ending breadsticks and oversized pasta bowls, an authentic Italian diet is Mediterranean: rich in olive oil, garlic, and fish. Like other European countries, the Italians are active and drink moderate amounts of red wine.
Australians are physically active, and sports and outdoor activities are large part of the culture. Many Australians surf, swim, play rugby, hike, or bike. But there’s another reason Australians rank high on the health scale: Because the country is in the middle of the ocean, it makes more financial sense to eat natural foods native to their country instead of importing.
The Swiss have their terrain to thank for their good health. Taking advantage of their mountains year round, Switzerland’s residents enjoy winter sports in the cooler months and hiking and mountaineering when the snow melts.
Located in the eastern Pyrenees and bordered by Spain and France, Andorra enjoys many of the benefits of its European neighbors: a Mediterranean diet, an active lifestyle, and mountain-based activities throughout the year.
Singapore’s government promotes a clean and healthy environment through education, volunteering, and regulations. It’s likely that the country is so clean and the people so generally healthy because residents strive to be in compliance with national rules
The Japanese eat well and in small portions, with a diet rich in seafood, green tea, vegetables, and seaweed, rather than red meat, dairy, butter and milk.
Because the European country is so wealthy, many residents of Monaco have their own chefs to plan healthy meals for them. But there’s a less obvious dynamic going on as well: many residents are retired or do not need to work, eliminating a significant source of anxiety, and, thus, associated health problems.
*Life expectancy data Source: CIA World Factbook