If you’ve been following my series of articles looking at parts of the world where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives, you may have noticed that so far they have all been small countries or islands.
If you have any knowledge of probability theory and statistics, big red lights and alarm bells should be going off in your head, because there is a distinct possibility that these results are nothing more than statistical fluctuations and have no meaning at all. To make the study more robust, I need to look at larger countries. With a larger population, there’s much less chance of the longevity just being a statistical blip.
And so, this month I’m taking a look at Spain, which has the highest life expectancy of any major country in Europe (Britain is a woeful 19th). In fact it ranks 6th in the world. That’s impressive. So what do the Spanish do that others don’t?
- They eat a Mediterranean diet – fruit, salads, fish and olive oil.
- They enjoy a very warm Mediterranean climate.
- As a result they also enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.
- They commonly have a snooze after lunch.
- Then they eat very late in the evenings.
- They work shorter days than the OECD average.
- They tend to live as extended families, with older people in contact with the young.
- And, if they do get ill, family members commonly take food to their relatives in hospital.
So they live somewhere hot, they take it easy and they eat well. That all sounds good. But hang on, because Spain has an unusually high number of negative health factors too:
- Spain has significantly lower than average education and higher unemployment then other OECD countries.
- Water quality is poor.
- Air quality is also poor.
- To make the air quality even worse they smoke a lot (about the same as Japan).
- They also enjoy rather high alcohol consumption.
- As a result, when asked if they are happy, not surprisingly, Spanish are less likely to say yes than the OECD average.
The negative health factors might seem at first glance to outweigh the positives. Like Andorra, the Spanish like to smoke and drink. They are uneducated, polluted and miserable. It makes you wonder if they really enjoy their extra years of life.
And yet their life expectancy is unusually high. The evidence suggests that the positive factors strongly outweigh the negatives. That’s got to be good news, surely? Imagine what a long, healthy and happy life you could live if you did all the positive things without any of the negatives!