G’day, sport. This month I’m looking at Australia to see if the Aussies can teach us anything, apart from how to drink beer and say “mate” in an irritating accent. Specifically, I want to find out why Australia has the fifth highest life expectancy in the world (after Japan, Andorra, Iceland and Switzerland).
Let’s try to find out what makes the Aussies tick. More precisely, what keeps them ticking.
- On the face of it, Australians are very much like their counterparts in Western Europe and America. As in all developed countries the top causes of death are heart disease, cancer and stroke.
- You might be under the impression that Australians drink a lot of beer. But in fact they drink less alcohol than in many Western countries and slightly less than in the UK.
- Smoking? It’s relatively high, although it’s fallen rapidly in the past few decades.
- The Australian diet is culturally diverse, yet Australia has one of the highest incidences of obesity in the world, so what they eat certainly isn’t responsible for keeping them healthy.
- What about per capita health spending? It’s slightly higher than the OECD average.
- Are Australians more relaxed than in the UK and America? It’s possible, although working hours are typical for a developed economy.
What then, is the secret to Australian longevity?
There’s one thing about Australia that does stand out, and it’s climate. The hot, sunny climate lends itself to an outdoor lifestyle and beach culture. It also means that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. But the evidence suggests that the benefits of living in the sun greatly outweigh the negatives.
Australia is sportier than many nations, with 70% of the population doing physical activity at least one a week. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s better than most developed countries. Top activities are walking, aerobics, swimming, cycling, tennis, golf, running and football. That’s probably a strong contributing health factor.
It’s not easy to explain Australia’s high life expectancy. The country does some things well, but others badly.
One key factor that seems to be emerging from this series is the influence of climate. All the countries I’ve studied (Australia, Greece, Japan, Spain & Andorra) have a hot, sunny climate. The Mediterranean seems to be a top place to live, as well as hot, sunny countries like Australia. It might just be that this is the most important contributor to life expectancy.
That leaves Iceland looking strangely anomalous, so I’d better check that out next.