Okinawa, Japan, where hundreds of residents are over 100 years old, is often known as “the land of immortals.” Last year, the number of people 90 years old and above in Japan hit the 2 million mark.
Chiyo Miyako, 117, of Japan died last year as the oldest person in the world. The new oldest person in the world is Kane Tanaka, 116, a woman living in Fukuoka, Japan. The world’s oldest man, Masazo Nonaka, celebrated his 113th birthday July 25 in Hokkaido, Japan. According to the World Health Organization, in 2018, the average life expectancy in Japan is 84.2 years old. Men live an average of 81.1 years, and women live an average of 87.1 years.
What is the island nation’s secret to long, healthy lives?
Diet is one reason for the country’s population of “centenarians,” or people older than 100 years. When the Japanese eat meat, they eat mostly heart-healthy fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Other popular foods include tofu, seaweed and octopus, all of which carry a low risk for some cancers and arteriosclerosis.
Japan’s health care system is one of the most accessible in the world. The government pays 70 percent of the cost of all health procedures and up to 90 percent for low-income citizens.
Other countries have long life expectancies. USA TODAY breaks down where people live the longest, healthiest lives:
This year, the average Swiss life expectancy is 83.3 years. Men live an average of 81.2 years, and women live an average of 85.2.
The Swiss’s long lives could be due to their sense of community. A study in 2015 found that isolation and feelings of loneliness could be as bad for health as obesity. About 94 percent of people in Switzerland say they have at least one person they can depend on in a time of need, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Some even suggest the Swiss’s love of chocolate could be part of the country’s overall health. The Swiss eat 19.8 pounds of chocolate per capita each year, and dark chocolate has been linked to lowering risks for heart attack and stroke.
In Spain, the average life expectancy is 83.1 years. Women can expect to live an average of 85.7 years, and men live an average of 80.3 years.
The Spanish eat a traditionally Mediterranean diet, which is rich with olive oil, fish and vegetables. A Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol.
The Spanish may be healthier because of their culture of taking a siesta, or “nap,” in the middle of the day. Generally, shops and offices in Spain close from 2 to 5 p.m. for people to rest and eat with their families.
“If you are forced to stop for two or three hours, then you go home or go to a restaurant where you can sit down, eat two courses and dessert and have time enough to digest well, it’s going to be healthier than a takeaway.” Miquel Àngel Diez i Besora, a tour guide from Barcelona, told the BBC.
How does the rest of the world compare?
Singapore, Australia and France can all boast average life expectancies of 82.9 years. These countries have high rates of access to essential health services, according to the WHO, and many prioritize walking and other exercise. France holds the record for the oldest person ever, Jeanne Calment, who lived more than 122 years from 1875 to 1997.
The USA’s life expectancy is 78.5 years. Men live an average of 76 years and women live an average of 81. This is a drop from 2016 and 2017, during which the average American life expectancy was 79.3 years. Experts attribute this to the opioid epidemic and rising rates of “despair.”
The lowest life expectancies are in the Central African Republic, Chad and Lesotho: 53, 54.3 and 52.9 years, respectively, because of conflicts and a lack of health resources.