Seven Reasons why People Live Longer in Spain
Updated: Apr 1
People in Spain take the lead for living longer with an average lifespan of 85.8 years. The Japanese are famous for longevity in global charts. But now the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows people living in Spain top the longevity charts. What’s the explanation?
This week Age in Spain gives you 7 reasons backed by science: one a day over 7 days during our Living in Spain Week 21-27 March 2022
Days of Sunlight
? Come back tomorrow to find out.
REASON 1. MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Good quality food is life enhancing. A Mediterranean diet is the No 1 reason people live longer in Spain.
A Mediterranean diet includes fresh fish, chicken, pulses, fruit and leafy vegetables. Our photo is a paella of healthy seafood, fresh vegetables and rice. The Valencia region is famous for its paella pan-dishes of chicken, meat and spice combinations.
Fresh food is healthier for us than processed food. Olive oil is key to good Spanish cooking. Affordable fruit, vegetables, nuts, meats and fish are widely available.
These foods are rich in omega-3 and 6 which makes the Mediterranean diet excellent for health. These beneficial factors reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, blood pressure and other diseases.
Locals are proud to live in a foodie paradise. Family-run restaurants offer superb quality at a good price range. We know that moderate sized portions help control body weight. And Spanish tapas are delicious bites of ham, cheese and tortilla to share. Let’s go and have some tapas! ¡Vamos a tapear!
But some doctors are alarmed by a new trend towards fast food. Heavily processed junk food pushes a rise in obesity. Studies show that younger people are at risk of losing the diet habits of their grandparents. Only 30% of children now eat fresh fruit daily according to the World Health Organisation.
The message for all of us is stick to a Mediterranean diet. Eat well for your health. If you need advice about moving to Spain, get in touch with us at Age in Spain.
A good diet is our reason No 1 why people live longer in Spain.
REASON 2. DAYS OF SUNSHINE
You are the sunshine of my life.
Sunlight is our reason No 2 why people live longer in Spain.
Sunshine lifts our spirits and boosts our health. You can feel the benefit! How does sunlight improve our health? It activates our body’s production of Vitamin D and serotonin. Serotonin is often called a ‘happy’ chemical which boosts our natural appetite, sleep, mood, memory and learning ability.
Spain has 300 days of sunshine per year according to the World Health Organisation. Days of azure blue skies and warm sunshine. Sunshine and a comfortable temperature enables our body to run in an energy-efficient mode. The climate in Spain is generally mild compared to northern countries in Europe.
Of course, the Iberian peninsula has distinct climate zones: Atlantic, Continental and Maritime. Galicia has heavy rainfall which turns the coast green, La Costa Verde. Listen to the World Service Shipping Forecast and you’ll hear Atlantic gale warnings for Land’s End, Finisterre in the northwest corner.
Madrid has a continental climate with sharp, cold winters and baking hot summers of 38C. Valencia has a maritime climate with gentler temperatures and light breezes. Perfect for ripening orange and lemon trees.
An ideal climate? Be aware that climate change is increasing the risk of drought. Scientists argue that Spain needs to improve water conservation as each year the summer lengthens.
Let sunshine put a spring in your step. Sunlight is our reason No 2 for people living longer in Spain.
REASON 3. WINE FIT FOR AN EMPEROR
¡Salud! is a Spanish toast to good health. Red wine is good for the heart and our reason No 3 why people live longer in Spain.
A glass of wine with a meal is a respected Spanish tradition for longevity. Red wine is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants which help the cardiovascular system. That’s a fine reason to raise our glasses.
You can be spoilt for choice when choosing wine; white, red or sparkling. Spain has outstanding wine-growing areas which meet strict quality standards for vine planting, cultivating and ageing. Famous wines from northern Spain, Rioja are aged in oak barrels giving them a distinctive flavour. Wine cultivation dates from the time of the Phoenicians in 3000 B.C. An impressive heritage. Spain used to sensibly keep the best wine for home consumption. In the wine-world, a snobbery grew over the export quality. However, wine experts now recognise the striking quality and modest price of Spanish wines.
The Roman Emperors Hadrian and Trajan preferred the wine of Iberia. I have to agree with their good taste. Both emperors, born in Itálica near Sevilla, knew the quality of the grape. Tarragona and Andalusia supplied superior wine to the Roman Empire.
Drink wine in moderation to follow a Mediterranean diet pattern. Restaurants place a bottle of wine on a table which local people often leave unfinished. The WHO data points to a further drop in consumption by 2025. Whisper it quietly, alcohol consumption is lower in Spain than in the UK.
Let’s say cheers ¡Salud! and drink to good health. A glass of wine is our reason No 3 why people live longer in Spain.
REASON 4. WALKING PROMENADE
Being active is a healthy habit. Walking is our reason No 4 why people live longer in Spain.
People exercise in the gentle pleasure of a walk, el paseo. In Barcelona, the tree-lined boulevard Las Ramblas is famous for a promenade. People stroll, enjoy the flower stalls, artists and street performers anytime of the day.
People walk for leisure. In Spain they also walk for essential groceries, fish and meat at the central market. Most people shop daily for fresh produce from local stores. The Eurobarometer reports that 76% of people in Spain walk at least four days a week for 10 minutes or more. The pace is deliberate without the hasty dash of Londoners or the hustle of New York commuters.
Try an unhurried approach to life, a walk and time to chat. Pause along the way for an espresso coffee to savour the ritual. The pleasure of coffee served in porcelain cups despite the slow rise of beakers to-go. There is time enough to watch the world go by.
Bright days invite young and old to exercise outdoors with a walk or run. But don’t be surprised to see a runner finish a circuit and light a cigarette. Smoking is still seen as cool by young people. And smokers persist despite the graphic warnings of lung damage. Well, some habits are hard to kick.
Your lifestyle is an influential factor in getting to the glorious age of 85+ yrs. Gentle activity strengthens our physical and mental resilience.
At Age in Spain, we resolve to get up and walk more!
Walking is our reason No 4 why people live longer in Spain.
REASON 5. HIGH QUALITY HEALTHCARE
The public healthcare system offers quality care for every resident. Good healthcare is our reason No 5 why people live longer in Spain.
You can access emergency and primary health care. At Age in Spain, we help guide English speakers through the registration process.
The Sistema Nacional de Salud is one of the best in the world according to WHO. Each of the 17 autonomous regions of Spain administers its own health care system. This affects ease of access to specialist doctors and hospital equipment which varies by region.
Despite the UK leaving the EU a reciprocal arrangement is in place for public health cover. Private insurance is also reasonable and of a reliable quality.
Spain is the first country in the world in organ transplants by number of inhabitants. The Basque country is leading efforts to supplement Spain’s health system with other preventative methods to promote health in the lives of its citizens.
Taking a break is good for your health. Studies show that a 20-40 min break each day is beneficial for the brain. The Spanish working day is punctuated by rest breaks to eat, take coffee and a stroll. The mid-morning merienda includes toast dripped in olive oil with tomato and a slice of tortilla. The famous siesta hour is a welcome rest in the day with or without a nap. In the hot summer months, a quiet nap is restorative.
Live life to the full. Pause and enjoy a change of scene, walk to a square for coffee and enjoy the fresh air. Each day opens to us with an opportunity to take care of our health.
Good healthcare is our reason No 5 why people live longer in Spain.
Did you know that Age in Spain has helpful information and guides on healthcare - read more here.
REASON 6. FRIENDS, FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
We feel better with good friends and the bonus of a family network to face life’s challenges. We humans are sociable by nature. People who have a support network report lower stress levels and greater happiness.
Pandemic lockdowns were difficult for most of us. Zookeepers at a Belgian zoo realised their orangutan family were depressed. They missed their visitors for playful interaction. For humans too, seeing friends and talking to other people is vital for our wellbeing.
Social life is deeply rooted in Spanish culture. There are strong traditions of family gatherings and boisterous friend reunions. Eating out is a regular pleasure for get-togethers. The hospitality sector offers a warm welcome to large groups. Small children stay up late to eat with their parents in restaurants. Be warned, this can sometimes result in a raucous dining experience as grandparents smile upon bawling toddlers.
A community gives us a coping mechanism for the strains of ageing. A recent Harvard medical school study showed warm relationships as the building blocks of wellbeing.
Do you feel lonely? Why not join our community! At Age in Spain, we offer a Friendline service to any English speaker who wants a weekly chat. It’s an opportunity to share news, stories or recollections of times past. A simple rhythm of friendship which lifts my day. Perhaps a sympathetic ear can change your day too?
Find out more here: https://www.ageinspain.org/friendline
Friends and community are the reason No 6 why people live longer in Spain.
REASON 7. SOCIAL LIFE AND CELEBRATION
Let’s get together and celebrate. Finding joy in life is our reason No 7 why people live longer in Spain.
You never have to wait long for something to celebrate in Spain. There are local festivals, saints days and 14 national public holidays. Many calendar dates mark a historical event or patron saint. Days which give us a glorious excuse to dress up and have a party. Join in local celebrations of music, colour and lively show.
Adopt a positive attitude and learn Spanish. You can then enjoy an animated conversation with expressive gestures. The Spanish language uses more positive words of ‘laughter’ and ‘love’ than sad emotions. So, notice the moments of joy in living. ¡La alegría de vivir!
When we learn a song, a new phrase or dance routine we nourish our brain’s neuroplasticity which boosts our mental agility. Studies on ageing well show that being creative, learning and appreciating our environment increases life satisfaction. New experiences enrich our outlook.
Life is the occasion to celebrate. Seneca wrote ‘Life is long if you know how to use it well.’ The Stoic philosopher spoke from harsh experience. Seneca was tutor to Emperor Nero until he fell out of favour. The brutal tyrant got fed up with his teacher and forced Seneca to commit suicide.
Spain is not a wonderland or a Mediterranean utopia. Still, living in Spain offers many reasons to be cheerful. Holiday celebrations are reason No 7 why people live longer.
At Age in Spain, we are here to support you. We are a network of support volunteers across Spain dedicated to helping English speakers integrate, work and retire in Spain. Our mission is to help you age well and live life to the full. Want to learn more? Sign up HERE for our newsletter.
With thanks to Margaret Mackay for the idea and the text.