Intermountain Health logo

Please enter the city or town where you'd like to find care.

Get care nowMake an appointmentSign in

Health news and blog

Long and Happy Lives From Around the World

Long and Happy Lives From Around the World

By Author Name

May 14, 2018

Updated Nov 17, 2023

5 min read

Long and Happy Lives From Around the World

If you’re looking for a magic fountain of youth, chances are you won’t find it. But we can still learn a little bit about longevity from different corners of the world. Sure, everyone wants to live a long and happy life and there are certain obvious steps to take, like walking more. 

“We as Americans, probably more than any other culture, have engineered exercise and physical activity out of our lifestyle,” says Eric Berger, MD, a Denver-based Internal and Sports Medicine Doctor. “Places like Europe, people have more spontaneous exercise taking care of their daily tasks of living. We’re one of the few countries who grocery shop for weeks at a time so we go to big box stores. In other places people shop on a daily basis and they’re getting fresh vegetables and they’re getting out and walking. That has to contribute.”

So, we’ve gathered pearls of wisdom about longevity from around the globe, while taking a quick look at what we do and don’t do so well in the United States. Some of these tips might come as a surprise.

1. Italy

One in 10 residents in the Italian hamlet of Acciaroli are over 100 years old. How do they do it? In addition to fresh fruits, vegetables and fish, scientists believe that the heavy consumption of rosemary could be a healthy benefit for these folks. This herb, which is a very common herb in the region’s cooking, is thought to help improve brain function. (source)

2. Greece

There’s an amazing story of a man who decided to move back to his birthplace of Ikaria, a Greek island, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in the 1960s. He denied any sort of treatment and instead simply left behind his western diet, embraced life on the island, and enjoyed the company of friends and neighbors. He lived for another 45 years on the island where “people forget to die,” so clearly there’s something to be said for happiness, good food and good company. (source)

3. Japan

You are what you eat — and people in Okinawa know it! These folks eat a lot of food, but it’s lower-calorie foods, such as fruits, vegetables and moderate amounts of beans and whole grains, instead of fatty meats and unnecessary dairy. Their combo of high nutrition and low calories has drastically lowered their risk for dementia, heart attacks, strokes and cancer. (source)

4. USA

The Amish are one group in the United States that symbolizes good health in late life. Physical activity and manual labor appear to be major reasons why. A study from the American College of Sports Medicine in 2009 determined that the Amish are six times more active than a random sampling of people from 12 different countries. These simple-living folk take anywhere from 14,000 - 18,500 steps a day, mixed with other types of labor centered on farming and building. The Amish community is also nearly absent of tobacco so it has much lower rates of tobacco-related cancers. (source)

5. South Korea

In South Korea, common nutritional staples include rice, veggies, egg and a small amount of meat. But one specific, popular condiment may have a unique contribution to the country’s health. Of course, we’re talking about the almighty kimchi — a fermented vegetable mix that’s packed with probiotics and served with most meals. Although some people may take a while to get used to the unique smell, this condiment can boost your fiber and antioxidants and help fight off disease. (source)

6. Costa Rica

The people of Nicoya, Costa Rica, are another group that enjoys an extended stint on this big blue orb. And again, it comes down to diet. The elders enjoy these staples from the region: beans, corn and squash, plus vitamin-rich foods like papayas, yams, bananas and peach palms. (source)

7. Thailand

Rather than waiting for soreness or injury, the Taiwanese people strongly believe in getting frequent massages even if they feel fine. They believe that these regular appointments help them stay healthy rather than a means to repair the body. In fact, studies have shown that these massages can improve a wide variety of physical abilities, including flexibility, agility, speed, and strength. (source)

8. Netherlands

We all know that drinking an excessive amount of alcohol is harmful, not helpful. But a Dutch study found that a small amount may actually be helpful. Drinking a little less than one daily serving of booze (beer, wine or spirits) was associated with a 36% lower risk of all causes of death and a 34% lower risk of cardiovascular death. (source)

So there you have it! Stay busy, be happy, eat well — and maybe work more rosemary into your diet.