Photo: Me in Valencia, Spain
All over the world the idea of “healthy living” is taking on like a viral TikTok. In my recent travels to Costa Rica, I quickly saw that Yoga studios had become the newest tourist attraction, but my question was “is it just a trend or is it truly a new way of life?” “Does one explore all of these new paths of ‘health and enlightenment’ and become permanently well or do they just return to the same life they had?” Many would answer that for true change towards optimum health discipline is key, others may say your surroundings is most important, while another may say all of the above. The possibilities are truly endless; however, I wanted to explore commonalities amongst places known for optimal health.
When researching “Healthiest Places on Earth” the top countries that appeared in a general consensus were Spain, Portugal, Australia, and to my surprise: Japan (according to ImmigrantInvest.com). Having visited Valencia, Spain this past summer, I was not surprised. While in Valencia, eating fresh daily was part of the culture; the city is abundant in markets with produce and even vegetarian meat substitutes. I often took delight in visiting “Vegreat”, the Vegan Butcher in the beautiful Neighborhood of Russafa, for the occasional vegan breakfast sausage. Despite all of the food options, we can very well say that health goes beyond what you put in your body. With that being said, I spent almost three hours walking each day, public transportation was readily available and the metro fares where affordable, whether I was buying a daily or weeklyf pass. Something about the fresh air, sound of the city vendors, and everything being a reasonable distance made a walk much more enticing. Just a train ride away, Portugal offers a similar retreat like lifestyle with the same Mediterranean foods; such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, olives and olive oils as a main source of added fat. According to the Mayo Clinic Mediterranean diets encourage heart health, attributing to this title of “Healthiest Places on Earth”.
Similar to Southern Europe, Australia offers a similar diet plan. As Gen Z would say, Australia is “hashtag goals!” 90 percent of the fresh market produce grown in Australia is all locally sourced, offering high quality foods that are rich in nutrients from wheat, oats, and barley to fruits and beans. Despite the overwhelming heat that Australia is known for, Aussies seem to have a pretty decent quality of life, offering a calmer lifestyle with ideal work life balance and even more impressive, Australia has some of the cleanest air in the world.
Though Spain, Portugal, and Australia, seemed to fit the ideal picture image of what healthy lifestyles could embody; I scratched my head when imaging Japan as one of the healthiest places on Earth, but the answer is quite simple “diet”. Japan’s diet is high in soy and fish which is said to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to the National Library of Medicine. Their diet and lifestyle also lowers their chances of obesity and also supports in a longer life expectancy. Japan is known to be a ‘walking-focused’ society, simply meaning walking is prioritized because of it’s health benefits. While public transport is available it is much more common to walk. Lastly, policy makers in Japan have made changes to support their senior citizens in “aging gracefully”, which says a lot about mortality and life expectancy rates. As of 2022, Japan has an average life expectancy rate of 85.
Everything I had been researching was making sense and adding up. However, If these foods are all readily available in most of the world and even if you live on a deserted island you can get your steps in daily, why are so few places ranking as healthy?
The answer is actually quite clear. If I had to put it simply, I’d say culture. No matter what a person is intaking, how they are living after the last bite is what makes all the difference. In Spain, Costa Rica, and Greece, I had similar experiences that added to my quality of life, health, and mental well being. Food was just the start, walking daily, an abundance of community activities that involved elements of nature, being outdoors, less air conditioning but instead fresh air… The list goes on… And let us not forget Siesta! Siesta, for me, was the highlight of the day; no more working until I needed to rest, but instead working just enough and then taking the afternoon to refresh and reflect on the accomplishments I made earlier in the day, socializing with a friend, or napping before tapas at dinner time. Light eating helped me to balance my diet and even attain a better sense of mental clarity throughout the day, but the culture is what kept me fully immersed into what healthy living felt like… not just what it looked like.
So let’s address the obvious. No, everyone cannot pick up and move abroad to experience a healthier life, but you can make your own vessel one of the healthiest places on earth for you. Here are my simple suggestions towards building a healthier lifestyle. Step 1. Text back. You know that coworker that keeps inviting you to go on a hike? biking? or boating? Simply, text them back and commit to go. This initial step will lead you to more opportunities that may better fit your interests.
Step 2. Check your Junk mail. Whether you subscribed to Meetup or Groupon, there is bound to be some activity based around health and wellness that you are subconsciously ignoring. Cooking classes, breath work, and yoga classes are my go-to activities. Step 3. Visit your local Farmer’s Markets. Your community has many hidden gems but you must first leave the house. Your local farmer’s market can often offer fresh produce, gardening classes, and so much more. Step 4. Give it a rest. Though much of the world is unapologetically engaging in hustle culture, it is not good for your health. Pushing your limits when it comes to rest, time management, and workloads is not sustainably nor healthy lifestyle habits.
Creating the healthiest place in the world within yourself goes far beyond a four step list, but it is a start. I believe it is safe to say that though “healthy living” is ones own individual journey and responsibility, it is also a community effort.
Reference: Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801