- Andrea Comas/Reuters
Spain is on track to have the world’s longest life expectancy by 2040 with a lifespan of 85.8 years, surpassing Japan.
A report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which formed in 2007 with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, found that Japan will fall to second place with a life expectancy of 85.7 years. Although the report does not provide reasoning for each country’s ranking, the institute analyzed 250 different causes of death to reach conclusions.
Researchers took into account high blood pressure, tobacco usage, unsafe water and sanitation, air pollution, child malnutrition, and many other factors.
Spain is one of only four countries set to exceed an 85-year life expectancy by 2040. The country spends about 10% of its GDP on healthcare, according to the online expat guide Expatica. Spain also ranks very highly in global lists of healthcare systems. In the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Competitiveness Report, for example, Spain tied for the healthiest country in the world.
Here are some of the reasons why people in Spain live so long.
Spain is famous for its Mediterranean diet, and some residents see it as the main reason for their high life expectancy.
Fernando de la Fuente, who has run a fruit and vegetable stall in a Madrid market for 47 years, told The Guardian he was unsurprised that researchers see a connection between Spaniards’ diet and longevity.
He said people in Spain eat well because they include fruits, vegetables, and fish in their diet all year. Fruits and vegetables are generally both accessible and affordable throughout Spain.
“A Spanish diet without fruit and vegetables is just unthinkable,” de la Fuente told The Guardian.
There is growing evidence that the Mediterranean diet – which emphasizes vegetables, fish, olive oil, nuts, and whole grains while slashing processed foods and red meat – can help protect people from aging.
Studies show that people who follow this diet have a reduced risk of heart problems, diabetes, and some types of cancer. The diet is also rich in healthy fats that have been linked to higher cognitive performance and a lower risk of dementia.
The country also boasts an excellent healthcare system.
- Albert Gea/Reuters
The healthcare system in Spain ranks as one of the world’s best.
All Spanish citizens have a constitutionally guaranteed access to the country’s universal healthcare system, and less than 20% of residents choose to obtain private health insurance.
Spain is also a tight-knit country where people place great emphasis on family.
- Jon Nazca/Reuters
Antonio Abellán, who conducts research on aging at the National Research Council in Spain, told The Guardian that social relationships play a large role in Spaniards’ longevity.
Spain is not the only Mediterranean country to value family so much, but Abellán said being close with one’s relatives goes a long way for health.
“It’s not the only thing – nor the most important thing – but I think it goes some way to explaining the differences between Spain and other countries,” Abellán told The Guardian. “It’s a bonus. If you live better, you end up living longer.”
Spaniards drink more than Americans and residents of many other countries, but that hasn’t stopped them from ranking high for longevity.
- Juan Medina/Reuters
On average, a Spanish person consumes 2.96 gallons of alcohol per year, according to El Pais. That is twice the global average – about 1.64 gallons per year – and higher than Europe’s 2.88-gallon average.
Despite these elevated averages, the same data shows that 31% of the population does not drink at all.
Some research suggests that people who drink in moderation may live longer than those who don’t drink. Many studies, however, have linked alcohol consumption to brain damage, liver disease, and various cancers, and one study says having just one drink above the recommended weekly limit can shorten one’s life by 30 minutes.
Despite moving toward the top of life expectancy rankings, people in Spain could benefit from smoking less.
Smoking cigarettes remains popular in Spain, even after the country passed a law in 2011 that prohibits smoking in bars and restaurants.
According to El Pais, there have been fewer cases of asthma among children since 2011, and the legislation may also result in fewer heart and lung illnesses.
Still, each Spanish person smokes an average of 1,499 cigarettes per year, according to Tobacco Atlas. The number is much higher than that of some countries, such as Norway’s annual average of 553 cigarettes per person, but Spain is still ahead of Japan, where each person smokes an average of 1,583 cigarettes per year.