Is it any wonder that the natives of Andorra have the longest life expectancy in the world? Clean air. Take your breath away mountain views. Well off, with nearly non-existent levels of crime (one prison with 50 inmates for the whole country), over 700 years of peace and a temperate climate of cold snowy winters and warm, dry summers; this tiny nation may indeed hold the secret to stay young, live longer and better.
At just 2.5 times the size of Washington, D.C., the country sits tucked between France and Spain, a landlocked nation of narrow valleys surrounded by the staggering Pyrenees mountains.
With a population of just over 82,000, Andorra has been a democracy since March 1993. Tourism accounts for 80% of the income of this well-to-do country, the banking sector; with its “tax haven” status also contributes to the prosperity of the country.
And if all this makes you want to pull up stakes and move… this next bit of news will surely tip the scales. Andorrans live longer than anyone else in the world according to the World Health Organization. The average life expectancy for natives in this almost hidden little country is 83.5 years – compared to U.S. life expectancy of 78.14 and the United Kingdom’s 78.85. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from these people.
Recently BBC reporter Paul Henley made a brief visit to this mountainous country recently to try and find out what sets them apart from the rest of the world. And what he found were plenty of reasons for the long, healthy lives of Andorra’s population.
For starters, there is a great emphasis on staying physically active. These people do hard, active work well past the age we’d retire. Every one of the seven parishes of the country has state of the art public (free to use) leisure centers.
It’s not uncommon to see people in their 80s and 90s very active – either taking fitness classes at the centers, taking care of cattle in rough terrain or in some other active occupation.
Another important difference is the diet…
In Andorra people tend to eat the classic Mediterranean diet – lean meats, fresh veggies, fruits, olive oil is used in cooking.
People know what’s healthy and seek it out. Restaurants offer delicious healthy foods as well. Interestingly, Andorrans do drink a good deal of red wine (even in the hospital), and continue to smoke cigarettes – completely unexpected considering their longevity numbers.
One other key to living longer here is the quality of the health care the citizens receive. The World Health Organization estimates that Andorra has the third best public health system in the world. The same report ranks the UK as 24th, Canada at 35th and the U.S. 72nd.
The hospital appeared to reporter Henley more like a private clinic, and the doctor’s there are now used to performing surgery on people in their eighties and nineties.
“They go back to their normal lives. And a very frequent question, before the operation, is ‘how soon will I be able to walk in the mountains again, to tend my garden, to go into the woods and gather mushrooms?” says Luis Pallares, an Andorran consulting surgeon.
Centuries of peace and a lack of violent crime complete the picture, giving Andorran citizens a peace of mind and ability to compromise that may well be part of the secret that allows them to stay young and has them living so much longer.