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They drink, they smoke, so why are the Spanish living so long?
Spain is set to have the longest life expectancy in the world. We find
out what they're doing right
Raise a glass of rioja to the Spanish, for they are soon to be the
nation with the longest life expectancy in the world. By 2040, according
to a new report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the
Spanish are expected to have an average lifespan of 85.8 years,
outliving even the Japanese, who have long headed the global longevity
tables. And outliving those of us in the UK by almost 2.5 years.
On the face of it, the Spanish do not seem especially healthy. They
smoke more than us (23 per cent of Spanish people smoke compared with 16
per cent of Britons), drink about the same amount of alcohol as we do
and sleep for a similar number of hours (about seven). So what are they
doing that is so right? Here are the Spanish habits we would all do well
They take a paseo (daily stroll)
They're not big on the gym (only 4.9 million Spanish people have gym
membership compared with 8.9 million in the UK, according to 2016
figures from Deloitte), but what the Spanish are very good at, according
to research, is taking a stroll. They've even got a word for it - a paseo.
A 2014 report by Eurobarometer, a market-research company, placed Spain
second in the list of those most "likely to walk for ten minutes or more
on at least four days of the week", with 76 per cent of people meeting
that mark (this was bettered only by Bulgarians, with 77 per cent).
According to the most recent data for work-related journeys, 37 per cent
of Spanish people either walk or cycle on their commute to the office
too. Since walking is known to improve physical and emotional health (in
addition to reducing the size of your waistline), it's a habit that is
clearly paying off.
The Mediterranean diet - with red wine included
Central to the longevity of the Spanish is their consumption of a
Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fish, nuts and fresh vegetables, which
have been shown in numerous studies to prolong life by as much as 25 per
cent. Even traditional dishes such as paella are rich in vegetables and
seafood. Then there is the popular Spanish habit of making a glass or
two of red wine last an entire meal.
"There is little doubt that eating this way is one of the underlying
reasons Spanish people are living so long," says Helen Bond, a
spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. "They consume lots of
nuts, oily fish and olive oil, and therefore very high amounts of
monounsaturated fats, with a little red wine. One recent study showed
that switching to this sort of diet can cut the risk of heart disease by
27 per cent."
Their intake of red meat and salt is relatively high, but the Spanish
diet is superior in other ways. "In Spain there's evidence that people
shop more locally and eat fresh produce," Bond says. "In the Brazilian
research, Spanish families were shown to buy only 20 per cent
ultra-processed food, less than half the amount we eat in the UK."
UK families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe.
They have siestas
Lunch is the biggest, and longest, meal of the day in Spain and is
traditionally followed by a post-prandial afternoon nap, or siesta.
While the two-hour siesta has lost its appeal for the younger generation
(a survey by the Spanish market research company Simple Logica last year
showed that only 18 per cent of Spaniards now take an afternoon nap),
many older Spaniards take it seriously. And for good reason. In 2012
Spanish scientists proved that a siesta is good for the health,
improving cardiovascular health and sharpening mood and memory. The
report by the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians (Semergen) did
stress that a siesta is only beneficial if taken regularly and if you
don't nap for too long at a time.
"It should be taken for a short time and without entering deep sleep
because otherwise one may not be able to sleep at night," the
researchers concluded. The optimum duration of a siesta should be 26
minutes, they added.
They work longer hours than us - but they take more breaks
The Spanish put in some of the longest working hours in Europe, with a
survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
showing that they typically spend 1,691 hours working every year
compared with 1,674 in the UK and 1,371 in Germany. However, their
working days are protracted and typically start with a shift from 9am
through to 2pm that's punctuated by a coffee break, then a two-hour
lunch break and a return work until about 8pm, making it a regular
11-hour stretch. While calls are repeatedly made for an overhaul - in
2016 Spain's employment minister announced plans to shift to a 6pm
finish - some Spaniards believe that the lengthy (and more leisurely)
approach is better for health.
They have more sex
Although they lose their virginity later (at 19 compared with an average
18 in the UK), the Spanish make up for it with more sex in the years to
come. In an international survey of sexual activity conducted by the
pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter, Spanish women were reported to
have sex an average 2.1 times a week compared with 1.7 times by British
women. Spanish men were top of a list considered to be "the best lovers"
in a onePoll.com survey of 15,000 women around the globe four years ago,
narrowly holding off the Brazilians. And surveys by dating websites have
listed Spanish women as "the most flirtatious".
They use 'happy' words
The Spanish are said to use the most number of "happy" words when they
speak, write and text. Reporting in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences journal, Professor Peter Dodds, at the University of
Vermont, revealed Spanish to be the happiest and most positive language
after he and his team analysed 100,000 words across ten of the most
widely spoken languages in the world. They wanted to find out if
positive words (laughter and love, for example) were used more
frequently than negative (eg crying and sad), and results showed that,
while all languages had a positive bias, Spanish was considered the most
joyful, with the greatest frequency of upbeat words used.
A small tapas-style evening meal is better for your health
Meal-timing is a hot topic in the study of nutrition science because it
is now thought to influence propensity for weight gain and obesity. In
the UK we tend to consume most of our daily calories in the evening,
whereas Spaniards favour a large midday lunch followed by evening tapas
(small plates of food), often not until 9pm.
"Research is pointing firmly towards the UK-style later consumption of
calories as more likely to cause weight gain and obesity," says Bond.
In August Dr Jonathan Johnston, of the University of Surrey, reported on
a ten-week trial in which some participants were asked to delay their
breakfast by 90 minutes, but also to have their largest meal 90 minutes
earlier than normal each evening. Those who cut down on eating large
amounts of food later lost an average of more than twice as much body
fat as those who stuck to their regular eating times.
Eat more tomatoes
Spanish consumption of tomatoes is almost 40g per capita, double the
amount in the UK. They have high levels of lycopene, a substance
released when tomatoes are cooked that reduces the risk of prostate
cancer, and are rich in antioxidants.
Government figures show that each person in Spain consumes 9.31 litres
of the heart-healthy monounsaturated oil a year, estimated to be about
eight times the amount used per head in the UK.
In studies, almonds - a source of vitamin E, magnesium and protein -
have been shown to aid satiety and lower cholesterol. And in July
Spanish researchers reported how eating two handfuls of nuts - almonds
included - a day makes men more fertile; their zinc and selenium content
is important for sperm production.
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* Origin: Pushkin's BBS (2:5020/2140.2)
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