The Spanish are world-class drinkers and smokers so why do they live longer than Brits and Americans?
By Heather Galloway
Life expectancy is longer in Spain than it is in the United Kingdom – and much longer than in the United States. This is something that has been pointed out by a number of studies, the latest being from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, published recently in The Lancet medical journal.
The study predicted that by 2040 Spaniards would have the longest life expectancy in the world, and will live on average until they were 85.8 – compared with 83.3, which is the age Brits would be able to look forward to, putting them 23rd on a list of 195 countries. Based on the current downtrend, U.S. citizens will be lucky to make it to 80 by 2040.
For the British, who equate Spain with sun and sangria, this is hard to comprehend. “How can the Spaniards live so long when they drink and smoke?” mused a recent article in the British newspaper The Times.
Well, it is true that the Spanish drink but according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCDE), our intake has fallen from the 17.5 liters of pure alcohol per head that was guzzled in 1980 to 8.6 liters per head in 2016. The same source shows that in Britain, alcohol consumption has gone from 10.8 liters in 1980 to 9.5 liters in 2016.
And yes, we also smoke. In fact, more than twice as many Spaniards smoke than British people. Here, we burn 1,533.5 grams of tobacco per head while, in Britain, the quantity is just 643.9 grams per person.
So what is it that we are doing right? Apart from eating paella as well as vegetables, pulses and fish, The Times suggests it is key lifestyle choices that are helping us keep the grim reaper at bay for a little longer than most. These are habits, says the newspaper, that everyone should adopt.
- The walk. The Times points out that in Spanish “the walk” or “el paseo” is so important it has been awarded noun status. Apparently, we go to the gym less but 76% of us walk at least four days a week for 10 minutes or more, according to the 2014 Eurobarometer. Even better, 37% of us walk or ride bicycles to work.
- Mediterranean diet. This is shown to lengthen life expectancy and protect us from the effects of pollution. If there is one thing us Spaniards do right, it’s eating fish, fruit and fresh vegetables, nuts, pulses and olive oil. According to The Times, we should also keep drinking red wine, although, as we have already pointed out in the BuenaVida section of this newspaper, a glass of red wine a day is only beneficial to men over the age of 45 and women over 55, as it helps in these age groups to reduce the risk of heart disease. According to Helen Bond, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, our consumption of red meat and salt is relatively high but only 20% of Spaniards buy processed foods while the British eat more processed food than anywhere else in Europe.
- Siestas. We’ve been cutting down on the time we take for lunch and an afternoon nap for years now. According to a study by Simple Logic, only 18% of Spaniards still take a siesta after their midday meal. But perhaps we should rethink this. Just 26 minutes of shut-eye is recommended by the Spanish Society of Doctors for Primary Health as it improves memory, mood and keeps your heart healthy. But you have to do it regularly to reap the rewards and keep it short and sweet.
- A longer working day, punctuated by breaks. In Spain we work an average of
1,687 hours a year, 331 hours more than Germany, 173 more than France, 117 more than Switzerland but only six hours more than the UK. However, while the working day finishes at 6pm in Britain, many of us in Spain stay until 8pm. It is something that we often spend long hours at work discussing and bemoaning. And though there have been attempts to change it, there are Spaniards who believe a longer but more relaxed workday is better for one’s health, according to The Times. In fact, a cup of coffee at work increases productivity as the ‘fika’ (the Swedish coffee break) has shown in Sweden, where incidentally the people work 78 fewer hours than us a year.
- We have more (and better) sex. Just because we get home later, doesn’t mean we are too tired for sex. According to onePoll.com, which interviewed 15,000 women from all over the world, Spanish men make the best lovers. Spanish women, meanwhile, have sex on average 2.1 times a week, according to a study carried out by Gedeon Richter while British women have sex 1.7 times a week. The Spanish may be later starters –19 as opposed to 18 – but once they get going, they manage to make it one of the pillars of their routine. As we have already said in BuenaVida, sex reduces the risk of brain and heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes, while refraining from sex could bring these conditions on.
- Our vocabulary is more upbeat. A study published by the National Academy of Sciences by Professor Peter Dodds from the University of Vermont, analyzed 100,000 words from the 10 most spoken languages in the world and concluded that Spanish uses more positive words such as “love” and “laughter,” which boosts people’s moods, more than negative words like “sad” and “crying.” The study, however, did not differentiate the Spanish spoken in Spain with the Spanish spoken in other countries.
- Tapas in the evening. We know the international community is somewhat befuddled over the difference between tapa, ración and pincho and it is often not fully understood that tapear could well involve far greater quantities of alcohol than food (though there is “the walk” from bar to bar). The Times seems to believe that after eating a far bigger lunch than is common in the UK, our dinner consists of tapas, which they describe as small plates of food. We know, however, that this is not always the case, though there is a saying in Spanish that roughly translates as “big dinners fill graves.” Reducing our calorie intake in general helps us to live longer and if we get the proportions of carbohydrates, proteins and fats right, the benefits to our health could be even greater.
Credit: El Pais