Secrets of the World's Healthiest Women


Scandinavians eat farm to table
The traditional Northern European food philosophy
woman-market-shopping
Vincent Besnault/Getty Images
is to eat what you—or someone nearby—grew or gathered. The key words are local and fresh. Native plants include cruciferous vegetables, whole grains, and berries. Northerners eat omega-3-rich fatty fish, as well as elk and game birds, which tend to be leaner than farm-raised livestock.

The Nordic diet and way of life produces low rates of obesity (as low as 8%, depending on the country). Despite scarce sunlight, Icelandic and Scandinavian people actually suffer from depression less than Americans, possibly due to all those omega-3s.

In Scandinavia, theres also a physical component to producing food. "They expend energy growing and gathering," explains Amy Lanou, PhD, a senior nutrition scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. "But that isnt feasible in many regions in America." If backyard gardening isnt possible for you, even a weekend apple- or berry-picking trip will connect you to your food and is a good workout to boot.

The Japanese value family connections
Okinawa, a Japanese island region, is known to have the highest concentration of centenarians (people aged 100 or older) in the world. Compared to Americans, they have an 80% lower rate of breast cancer death and less than half the rate of ovarian or colon cancer deaths. They also have much lower rates of dementia and a lower risk of heart disease.

How they do it: On Okinawa, they practice hara hachi bu, or eating until 80% full. A spiritual lifestyle that includes prayer and meditation seems to reduce stress—and possibly ailments related to it. Low cancer rates are believed to be due to a high-fiber plant-based diet of rice, soy, cruciferous and sea vegetables, fruit, omega-3-rich fatty fish, and only a tiny bit of dairy and meat.

Just as crucial is a sense of connection and community. "In Blue Zones like Okinawa, there is strong social support, family bonds, and a value placed on continuing to be active in society into your 80s, 90s, and 100s," Buettner says. "The sense of belonging matters for lowering stress, disease prevention, and longevity."

Good fats lead to longer lives in the Mediterranean
The much-heralded Mediterranean diet has been linked to a longer life and a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Parkinsons, and Alzheimers. As weve heard before, this diet includes good fats(olive oil, nuts, fish), lean proteins, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and a moderate amount of wine. Of course, its all about knowing when to say basta—enough. "Eat like an Italian" doesnt mean diving into a never-ending pasta bowl.

Buettner adds, "In Blue Zones like the island of Ikaria in Greece, you find extended families under one roof making family meals." Whats more, activity is a part of daily life—"not something to suffer through at the gym."

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