The Best And Worst Countries To Find That Proverbial Fountain Of Youth

Everyone is always searching for that one magical thing that will stop time in its tracks. We are constantly on the watch for that new gray hair, or that extra smile line, or signs of sagging skin. After all, no matter how much product we use, time stops for none of us. However, there is a correlation between where we live and how quickly we age.

If you are looking to see where the least age-related illness, disease, and other causes of early death reside, look no further than this list of the best – and worst – places to live when it comes to aging.

How Do They Determine Which Nations Age The Best?

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Juancho Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Juancho Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Data is key to making lists like this one. Researchers used something called the Global Burden of disease to rank the best and worst nations to grow old in. This data index measures how frequently people in each nation experience certain illnesses that are related to the aging process, and how early the onset of such illnesses is.

When the moment of truth for each nation came, they were given a score known as the disability-adjusted life years (DALY). This data score accounts for the rate at which a healthy, quality existence is lost in each country as people age.

How To Tell If Your Body Is Out-Aging You

man in doctor's office 2
PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP via Getty Images
PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA/AFP via Getty Images

The aforementioned age-related illnesses that helped get each country’s DALY score generally strike around the age of 65 in general. However, depending on any number of factors, these illnesses could become a problem for people earlier or later in life. If you fear that your body is out-aging you, there are a few things to look for.

Some are common and well-known, such as hair loss – and not just for men, and not just on your head, either. There are other signs as well, though, that people might not be aware of. Researchers factor these in to determine which nations are aging faster than they should be.

#1 Nation To Age In: Switzerland

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Serhat Beyazkaya/Unsplash
Serhat Beyazkaya/Unsplash

Now, it’s time to see just which nations you are most likely to grow old well in. Number one on that list is Switzerland. As we mentioned before, the age of 65 is generally the age where people start developing age-related illnesses. These illnesses can often affect the quality of one’s life, and lead to financial ruin due to medical bills to boot.

However, the elderly in Switzerland tend to have a better shot at longevity than any other nation scored in these studies. Their average age of development for age-related illness is 76, which is a full eleven years older than the average.

What Is Switzerland’s Secret?

switzerland-aging-well
Tim Trad/Unsplash
Tim Trad/Unsplash

Switzerland has one of the most accessible healthcare systems in the world, with a Healthcare Access and Quality Index that scores 95.6 out of a possible perfect 100. This is a system that measures not just the healthcare itself, but the ability of the people living in a given country to access it, and what kinds of barriers might stand in the way.

Further, Switzerland’s citizens tend to be much happier than those in other countries, which, of course, good mental health improves longevity and quality of life. This was revealed in the 2018 World Happiness Report. The happiness in Switzerland is due to lack of corruption in government, good healthcare, and general good freedom.

#2 Best Place to Age: Singapore

singapore-aging-well-01
Joe Green/Unsplash
Joe Green/Unsplash

Just like those in Switzerland, the people of Singapore seem to start getting age-related illnesses much later than the average person in the developed world – around age 76. That number is the same number at which Swiss people begin noticing the effects of aging.To compare, Americans only slightly beat the average, clocking in at age 68 for the average person to start experiencing age-related issues.

Singaporeans, like the Swiss, have a great healthcare system, and also a great lifestyle to make aging a much easier and less painful process than almost anywhere else in the world.

The Secrets of the Singaporeans

singapore elderly lifestyle
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Once again, top-notch healthcare provisions are the reason for the slowing of age-related illness in this particular nation. Singapore’s healthcare system is ranked 6th in the world, according to the World Health Organization. It is neither completely public nor completely private. Instead, it is its own unique hybrid of the two, ensuring both choice and access to care to nearly everyone in the nation.

Further, the Singaporean government pays attention to the cost of eating healthy and making positive lifestyle changes. Through its Healthier Dining program, it is actually less expensive to eat out with healthy options, not more as is common in the United States.

It’s A Number 3 And 4 Toss Up For South Korea and Japan

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Clay Banks/Unsplash
Clay Banks/Unsplash

These two countries really could not be ranked, one above the other. But people in Japan and South Korea beat the United States by ten years when it comes to the average age of onset of age-related illness, including mobility issues. These people are known for their lean diets, which lead to longevity in general.

In fact, Okinawa, Japan, is one of what is called “Blue Zones,” in which people are more active at later ages. This aligns with the idea that a stimulating lifestyle is key to good health.

What Is The Key To The Longevity Of The South Koreans And The Japanese?

south korean elderly
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) says that South Korea and Japan have one of the lowest obesity rates in the world. Of course, obesity as a disease is linked to heart disease, joint problems, mobility issues, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain kinds of cancer, and all manner of ill health. It would seem that the healthy habits and lack of a sedentary lifestyle keep these nations healthier into their golden years.

There are four other “Blue Zones” outside Okinawa, and esteemed journalist Dan Buettner says, “I would say that the success of Blue Zones regions is nearly 60 percent about their diet.”

Italy Ranks #5 When It Comes To Aging Well

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Lopez Robin/Unsplash
Lopez Robin/Unsplash

One reason Italy ranks lower on the list than the previously mentioned nations is that Italians love to smoke. Everyone knows that smoking is a deadly habit, and therefore no nation with a high concentration of smokers would be in the top three of a health risk. Still, though, Italy ranks pretty high.

Aging Italians, like their South Korean and Japanese counterparts, tend to fend off the age-related pains and illnesses for a good decade longer than others, mainly owing it to a rather healthful diet. Italian food is known for its richness, but that is not necessarily true for native Italians.

Italy’s Healthcare System Just Might Be The Key

elderly italian man
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

Despite their penchant for partaking of what just might be one of the world’s worst habits, Italians have great access to high-quality healthcare. Access to quality healthcare, despite outside bad health habits, can still lead to better longevity in a given society.

The national statistics agency Istat reports that Italians between the ages of 65 and 74 have lower rates of nearly all chronic diseases, compared to other countries that were observed. A reported nine out of ten Italian seniors are in good health.

The Worst Nations To Grow Old In Matter, Too

homeless woman Moscow
Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images
Artyom GeodakyanTASS via Getty Images

We have identified the top five nations to grow old in. Now, it is time to recognize just how terrible healthcare, especially for the infirm and aging, can be in parts of the world. The same factors that contribute to longevity and high quality of life in old age in the aforementioned nations just might apply in reverse to the worst nations to grow old in.

Diet, exercise, and, most of all, access to quality healthcare and lack of disease all contribute to good health. Poor access to these things affect mental as well as physical health, so life expectancy and quality of life go down.

#1 Worst Place To Age: Papua New Guinea

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Trevor Cole/Unsplash
Trevor Cole/Unsplash

Papua New Guinea gets the distinct dishonor of being the worst place in the world, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. The aging population of Papua New Guinea suffers from 475% more age-related illnesses than the United States does. The life expectancy in this nation is alarmingly low, at just age 61 for women and just 56 for men. To compare, in the United States, most people are still healthy enough to work full time at these ages.

For comparison, the average life expectancy in the United States is 81 for women and 76 for men. That is even with the United States having a broken healthcare system, an obesity epidemic, and a sedentary, overly consumerist society and lifestyle at large.

Why Is Papua New Guinea So Tragically Sick?

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ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images
ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images

Papua New Guinea would seemingly be in much better shape than it is, given its abundance of valuable natural resources. They have an absolute embarrassment of riches when it comes to gold, copper, and oil. However, their people remain impoverished, and of course, poverty leads to a lack of healthcare, desperate measures of survival, and disease.

The number one cause of early death in Papua New Guinea is malnutrition. Further, the entire system of medical care is in literal free fall, with people not getting even the most basic of healthcare. The facilities often have primitive or even non-existent equipment and resources.

#2-5 Worst Places to Age: Marshall Islands, Vanuatu, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands

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WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images
WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images

It seems we have another toss-up when it comes to the worst places on Earth in which to grow old. The Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, and Vanuatu all get that dishonor, though the reasons are different for each nation when we delve more deeply into their systemic problems. Of course, poor healthcare is a commonality among them all, which is no surprise.

There are common themes that run through these situations. Poverty, war, oppressive and corrupt governments, and other factors continue a cycle of desperate, disease and war-ridden living, as well as, of course, premature death.

The Reasons For This Toss Up Are Not Difficult To Guess

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SHAH MARAI/AFP via Getty Images
SHAH MARAI/AFP via Getty Images

Abject poverty, failing healthcare systems, and lack of access to quality healthcare – or, in some cases, even the existence of medical facilities at all raise the aging and early mortality rate. Each nation has its own unique problems, though. For instance, in Afghanistan, the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation blame “conflict and terror” for the high mortality rate.

Wars fought on one’s home turf can limit or destroy resources, wipe out entire hospitals, or even villages, families, and tribes of people. Then, there is the constant and very real fear of death. So, war is a major cause of aging quickly and low life expectancy in Afghanistan.

Lack Of Education As A Barrier To Longevity

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Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/GettyImages
Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/GettyImages

There are obvious and not so obvious factors that contribute to aging well, lowered or heightened life expectancy, and everything else that has to do with having a high quality of life as we age. One of the factors that may not be so obvious is education. For instance, in Afghanistan, one of the three countries on the “worst” list, is also one of the lowest in education, with people generally getting just 2.7 years of education.

We even see this in the United States, with cycles of poverty heightening risks for things like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the like. Education leads to a more lucrative career, which gives one access to healthcare, decent food, and, eventually a better life in the golden years.

Key Factors In The Nations With The Best Aging Numbers

outdoor market
David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

Diet is one key factor in the battle against premature aging. For instance, in Italy, the Mediterranean diet is eaten faithfully by many. Further, there has been a “slow food” movement, which stands in stark contrast to the fast-food culture that has taken over the United States and other developed countries that are battling an obesity crisis.

When fresh, healthy food is readily available, regardless of the nation’s station when it comes to poverty, its citizens tend to age more slowly and stave off things like arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and malnutrition – all of which contribute to aging more quickly.

Singapore Gives Financial Incentives For Healthier Living

singapore outside market
Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Godong/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Singapore’s Healthier Dining Program has begun giving financial incentives for people living healthier lifestyles. They are making healthy eating cheaper, and giving financial incentives to people with their National Steps Challenge, which encourages exercise. They are actually giving free step counters to participating citizens, and there is the chance to win cash and other prizes for participating.

Certainly, many people in America would not want the government trying to regulate their health habits, but giving incentives for the purpose of healthier living has increased their life expectancy and quality of life.

Healthcare Crises Lower Life Expectancy

woman in doctor's office
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
marka/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

America could never be on this list under the “best” category because of our broken healthcare system. Throughout the nations with the best aging outcomes, healthcare access is excellent, as is the quality. Singapore, Italy, South Korea, and other nations with more efficient and accessible healthcare systems have better aging outcomes.

When people have to choose between rent and healthcare, their health suffers because it is too difficult to get basic care. Other nations could improve their population’s longevity by taking cues from the healthcare system of Switzerland and Singapore.

The Happiness Factor

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FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Healthier people tend to be happier, as is evidenced by Switzerland also having the highest instance of healthy, happy people as they age, and in general. There is still a great stigma attached to mental health issues, but health is all-encompassing. When people feel better physically, they feel better mentally.

Also, taking care of one’s mind is just as important as taking care of the body. There is much stigma attached to mental health issues, addiction, the effects of poverty on the mind, and all manner of related issues. All in all, we can age much better if we live in nations that actually value every aspect of the health of every citizen.