In 1513, Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León set sail in search of Bimini, a mythical land said to house a spring that restored youth to anyone who drank from it. After scouring the Caribbean and Florida, he returned empty-handed, and the Fountain of Youth remained undiscovered. Perhaps he was just looking in the wrong place.
As part of their data collection for the World Factbook, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) combs through death certificates, recording race, gender, cause of death, and other factors to estimate the life expectancy of a nation's entire population. Calculating the average life expectancy of the world's total population at 67.59 years, the CIA has determined which societies live longer.
In the United states, average life expectancy is 78.49 years, well above the world's norm. Many experts attribute this to ongoing medical developments, which have dealt with conditions that used to mow us down early. Meanwhile, nations without advanced medical care report a much shorter life expectancy. For instance, citizens of the Republic of Chad in central Africa are only expected to live until their late 40s.
Despite the fact that the average American lives into his or her late 70s, the United States ranks 50th on the CIA's life expectancy list. According to the World Factbook, these 10 nations seem to have discovered the secret to longevity—no magical spring water required.
Average Life Expectancy: 81.86 years
Italians live an average of 3.37 years longer than Americans. Many experts draw a connection between their longevity and diet—which is more than just pasta, meat, and cheese. The Mediterranean diet is credited with lowering the risk for all sorts of diseases. The antioxidants found in olive oil and red wine—two key features of an Italian meal—can improve cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and stave off heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Italians also rely on spices like basil, oregano, and garlic to flavor their cuisine, while Americans depend heavily on salt. As such, Italians improve their odds against high blood pressure and stroke.
Average Life Expectancy: 81.90 years
Australia's long life expectancy can be attributed to several factors, including relatively low smoking and obesity rates, as well as an active lifestyle enjoyed by its citizens. But many Australian medical experts insist that the secret to Aussies' longevity is universal healthcare. While the ability to obtain healthcare in the United States depends heavily on employment status and personal wealth, Australians have access to necessary care no matter how much they make. That said, Aussies shouldn't get too comfortable; the obesity rate is steadily climbing, which could undercut their longevity in years ahead.
8. Hong Kong
Average Life Expectancy: 82.12 years
Hong Kongers can expect to live nearly four years longer than Americans. Like Italians, people from Hong Kong can partly attribute their longer lives to their diet—rice, vegetables, and tofu are staples—and active lifestyle. Hong Kong reports a much lower obesity level than the United States does, as well as fewer instances of obesity-related health conditions, like diabetes.
Average Life Expectancy: 82.24 years
This small island in the English Channel is not a member of the United Kingdom or the European Union, despite being a British crown dependency. Its independence means Guernsey has not been affected by its neighbors' flailing economies. How does this tie into the long life expectancies of Channel Islanders? One theory: Guernsey residents live longer because they are wealthy, which affords them above-average healthcare and better nutrition. Channel Islanders are well-off, thanks to Guernsey's extremely low tax rates and high-paying jobs.
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Average Life Expectancy: 82.50 years
Several factors may explain why Andorrans outlive residents of other countries. First, this tiny nation, sandwiched between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains, promotes an active, outdoor lifestyle. Residents have easy access to hiking trails and ski resorts, while clean and well-maintained parks are often used for friendly games of soccer and rugby. Its citizens spend lots of time outside, which experts say can lower stress levels and consequently, cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure. Secondly, the CIA states that 100 percent of Andorra's population is educated. High education levels account for Andorra's extremely low unemployment rate. This means most Andorrans can afford high-quality nutrition and healthcare.
5. San Marino
Average Life Expectancy: 83.07 years
Europe's third smallest state—behind Vatican City and Monaco—and the world's oldest republic has a life expectancy that trumps the United States by 4.5 years. Money plays a major role here, as it does in both Guernsey and Andorra, but another key ingredient could be the nation's work environment. This enclave on the Italian peninsula didn't rake in its riches through manual labor. San Marino's primary industries are banking and tourism, with the majority of the Sammarinese working in office settings. This drastically reduces the number of work-related deaths—a big problem elsewhere.
Average Life Expectancy: 83.75 years
A sound diet and a clean environment contribute to the longevity exhibited by the population of this fast-paced city-state, located on the southern edge of the Malay Peninsula. Like in Hong Kong, Singapore's cuisine centers on rice and vegetables, which are rich in nutrients that help keep residents healthy and active. Singapore's government also enforces a strict code of cleanliness—such as heavily restricted smoking areas—to ensure that all residents live in healthy surroundings. Interestingly, back in the 1980s, the government recognized that the nation's population was aging steadily, and with careful planning, Singapore now features excellent healthcare facilities and programs for the elderly.
Average Life Expectancy: 83.91 years
Japan boasts an impressive obesity rate: 3.1 percent compared with 33.9 percent in the United States. Much of the credit is owed to the Japanese diet, which revolves around fresh vegetables, rice, and most importantly, fish. Fresh fish is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which promote healthy blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of strokes and heart attacks. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids encourage healthy brain function, helping prevent diseases like Alzheimer's. The Japanese also make healthier lifestyle choices: They tend to walk more and not overeat.
Average Life Expectancy: 84.43 years
Like several other nations on this list, Macau can attribute its high life expectancy, at least somewhat, to its fruitful economy. But why this tiny nation in the South China Sea is so prosperous might surprise you: Gambling is its main source of revenue, and 70 percent of the money generated on the casino floor is reportedly invested by the Macau government in public healthcare. The island boasts a variety of casinos, many of which are owned by the same bigwigs who gave Las Vegas its "Sin City" reputation. In January 2012, Macau welcomed 2,461,640 visitors looking to test Lady Luck.
Average Life Expectancy: 89.68 years
Residents of Monaco live, on average, 5.25 years longer than the second longest-living nation, Macau; that's approximately a decade longer than the average American. Monaco shares several aspects with other long-living nations, including an abundance of wealth and state-funded healthcare. Monaco residents also live on a Mediterranean diet, which is associated with a reduced risk for a variety of health problems, including cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. But many say it's Monaco's relaxing atmosphere that keeps residents hanging on until a ripe old age. Its location along the Mediterranean Sea and clean environment do their part to reduce stress, which can lower immunity and contribute to cardiovascular diseases. Maybe Ponce de León should have stayed closer to home in his search for the Fountain of Youth.