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From time to time, natural product promoters try to tell us that the world's longest living people eat some particular food from some particular country and we need to eat it, too. But the country with the world's greatest longevity is seldom mentioned.

The year 1933 saw the publication of British author James Hilton's famous novel, Lost Horizon. In his book Hilton described a mythical lost valley of Shangri-La, where people were almost immortal, aging only slowly, maintaining their youthful appearance and vigor well into old age.

Ever since the novel about Shangri-La, people have been loking for it. In the 1950's, a series of books and advertisements were based on products found in the Hunza Valley in Pakistan. The men of the Hunza Valley were said never to lose their hair, so if the consumer would only buy the seller's Hunza Valley herbal remedies, a full head of hair into old age was assured.

In the 1990's, the supposed site of great longevity had switched to Okinawa.

Japan is known to have the world's longest-lived people (although the statistics are skewed by the way the Japanese government counts deaths in infancy). Okinawa has five times as many people surviving to the age of 100 or greater than the rest of Japan, about 1 person in 300.

Fully 5% of the population of Okinawa in 2010 was over the age of 80, about twice as many women reaching this milestone as men. But Okinawa and Japan as a whole only have a life expectancy at birth of about 82 years.

What the CIA Tells Us About Life Expectancy

Life expectancy data are collected in every country in the world, and member states of the United Nations typically submit their statistics to the World Health Organization. The Central Intelligenc Agency of the USA, however, collects much more detailed data that included regions of countries that are not members of the United Nations--and several tiny countries have even greater expected life spans than Japan or Okinawa.

The latest data from the CIA date from 2012:

  • In Japan, the average life expectancy is 82.25 years. Men in Japan have a life expectancy of 78.96 years, and women have a life expectancy of 85.72.
  • The tiny principality in the Pyrenees Mountains Andorra has an average life expectancy of 82.43 years. Men in Andorra have a life expectancy of 80.36 years, and women have a life expectancy of 84.64.
  • The tiny mountain nation of San Marino, completely surrounded by Italy, just a few kilometers from the Adriatic Sea, has an average life expectancy of 83.02 years. Men in San Marino have a life expectancy of 80.5 years, and women have a life expectancy of 85.74.
  • On the southern coast of China, the administrative region of Macau has an average life expectancy of 84.41 years. Men in Macau have a life expectancy of 81.45 years, and women have a life expectancy of 87.52.
  • The Principality of Monaco, the world's second smallest independent state, has an average life expectancy of 89.73 years. Men in Monaco have a life expectancy of 85.77 years, and women have a life expectancy of 93.69.

When the average life expectancy in a country is nearly 90 years, and women have a life expectancy well over 90 years, something is going very right. But what is it in these tiny countries that makes the difference in how long their citizens live? And can those of us who live in other countries replicate their experience?

Continue reading after recommendations

  • [No authors listed] Wealth but not health in the USA> Lancet. 2013 Jan 19. 381(9862):177. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60069-0.
  • Shippee TP, Wilkinson LR, Ferraro KF. Accumulated financial strain and women's health over three decades. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012 Sep. 67(5):585-94. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbs056. Epub 2012 Aug 28. PMID: 22929397.
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