Most people are lucky I live to 100but two women lived well beyond that, joining the ranks of the world’s oldest people – and both are from France.
Jeanne Calment is believed to be the world’s oldest person on record, having graced the Earth for 122 years. And most recently, a French nun named Sister André was the world’s oldest person until January 17, when she died at the age of 118.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what helps people live past 100, given the varied behaviors of supercentenarians, says Jean-Marie Robine, an expert demographer who studies the relationship between health and longevity.
But there are several factors that may give France the lead in life expectancy, says Robine, who is also research director at the Institut National De La Sante et de La Recherche Medicale (INSERM) in France.
Here are some reasons why people from The Hexagon tend to have several bonus years.
Why do the French tend to live longer than people in other countries?
1. Education is free
“More educated people have a longer life expectancy,” says Robine. “They value longevity more [and] more good health. They have better knowledge of what to do [and] what not to do if you want to stay healthy”.
People who have received more education also have a better understanding of what foods to eat for longevity and what exercise to incorporate into their daily lives to increase their health longevity, according to Robine.
2. Access to health care is free
Countries with the highest life expectancies, including France, Japan and Denmark, all offer free health care.
“And that’s an important difference,” says Robine, when comparing the life expectancy of different countries, “and that’s where we lose countries like the UK, the Netherlands and the United States.”
3. Better diet choices
The people of Southern France, where both Jeanne Calment and Sister André were born, adhere to one Mediterranean diet, says Robin. A Mediterranean diet prioritizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood and healthy fats – while limiting or reducing consumption of red meat, dairy and sweets.
When you compare the North of France with the South of France, there is a two-year difference in life expectancy, which can be partly attributed to diet. The weather is also an important factor, as winters and summers in the south of France are less harsh than in the north, he adds.
Regarding the diet in other countries, Robine says, “people are eating too [much] fat and salt”.
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