6 Life Lessons From the Healthiest Countries in the World

Building healthy habits can be difficult. But in some countries they're baked into the way of life. From forest bathing in Japan to health tech start-ups in Sweden, we take a look at the lessons to learn from the world's healthiest countries.

Just as a balanced and healthy lifestyle looks different to you as it does to your friends and family, countries across the world all take their own approach to public health for their citizens.

Take Singapore, which provides its inhabitants with free fitness trackers; or Japan, where vast improvements are being made in workplace wellness. Across Europe, Swedish start-ups are using tech to create healthier lives, while Iceland continues to build on its culture of physical strength and fitness. As Huel explores below, there are plenty of lessons to be found from those doing it right across the globe.

Israel: Community is important

A healthy, balanced family structure reigns supreme within Israel’s ‘collectivist society’ — a concept punctuated by strong support networks in which the family is seen as the most fundamental unit. This contrasts with more ‘individualistic’ societies in the United States and Western Europe

In a kibbutz, cooperative communities found throughout Israel, members live and work together, pooling their efforts for the common good. Historically, it played a significant role in agricultural development, but today has diversified into various industries and services.

Try: Connecting with others can help contribute to a reduction in stress and promote feelings of happiness. Next time you have a free weekend, reach out to an old friend and reconnect.

Sweden: Embrace the daily commute

With 50% of Swedes enjoying daily walks and 30% reaping the rewards of a cycling commute, Sweden has a supremely healthy population. It’s reflected in Stockholm’s start-up scene, in which many burgeoning businesses align with improving Sweden’s health.

From femtech start-up Leia, a personalised post-pregnancy digital tracker; to digital therapy service Mindler, which has connected over 375,000 patients with mental health professionals, the friendly city of Stockholm is taking the lead in health tech.

Try: Adding a cardio twist to your commute will not only help your wallet but your heart too. A British Medical Journal study found that walking or cycling to work was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Singapore: Harness the power of fitness tracking

It’s estimated that 85% of Singaporean over-65s remain active in their day-to-day life, while Singapore’s government supplied free Fitbit fitness trackers in 2019, providing the devices free of charge to around a million people.

A brand new concept for national health programmes, Fitbit beat Apple to the gig. “Participants of this program will benefit from Fitbit’s plans to incorporate artificial intelligence,” said Zee Yoong Kang, CEO of Singapore’s Health Promotion Board. “We intend to work with industry innovators... to provide Singaporeans with personalised health advice and nudges, so that they can take control of their own health."

Try: Tracking your health, sleep and stress can help you gain a better understanding of your progress. Although be careful not to fall into the trap of over-tracking

Switzerland: Precision in healthcare

In Switzerland, citizens enjoy a high life expectancy and cutting-edge medical treatments. The country attributes its storied success in health not just to clean drinking water – thanks to its naturally-filtrating mountainscapes – but also to fresh fruit and, to some patriotic residents, the invention of the Bircher muesli, invented by Swiss doctor and nutritionist Maximilian Bircher-Benner.

Try: Switzerland's crisp alpine air has long been associated with rejuvenation and well-being. When you’re next WFH, take a screen break, head outside and enjoy the naturally-occurring reduction in low mood and fatigue.

Japan: Surround yourself with trees

Japan consistently tops the charts in global health rankings due to its commitment to a holistic approach to both mental and physical health and a traditional diet (called Washoku) of whole, minimally processed, nutrient-rich, seasonal foods.

Owing to Japan's ‘May blues’ phenomenon — in which, after a week-long holiday known as ‘Golden Week (Ōgon Shūkan) and the start of the fiscal year, people tend to fall into a state of depression — many Japanese companies now offer increased mental health support. This includes retailer Marui Group hiring a Chief Wellbeing Officer and financial services company Rakuten’s ‘Wellness Department’, which measures the level of physical and mental health support available for employees.

Try: Shinrin-Yoku, also known as ‘forest bathing’. As Dr. Qing Li describes in Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, it’s as easy as beginning to ground yourself, sans-phone.

Then, begin exhaling through your mouth until you have emptied your lungs; inhaling through the nose, expanding your ribs, and breathing into the lower back and abdomen.

Iceland: Strength training is life

A country with the world’s smallest gender gap, Iceland's pristine environment, clean air, and sustainable practices have fostered a culture of well-being. Iceland’s dominance in strength-based sports — including World’s Strongest Man and CrossFit titans Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson and Annie Thorisdottir — stems from an ingrained love of strength training and the country’s geography.

“Icelanders are mentally very tough and expect a lot,” explained Jami Tikkanen, Thorisdottir’s coach. “I think their mindset is part nature. A harsh climate makes for strong people.”

Yet, it’s an Icelandic proverb that sums it up aptly: “A man too busy to take care of his health is like a farmer too lazy to plant his field.”

Try: Take things outdoors in the name of friluftsliv, Iceland’s way of life that celebrates the grand outdoors for a vitamin D boost.

Icelandics are also known for their love of high-protein yoghurts. Sure, most relate protein to muscle, but the macronutrient also plays an important role in healthy ageing, bone health and energy balance (check out our article on how much protein you actually need).

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