By Dr. Mercola
The United States spends $2.7 trillion annually -- TWICE the amount per person as most other industrialized nations – on health care. With this level of spending, you might think Americans would be among the healthiest people on the planet … unfortunately, that isn't the case.
Japan Tops List of Healthiest Countries
The Global Burden of Disease study, which assessed health and disease trends in 187 countries and is said to be the "largest ever systematic effort to describe the global distribution and causes of a wide array of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors,"1 released its rankings of the top 10 countries with the highest life expectancies. The United States did not make the cut – not even close.
For male life expectancy, the U.S. was ranked 29th, while for female life expectancy the rank was even lower, at 33rd. Japan ranked highest for both, followed by:2
Highest Male Healthy Life Expectancy Highest Female Life Expectancy 1. Japan 1. Japan 2. Singapore 2. South Korea 3. Switzerland 3. Spain 4. Spain 4. Singapore 5. Italy 5. Taiwan 6. Australia 6. Switzerland 7. Canada 7. Andorra 8. Andorra 8. Italy 9. Israel 9. Australia 10. South Korea 10. France
What's Japan's Secret?
As for why the Japanese are the longest-lived race on the planet (they were also ranked healthiest back in 1990), the researchers couldn't say exactly, although Harvard School of Public Health Professor Joshua Salomon, one of the study's lead investigators, noted:3
"It's likely a combination of factors, a combination of genetics and of healthy behaviors, including diet."
Indeed, at least one "secret" is likely that their diets are naturally high in animal-based omega-3 fats, a nutrient many Americans are deficient in. According to Dr. William Harris, an expert on omega-3 fats, those who have an omega-3 index of less than 4 percent age much faster than those with indexes above 8 percent. Therefore, your omega-3 index may also be an effective marker of your rate of aging.
In general, the Japanese also enjoy fermented foods like natto, which contains beneficial microbes that help balance your intestinal flora, and is also very high in vitamin K2, thereby boosting overall immunity, far more often than the average American … this too could be playing a role in their good health.
While health risks like infectious diseases and malnutrition are causing fewer deaths across the board than they have in decades, other more insidious causes of death, like chronic disease, have taken their place in many countries, including the United States where heart disease and cancer make up the two leading causes of death. Meanwhile, as a global population we are getting sicker not healthier, as although life expectancy has mostly risen, more of those years are being spent in poor health or disability.
The Lancet reported:4
"The results show that infectious diseases, maternal and child illness, and malnutrition now cause fewer deaths and less illness than they did twenty years ago. As a result, fewer children are dying every year, but more young and middle-aged adults are dying and suffering from disease and injury, as non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, become the dominant causes of death and disability worldwide.
Since 1970, men and women worldwide have gained slightly more than ten years of life expectancy overall, but they spend more years living with injury and illness."
Why Isn't Life Expectancy Higher in the United States?
Using life expectancy as a barometer for the return of our health care investment shows us that this expenditure is entirely in vain. Other countries that spend far less are outpacing us in life expectancy by leaps and bounds. What's the problem? Well for starters, the U.S. health care system has a tremendous amount of waste. A recent review of U.S. healthcare expenses by the Institute of Medicine5 revealed that 30 cents of every dollar spent on medical care is wasted, adding up to $750 billion annually. Six major areas of waste identified in the report were:
Unnecessary services: $210 billion Inflated prices: $105 billion Inefficient delivery of care: $130 billion Improper payments: $70 billion Excess administrative costs: $190 billion Fraud: $75 billion
Meanwhile, statistics also tell us that the U.S. health care system itself may be one of the greatest health threats facing us today. Over a decade ago, Professor Bruce Pomerance of the University of Toronto concluded that properly prescribed and correctly taken pharmaceutical drugs were the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S.
More recently, an article authored in two parts by Gary Null, PhD, Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, Martin Feldman, MD, Debora Rasio, MD, and Dorothy Smith, PhD, describes in excruciating detail how the modern American conventional medical system has bumbled its way into becoming the leading cause of death and injury in the United States.
From medical errors to adverse drug reactions to unnecessary procedures, heart disease, cancer deaths and infant mortality, the authors took statistics straight from the most respected medical and scientific journals and investigative reports by the Institutes of Medicine (IOM), and showed that on the whole, American medicine caused more harm than good. In 2010, years after the original article was written, an analysis in the New England Journal of Medicine6 found that, despite efforts to improve patient safety in the past few years, the health care system hasn't changed much at all.
Instead, 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care (some repeatedly) and over 63 percent of the injuries could have been prevented. In nearly 2.5 percent of these cases, the problems caused or contributed to a person's death. In another 3 percent, patients suffered from permanent injury, while over 8 percent experienced life-threatening issues, such as severe bleeding during surgery.
In all there were over 25 injuries per 100 admissions!
Of course, there are other factors involved in Americans' poor life-expectancy rankings, too, not the least of which is the standard American diet, which indirectly contributes to an untold number of deaths every year from obesity and chronic disease. The good news is that, no matter what country you live in, most chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are largely preventable with simple lifestyle changes. Even infectious diseases like the flu can often be warded off by a healthy way of life.
Do You Want to Give Your Life Expectancy a Boost?
The more healthy habits you embrace, the higher your chances of aging "successfully" becomes … and the longer your lifespan is likely to be. Imagine the lowered death toll, not to mention costs to the economy, if more people decided to take control of their health … heart disease and cancer alone accounted for 47 percent of deaths in the United States in 2010, and there are many strategies you can implement to lower your risk of these diseases … and most of the leading causes of death in the United States.
The added bonus to this is that the healthier you are, the less you will need to rely on conventional medical care, which is a leading cause of death if you live in the United States. So what does a "healthy lifestyle" entail?
- Proper Food Choices
For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should be looking to focus your diet on whole, unprocessed foods (vegetables, meats, raw dairy, nuts, and so forth) that come from healthy, sustainable, local sources, such as a small organic farm not far from your home.
Nearly as important as knowing which foods to eat more of is knowing which foods to avoid, and topping the list is fructose. Sugar, and fructose in particular, acts as a toxin in and of itself, and as such drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of accelerated aging.
- Comprehensive Exercise Program, including High-Intensity Exercise like Peak Fitness
Even if you're eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including not only core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching but also high-intensity activities into your rotation.
High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I've discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions, so for more information please review this previous article.
- Stress Reduction and Positive Thinking
You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays an intimate role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Effective coping mechanisms are a major longevity-promoting factor in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Meditation, prayer, energy psychology tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), social support and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium.
- Proper Sun Exposure to Optimize Vitamin D
We have long known that it is best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure, and if at all possible, I strongly urge you to make sure you're getting out in the sun on a daily basis. Vitamin D plays an important role in preventing numerous illnesses ranging from cancer to the flu.
The important factor when it comes to vitamin D is your serum level, which should ideally be between 50-70 ng/ml year-round. Sun exposure or a safe tanning bed is the preferred method for optimizing vitamin D levels, but a vitamin D3 supplement can be used as a last resort. Most adults need about 8,000 IU's of vitamin D a day to achieve serum levels above 40 ng/ml, which is still just below the minimum recommended serum level of 50 ng/ml.
- High Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats
Animal-based omega-3 fat like krill oil is a strong factor in helping people live longer, and some experts believe that it is likely the predominant reason why the Japanese are the healthiest people on the planet.
- Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible
This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.