An International Look at Longevity

How would you like to eat French fries with mayonnaise, pastries and pasta and live as long as anyone in the world? You could even smoke your whole life and never go to the gym. How could this be, it is so contrary to everything we know as Americans?

I recently traveled to three countries to look at longevity and see why people live as long as they do in each country. The countries were Morocco, Italy and France.

First France, they devour more french fries then any American I have ever seen, smoke like a house on fire and love their beef tartar (raw hamburger). They are small in stature and seemed irritated almost all the time (ok slight exaggeration). They love to drink wine at lunch and dinner and to relax. They work 36 hours a week and enjoy just sitting and talking with friends. The weather is mild in the Paris area and slightly warmer in the South. As one Parisian said, “We know how to enjoy life but know how to moderate more then Americans do.” They rank 12th in the world in longevity and 2nd in healthcare worldwide. Just by comparison America ranks 20th in longevity and 37th in healthcare.

Italy is by far my favorite country and the place I have spent the most time. Like the French the Italians enjoy wine many times a day, love their pasta and again smoke like crazy. In the neighborhood where I lived I saw the same men sitting at the same table at lunch every day. They weren’t old men, they were of all ages, 20’s, 50’s and I think even 80’s. They just seemed to be enjoying life. I interviewed a waiter who said, “I went to America and gained 5 kilos(11lbs) in a month, too much food, too much car.” Italy ranks 2nd in the world in healthcare and 12th in longevity.

Morocco seemed an interesting place. I had heard that it was unusual for a man to live to be 70. I spoke with several people about why they thought their people died so early. No one had a definitive answer but after three days in the country I started to draw my own conclusions. I first thought it must be their healthcare but then saw that Morocco was ranked ahead of the US, Morocco at 29th compared to our 37th. So much of longevity just surrounds our simple daily lifestyle. Moroccans drink gallons of sweet tea daily. Sweet tea has tons of white sugar in it. As part of my own little study I took my fasting blood sugar and blood pressure each morning in each country. When in Italy and France my blood sugar was normal (under 100) but after my fourth day in Morocco it soared to 124. Diabetes has increased in the country and no one takes it very seriously. My blood pressure went up 25 points, I am sure it was the heat of 105 degrees that was stressing my system. I found myself not walking because it was so hot outside. That seemed true of everyone. I also found that their favorite meal of tangine (stew with vegetables and meat) is loaded with salt, so much that the first time I ate it I thought the chef spilled the salt shaker. They also eat far more meat then Italy or France. Morocco is 107th in longevity.

So what is the conclusion of these three distinct cultures? What can we learn from them as Americans?

First, walking makes a huge difference in your health. I used my pedometer everywhere I went. In Italy and France I walked over three miles a day everyday. In Morocco I was lucky to get a quarter mile in. At home my work outs total about 16 miles a week but that is four days a week. In Italy and France I was getting in over 22 miles a week. My blood pressure dropped 8% and blood sugar 11%. Italians and French don’t look at it as exercise it is just how they get around.

Portions: we eat so damn much as Americans. I would say portion size is 70% in Italy and France compared to America. Moroccans portions are akin to Americans.

The biggest thing that surprised me was meat consumption. In Italy I ate about 3 ounces a day. In Morocco about 10 ounces a day, about the same as in the US. Meat is hard on our systems and we consume too much of it. I found that I didn’t miss eating meat that much and felt a lot better.

Fresh food, all you have to do is to watch Food Inc., the documentary, to see how many preservatives and hormones we as Americans put in our food. In France and Italy food was fresh everyday. The food we bought at the store lasted four days not two weeks. We are not only preserving our food we are preserving our fat.

These simple changes may help you live a quality life a few years longer.

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