Switzerland: Think Beyond the Gym
We might be busy, but we’re not all that active. This may be related to our tendency to view exercise as something we have to schedule as opposed to an ongoing part of daily life. In Switzerland, for example, belonging to a gym is about half as common as it is in the U.S., yet Americans are almost four times as likely to be obese. Research indicates that’s partly because the Swiss walk almost twice as much throughout the day, racking up an average of 9,650 steps compared to our 5,117. To get moving, Wang suggests doing little things like joining a lunchtime walking club, cutting back on using the elevator and parking farther away from your destination.
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East Africa: Go with Grains
Photo by Oliver Strewe/Getty Images
There’s good reason to reach for whole grains like those popular in East African cuisine. According to Amy Y. Wang, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, “grains such as teff, found in Ethiopian injera bread, and amaranth are good sources of fiber and protein, which can help promote a healthy weight and decrease the risk of obesity.” Experts recommend three to five servings of whole grains daily. To follow East African practice, try having half a cup of cooked grains or a piece of injera with vegetables like cabbage, collard greens or lentils.
Scandinavia: Less Is More
Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) has been all the rage recently in the U.S. But the notion of coziness and contentment has long been a staple of Scandinavian well-being. Compared with Americans, Scandinavians on average have stronger social networks and spend 5.7 hours less per week at work. Scandinavian countries are also consistently ranked among the world’s happiest. We can emulate hygge by practicing gratitude (yup, there are journals and apps for that), prioritizing togetherness (when are you next getting together with your girlfriends?) and upping the cozy quotient at home (couldn’t your couch use fluffier pillows?).
The Amazon: Be Nutty
Last year, the indigenous people of a remote part of Bolivia (the Tsimane) made headlines for having the healthiest hearts on the planet. While their remarkably unclogged arteries can’t be attributed to just one factor, experts think a non-processed carbohydrate-based diet that includes nuts and seeds might play a role. “Seeds and nuts of all types are high in essential fatty acids, which can keep blood vessels and nerves healthy,” says Daphne Miller, MD, author of The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World. Work a handful into your diet as an afternoon snack or pre-dinner bite to avoid overeating. Almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans may have some of the strongest heart health benefits.
The Netherlands: Travel on Two Wheels
Photo by Offset
The Netherlands boasts more bicycles per capita than any other European country. The Dutch treat cycling as a mode of transportation (not just a fitness activity, as 67% of us do) for getting to school or work and running errands. This leads to longer lives, says a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Americans, who drive a vehicle for 87% of daily trips, live 2.6 years less than the Dutch. Boost your activity by swapping some car, bus or train rides for bike rides. “Take advantage of bike paths and routes,” suggests Wang, “especially if you live near work or school.”
Thailand: The Might of Massage
“In Thailand, massages are accepted as a primary health care treatment for aches and pains,” says Uraiwan Chatchawan, PhD, assistant professor of physical therapy at Khon Kaen University. With the prevalence of chronic pain being more than twice as high in the U.S. as it is in Thailand (47% versus 20%), here’s your reason to consider a rubdown. Research shows that massage can help with everything from lower back pain to headaches.
Arctic Circle: One Fish, Two Fish
People who live above the Arctic Circle can experience up to three months of polar night at a time. A possible key to helping them combat seasonal affective disorder? Experts say it could be their diet. “Studies show that people who eat more fish may have a lower risk of depression,” says Wang. “Fish containing omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, are thought to have the most benefit.” (We’re guessing salmon would go over best—especially with finicky kids.) Wang suggests at least two to three servings a week for adults and one to two for children.
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