Have you ever wondered how the US ranks in comparison to other countries in overall health? In 2008, Forbes conducted a study and concluded that Iceland ranked #1 and the United States ranked #11. Even though this study is five years old (obviously, this study would be difficult, if not impossible to do yearly), it is quite interesting.
After living in Germany now for almost two years (Germany was ranked #4), and having visited many other countries listed higher than the US, I can understand why the US was ranked #11. I believe the US could take a few life-style lessons from Europe.
In Germany I have noticed that:
- people consume significantly less fast food (and things like soda) and eat more fresh fruits and veggies (almost every town has market days for farm fresh items)
- use public transportation much more often (hence walking from their home to the bust stop or train)
- and exercise (as a society) more often than Americans (almost daily for many people- a walk, a bike ride, time at the pool, etc.)
- people have a belief in self-reliance (for example, the service of having someone bag your groceries does not exist here- yet another way to be active)
The towns in Germany were designed with houses that are relatively close to the grocery store, the bank, and the doctor. Many individuals will simply walk to town to buy that bag of groceries or mail a package. Germany has thousands of miles of walking/bike trails (that are public) through farm fields. If your destination in town is too far for walking, many individuals will ride a bike with a basket. Germans really love biking and seniors are no exception.
Germans also believe in a need for daily “fresh air”. They truly believe that it is good for your health to get out of your house, breathe fresh air and take a walk (so true). There are a multitude of parks for children and parents keep them full.
In South Carolina, where I previously lived, if there were two inches of snow, the entire town would shut down- schools and stores would close. Most people would take their day off to lounge in their living room. Very few people would venture outside. Here in Germany, there could be thick snow on the ground for three months solid, and people would continue (warmly dressed) to move around outside. They would never just stay indoors (granted, snow tires are required by law). Even the youngest newborn is wrapped warmly and taken out for a stroll in a large wheeled stroller (necessary to make it through the snow).
I once saw a woman struggling to push an elderly woman in a wheelchair in an empty parking lot in the middle of winter. I had to do a “double take”. I thought to myself as I drove by in my warm car, “did this person choose to bring this elderly woman out in this weather”? After living here a while, I thought back on that situation and was able to answer “YES”! How awesome it is was that a family member would take the time and energy to bundle up a loved one and take her out for a bit of fresh air and to see some nature.
One man in our town often walks beside a woman (I assume his wife) who has probably suffered a stroke or perhaps has Alzheimer’s. With her head seemingly fixed in a tilt to the side, she never takes her eyes off the ground. Her husband has his arm around her’s… guiding her where to go. She doesn’t particularly seem to even enjoy the walk, but she’s moving on just the same. She walks with a slow gait and shuffles her feet a little. Perhaps her husband is keeping her at home, or perhaps he has picked her up from a facility and is just enjoying a visit. Either way, he is helping to keep her body flexible and healthy as much as possible. What a husband (as I like to imagine)!
For more information on why the US ranked #11 in this Forbes survey, click on the blue link above.