What I'm Learning about Wellness and Longevity in Spain

Published by Annie Barrett: 
April 29, 2024

I’ve been traveling in Spain for just over three weeks and I’m continuing to observe, investigate, and absorb the lifestyle habits that may contribute to the fact that Spain currently has the highest life expectancy in the European Union

While it may be challenging to account for all of the reasons for the high longevity in Spain, the habits that I’ve observed that seem to correlate with longevity, wellbeing and an overall sense of happiness are the these:

Eating healthfully and eating with others go together in Spain.

The Spanish way of eating is characterized by the Mediterranean diet, which not only emphasizes eating a variety of whole, unprocessed, plant based foods and healthy fats, but also emphasizes the cultural importance of sharing food with others. Studies show that what one eats, where one eats, and with whom one shares a meal all contribute to the overall wellbeing. No matter where you go in Spain, you see people prioritizing meal times and sharing and enjoying meals together. 

Take home tip for Americans: Eat your fruits, vegetables and legumes. Enjoy your food. Share your meals with others. 

People in Spain walk more than most Americans.

The average American walks approximately 4,774 steps a day. In Spain, adults record an average of 9,530 steps per day. The biggest reason for this may be that Spanish cities are very old and were not built for cars. In contrast to most of the United States which was built for car culture. Good public transport, safe streets for walking, and the availability of groceries and other necessities close to people’s homes and workplaces contribute to a culture of walking more. 

Take home tip for Americans: Get walking! Advocate for safe walking zones in your town and neighborhood. Plan your day with walking in mind.

Taking a break or a siesta has benefits.

Spain is a culture where it’s OK and encouraged to take a break or a siesta during the day. This tradition may be changing in the bigger cities, but the siesta culture is alive and well in many parts of Spain. In fact, taking a siesta after lunch is correlated with many health benefits including better mood, lower blood pressure, and higher overall productivity.

Take home tip for Americans: Take your work breaks. Take a real lunch break. Make time to both rest and socialize during the day.

People seem generally less stressed. 

Is it really true that Spaniards are less stressed? Hard for me to say because I’m a visitor here, but it does look this way. Multiple people who move to Spain report that in Spain people slow down. Busy-ness and success may not necessarily correlate with happiness. The attitude here is to “work to live” not to “live to work.” 

Take home tip for Americans: Play the long game in life and value each day. Don’t just live for your weekends and vacations.