The top 5 healthiest places to live in Europe

11th May, 2013 Living Abroad

In an extensive piece of medical research, a vast amount of key health data covering twenty years has just been analysed by and published inThe Lancet. The research looked at 16 European countries plus the USA, Australia and Canada in detail, pinning down the healthiest places to live. This week I thought it would be useful to pick out Europe’s top five. 

The research  looked at data gathered between 1990 and 2010, presenting a detailed analysis of trends as well as relative performance. It took into account years lived with disability, disability adjusted lifeyears, healthy life expectancy, years of life lost to illness and disability, causes of death and mortality rates. The resulting picture is fascinating as well as useful for those thinking about moving to, or who already live in, a European country.

Spain: average healthy years 70.9, life expectancy 81.4

The research indicates that despite its current economic woes, Spain is the healthiest place to live in Europe. People in Spain can expect an average of almost eighty years of healthy living and a high average life expectancy of just under eighty one and a half years. Perhaps the warm, sunny climate helps, with places like Torrevieja on the glorious Costa Blanca enjoying 320 or more days of sunshine a year and average temperatures of 18C in winter, 28C in summer. Hot… but not too hot!

The Guardian newspaper commented that Spanish families care for ailing relatives, probably a major factor with loved ones taking care of the elderly and even taking good home-cooked meals into hospitals. Apparently premature deaths from falls are also low, perhaps also as a result of older people being cared for in familiar surroundings with family around them.

Italy: average healthy years – 70.2, life expectancy 81.5

The Mediterranean diet, famous for its health-giving properties, may be one of the reasons behind Italy’s enviable place as the second healthiest place to live in Europe. According to research in 2006 by scientists at Leicester University*, a leisurely approach to the working day may help, as may the weather, moderate amounts of red wine (drunk with food), plus real coffee and the fact that 28% of journeys undertaken by Italians are on foot, including  their love of the after dinner stroll, the Passeggiata.

Sweden: average healthy years 69.6, life expectancy  81.4

According to a BBC report in 2012 Swedish women   arefour times as likely to be physically active than their British counterparts, which may be one reason why the country has been awarded the number three position. The BBC also reported, back in 2005, that the Swedes appeared to have a healthy, open attitude to drugs and alcohol, with bar and night club staff trained to give people advice about the support on offer and warned about the risks of over-indulgence.

**Chris Ham, professor of health policy at Birmingham University, puts the country’s excellent record down to Sweden’s highly developed healthcare system, which creates the ideal environment for health prevention to flourish: “They have a good record. From public health campaigns to accessing care and leisure services, Sweden does a lot to prevent ill health”. So much so that GPs there are encouraged to prescribe exercise and Swedish municipalities are busy introducing new cycle routes to encourage people to leave their cars at home. They’ve even implemented ‘health lessons’ in schools to promote healthy eating and lifestyles.

France: average healthy years 69.5, life expectancy 80.9

Why are the French so healthy? For a start they tend to avoid processed foods and fats. But there’s more. In 2008 NPR reported a study of 191 countries, ranking them on data like the number of years people lived in good health and whether the population as a whole had access to quality health care. France came first. And sensible enjoyment of good old vin rouge is also given a role in the country’s health success, reducing concentrations of harmful fat in the body. Michael Moore’s respected documentary Sicko also gives France’s healthcare system a big thumbs up.

Austria: average healthy years 69.1, life expectancy 80.6

Healthcare is hot in Austria too, with the research firm Mercer Consultants giving Vienna first place for overall quality of living in 2006. The country enjoys a stable, thriving economy, well-organised public services, a clean environment, good value for money and a moderate climate with average summer temperatures of 20 – 30C and winter temperatures averaging around zero. Plus there’s a tradition of strong family ties, good food and a traditional outdoor culture. If there’s a mountain Austrians will ski or snowboard down it, climb up it, paraglide off it, cycle around it or camp on it!

16 healthiest European countries

I have covered the top five in detail. But here is the full list, with the healthiest first

  1. Spain
  2. Italy
  3. Sweden
  4. France
  5. Austria
  6. Netherlands
  7. Germany
  8. Ireland
  9. Greece
  10. UK
  11. Portugal
  12. Belgium
  13. Luxembourg
  14. Norway
  15. Denmark
  16. Finland

Discover our expat country guides

Would you like to know more about expat living? Why not download our free eBook, The New Expat? It goes into detail about the medical side of expat life, family matters, accommodation, financial arrangements and more, designed to make your life easier in all sorts of ways. We also produce specific Country Guides each month, from A to Z, full of details to help you make the best decision and make the most of your new life.

Join the conversation   

Why do you think the top five healthiest European countries are so healthy? We’d love to hear from you if you live in one of them. You can join the conversation by leaving a comment below or connecting with us on Twitter: @now_health or on the Now Health Facebook page so we can share them with our readers.



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Alison Massey

Group Marketing Director

Now Health International

Alison Massey is a 15-year digital marketing veteran, who has spent the last seven years using social media to help expats and soon to be expats find out what to expect from a life overseas. An expat living in Hong Kong herself, Alison is the Group Marketing Director of Now Health, the award-winning international health insurance provider.

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