Going on holiday abroad is the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, language and delicacies. During your travels you might also catch a glimpse of what people all over the world do every day to lead healthy and happy lives. From Spanish siestas and the longevity secrets of the Blue Zones to the Japanese forest bathing and Balinese smiling meditation, pearls of wisdom can be found everywhere.
Not to mention the countless medicinal plants and spices, health-boosting dance rituals and healing massage techniques that form the basis of so many cultures around the globe.
So bring home a more lasting souvenir than the touristy stuff in the local gift shop and pick up a few healthy habits from your destination.
And hey, you don’t even have to leave the house, because I’ve got 8 of the world’s best health tips rounded up just for you.
Although much has been written about the health benefits of the more southernly-located Mediterranean diet, you shouldn’t miss out on what the Nordic Cuisine has to offer.
With its award-winning restaurants, Noma being its most famous, Scandinavia has put its traditional diet on the culinary map. Aside from being plain delicious, many of the key ingredients of the Nordic diet rank high on the list of ‘super foods’. Think of salmon fresh out of the sea, berries and mushrooms, complemented with fiber-rich root vegetables and rye, dill and lean game meat.
Eating like a Viking can improve your insulin sensitivity and the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, lower your blood pressure and help you lose weight – all without giving up major food groups.
Takeaway: Even if you don’t live in the land(s) of the midnight sun, you can still enjoy the health benefits of the Scandinavian food philosophy. Start by buying less processed foods and more fresh, local and seasonal produce. Cook a simple meal from scratch whenever you can.
Copy the Nordic habit to eat omega-3-rich fatty fish like salmon, herring or mackerel once a week and alternate with lean species and shellfish to minimize mercury exposure. Complete your cuisine makeover by choosing whole grains such as ray, barley and oats over white bread and pasta, adding cabbage and Brussels sprouts to your grocery list and flavouring your dishes with fresh herbs like dill, fennel or parsley.
While we’re hardly the only nation with bicycles, the Netherlands is definitely the most cycle-friendly country in the world. The Dutch rule the bike statistics: there are more bicycles than inhabitants, we do a greater share of our trips by bike and we cycle the most, with an average of 1,5 miles a day. In Holland, cycling isn’t a leisurely activity per se, it’s a main mode of transportation and a way of life.
Takeaway: The flat terrain, the extensive network of bicycle lanes and therefore relatively safety of cycling in the Netherlands surely make it easier to jump on a bike every day. That may not be possible where you live. But what you can learn from the Dutch cycling habit is to naturally incorporate some kind of movement – preferably outdoors – into your daily schedule. Think of running errands on foot, parking further away from your destination or taking the stairs. And on the weekend, dust of your bike for a leisurely ride around the neighbourhood!
3. Ikaria, Greece: Longevity-Promoting Lifestyle
Nicknamed ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die’, Ikaria has build a reputation of being this idyllic place where more people reach the age of 100 and live in better health.
Obviously their recipe for longevity contains a variation of the touted Mediterranean diet and natural movement all day long. But what’s more interesting is how the overall Ikarian lifestyle promotes well-being. Ikarians have a strong sense of community, regularly take naps and experience less stress in their lives. Not only do their strong social networks and relaxed way of life have a direct impact on the Ikarians’ physical and mental health, but such an environment also reinforces healthy behaviours.
Takeaway: A healthy lifestyle encompasses more than eating the right foods and going to the gym two times a week. It’s also about making time for what’s good for your soul: connecting with your friends and family, pottering around the garden, taking plenty of rest.
Ok, now taking a nap in the middle of the day is probably not an option for those of us with urban lifestyles. But we can chose a slower pace of living, at least some of the time. Rethink your priorities. Avoid rushing and unnecessary stress by building in buffer time to deal with unexpected hassles before your next appointment. Sprinkle moments of mindfulness into your days, from a walking ‘meditation’ on your way to work to simply savoring your meal.
For centuries, from North Africa to the Middle East, public bath houses or hammams have been an important part of community life – a place to come together, relax and maintain your health.
The bathing ritual usually starts in the steam room, where the warmth melts away your worries, stress and tension. The hammam’s hot steam has a cleansing effect, increasing your circulation and opening your skins pores to excrete toxins. This prepares your body for the deep exfoliation that follows, as you’re vigorously scrubbed in the washing room. Depending on the local traditions, cleansing soaps and oils, cold water buckets and massage therapy can all be part of the hammam experience.
Visiting a Moroccan hammam isn’t just a lovely beauty ritual, but counts as a therapy session for both your body and mind. The warmth relaxes your muscles and relieves pain, while the steam helps you breathe easier by opening your airways.
Takeaway: Enjoy the health benefits from the hammam by going to a (Turkish) bathhouse in your area (or a Finnish sauna if there’s none around). You could also try to recreate this weekly bathing ritual at home, by taking a warm bath or a facial steam bath, followed by exfoliating under an invigorating cold shower and finally massaging yourself with oils or lotions.
5. Japan/China: The Concept of Qi
If you’d visit a traditional healer in the Far East for, let’s say, stomach problems, you’d probably be surprised about the questions they’d ask you. Uh, what does the colour of my tongue and my pulse rate have to do with my belly?
Well, traditional medicine in China and Japan has quite a different take on health and illness than Western doctors do. In the Eastern philosophy, the state of your physical and emotional wellbeing resolves around your “qi” or “chi” – the life force that sustains every living thing. To put it simply: when this vital energy flows freely through your body via invisible channels called meridians, we feel health, happy and peaceful. But when your life’s energy becomes blocked, stagnant or weakened by stress, a poor diet or environmental factors, it can result in health problems.
The concept of Qi is the underlying principle of ancient Eastern therapies like acupuncture, shiatsu and reflexology. It also plays a major role in the practice of t’ai chi and many martial arts, feng shui (the art of arranging the optimal flow of energy in living spaces) and Taoism.
Takeaway: Whether you believe in the concept of Qi or not, we all know what it’s like to feel excited, vibrant and alive. You can help your (life) energy run freely through your body by practicing breathing exercises and mindfulness, letting go of tension in your body and moving daily. For more do-it-yourself tips to restore the energy balance in your body, check out this article by AcuTake.
It’s impossible to choose just one health practice from the land of Ayurveda and transcendental meditation. So I’m highlighting two healthy Indian habits that you can easily incorporate in your home life: spices and yoga.
Research in recent years has shown that the benefits from regularly doing yoga go far beyond improving your flexibility, strength and posture. Practicing yoga helps to clear your mind, reduce stress, ease your pain and boost your immunity thanks to an improved circulation. The secret? A pilot study suggests that yoga ‘works’ because it increases your body’s ability to deal with stress, by regulating the nervous system. Whatever the working mechanisms of this ancient Indian practice, yoga is known to boost your wellbeing on many levels.
Spices are the heart of Indian cooking – and they’re not just hot and tasty. Many of the spices and herbs used in India have significant positive effects on your health. Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to relieve all kinds of ailments. In recent years, studies have found substantive evidence that the active ingredient in turmeric, called curcumin, helps to lessen the inflammation in your body that’s responsible for many (chronic) diseases. Other characteristic Indian flavours, such as ginger, chili peppers, saffron and cardamom, are also known for their medicinal properties.
Takeaway: Bringing home a little of India with you by stocking up your spice cabinet with fragrant and potent blends. Obviously you should add a lovely curry to your cooking repertoire, but you can also add some health-boosting magic to your regular meals. For example, marinate your chicken with ground coriander seeds, red chili and garlic or add a pinch of turmeric to a rice dish. Try to come up with exciting new ways to spice up any meal with classic flavors like cinnamon, cardamom and fennel seeds.
And when it comes to yoga, you don’t need to spend a hour on the mat every morning to get the benefits. You can learn a new yoga pose in five minutes every day with these cool Yogagrams from Sarah Kathleen Peck.
When it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle, Californians seem to be quick to adopt (or set!) the latest trends. Hollywood stars swapped their coffee to-go for a green juice in hand and yoga mat under the arm, vegan-friendly restaurants popped up everywhere, as did gluten-free menus. Los Angeles specifically is a hotbed of fitness trends, with specialized studios and famous personal trainers on every street corner.
But with a sunny climate year round, making it the perfect place for growing fresh fruit and veggies, cycling along the paved beach paths or hiking beautiful trails, who wouldn’t feel compelled to eat healthily, move your body and soak up the sunshine?
Takeaway: Blindly following food or fitness fads is never a good idea. But you can let trends inspire you to improve your health and happiness in ways you hadn’t thought of before. Maybe you’ll experiment with new ingredients and healthy recipes. Maybe you’ll discover an exciting form of exercise you enjoy and stick to. Who knows, maybe green smoothies turn out to be the ideal way for you to up your daily veggie intake. Whichever health hype motivates you, make sure to always do your own research and most of all, to always listen to your body’s wisdom.
8. Latin America: Superfoods
The Amazonian rainforest is called “the world’s medicine cabinet” for a reason: the tropical jungle plants have produced countless lifesaving drugs – and that doesn’t even include the hundreds of plant species that haven’t been tested yet for their potential medicinal properties.
But it seems like Latin America can add another nickname to the list: “The world’s supermarket for superfoods“. Many of the amazingly nutritious foods we’ve been adding to our meals recently come from the South American continent. Quinoa has been a healthy staple food for their indigenous people since the Inca empire, while chia seeds have fueled the ultra-runs of the Tarahumara tribe for centuries. Acai berries, maca, raw cacao and the lesser known amaranth (a gluten-free pseudograin), lucuma (a natural sweetener) and inca berries also originate from the highlands of Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador or from deep inside the rainforest.
Takeaway: Hype or not, you can easily boost your regular meals with so-called superfoods. You don’t have to buy the trendy (and sometimes expensive) Latin-American ones; local nutritional powerhouses such as broccoli, blueberries, sunflower seeds or even eggs and Greek yoghurt will also pack a punch. Just follow the example of the Latin American people and fuel your days with nutrient-rich foods!
For more information on what the world’s longest living people do every day – and how you can get healthier and happier too! – check out the bestselling classics The Blue Zones and The Okinawa Program (affiliate links).
What’s a famous health, wellness or happiness tip from your country that the world should know about?
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