How old do you feel?
That’s one way to interpret the findings one a major new study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). The research was designed to find out which citizens are staying healthiest as they age. It’s an important economic and cultural question, “Age-related health problems can lead to early retirement, a smaller workforce and higher health spending,” explains lead study author Angela Y. Chang. “Government leaders and other stakeholders influencing health systems need to consider when people begin suffering the negative effects of ageing.”
To rank the 195 countries they surveyed, the scientists used Global burden of Disease data which estimates how much each population suffers from 92 different age-related diseases and disabilities, such as memory loss and chronic pain. Each country was given a score – known as disability-adjusted life years, or DALY – a measurement of the loss of healthy life as people age. For further comparison, the researchers also determined the kinds of diseases that, on average, strike at the age of 65; then they checked how old each country’s population was when they began to experience those diseases.
Ageing best #1: Switzerland
Senior citizens in Switzerland had the best DALY score, making them the healthiest in the world, according to the new study. They also could put off the diseases expected to hit at 65 by more than 11 years – in other words, they were 76 by the time they began to experience the illnesses associated with turning 65 for most countries.
Reasons: the country has world-class healthcare, and an almost-perfect Healthcare Access and Quality (HAQ) Index score of 95.6 out of 100. The HAQ measures citizen access to life-saving, quality healthcare. What’s more, the country is one of the happiest in the world, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report by the World Economic Forum. Thanks to social support, a high life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and low government corruption levels, Switzerland ranks fifth in global happiness, after the Nordic countries of Finland, Norway, Iceland and Denmark. Decades of research have linked optimism and happiness to lower risks for many diseases.
Ageing best #2: Singapore
Like the Swiss, Singaporeans are ageing so much better than average that they don’t start dealing with the aches, pains and diseases of an average 65-year-old until they reach 76. Americans are just barely above average in this department – they manage to delay 65-year-old health woes for about three years when they turn 68.
Reasons: excellent health care again comes to the rescue: In Singapore, there’s a unique public/private system that the World Health Organization ranks 6th. (By way of comparison, Australia ranked 32nd.) Singapore’s government also takes a very ‘hands-on’ approach to the health habits of its population. Its Healthier Dining Program makes it cheaper to order healthier options at many places while eating out, and a National Steps Challenge gives free step counters to citizens and offers cash and prizes to those who succeed at increasing their physical activity, according to the BBC.