We scoured the globe to discover which countries’ health and nutrition habits beat ours. Here’s how women around the world get fit and stay in tip-top shape – and what we can learn from them. BY HOLLY CORBETT
Where women live the longest
What you can learn from Japan
Say yes to soya. “At least 40% of the Japanese population eats miso soup made from soya beans for breakfast every day,” says Letha Hadady, a leading expert on Asian herbal medicine and the author of Feed Your Tiger. Studies show that women who eat soya at least once a week cut their risk of breast cancer by 50%.
But some research suggests that processed soya may actually rev up cancer cells. Instead, stick to natural Japanese staples such as edamame, tofu, soya milk and miso.
Trade coffee for tea. The Italians have espresso, the Russians have vodka and the Japanese have green tea. More than half the population drinks it every day, and experts believe that its high levels of catechins – a powerful disease-fighting antioxidant – can destroy abnormal cancer cells and lower cholesterol.
Where women rarely have heart attacks
5. South Korea
What you can learn from France
Drink wine. Champagne, Bordeaux, Burgundy – with a countryside that’s practically synonymous with wine, it’s no wonder the French pop the cork more often than we do. In fact, they sip a glass of wine daily.
Moderate drinkers (one glass per day for women) slash their risk of heart disease by up to 40%, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. More good news: a glass of red from southwestern France – specifically, Madiran – may have up to five times as many procyanidins (antioxidants that improve blood vessel function) as one from another country, thanks to the area’s traditional production techniques, which allow grapes to ferment longer.
What you can learn from South Korea
Eat more garlic. No Korean meal is complete without kimchi – a side dish that’s heavy on raw garlic. The secret to its heart-protecting power is an enzyme in the garlic that prevents cholesterol from sticking to artery walls.
But it’s released only when the cloves are finely chopped or crushed, and heating weakens its effects. Top fish, pasta or veggies with chopped fresh garlic just before serving.
Where women don’t get fat (though there’s plenty of food)
What you can learn from Italy
Snooze in the afternoon. Few women score afternoon shut-eye, but “across Italy, shops and businesses shut down between one and four in the afternoon so that people can rest,” says Melissa Kelly, author of Mediterranean Women Stay Slim, Too.
“Siestas help boost your energy, so you don’t need a sugary pick-me-up snack in the afternoon.” Studies also link too little sleep to increased production of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you crave comfort foods.
What you can learn from Switzerland
Take a spin around town. How do the Swiss stay slim surrounded by chocolate and cheese? They make almost 30% of their trips on foot, 10% by bike and just 38% by car. Compare that with how the rest of us get around! Do some errands on foot, and grab your bike and head to a riding trail.
Where women rarely get colon cancer
What you can learn from Cameroon
Go wild with greens. “Diet is the most important factor when it comes to preventing colon cancer,” says Dr Daphne Miller, author of The Jungle Effect: A Doctor Discovers the Healthiest Diets from Around the World. She found that most Cameroonian dishes call for folate-rich wild greens, which may slash colon cancer risk by 60%.
Protect your gut. “Fermented foods are diet staples throughout West Africa, and they’re packed with probiotics, which maintain colon-protecting bacteria in the gut and may ward off cancer,” Miller says.
Cameroonians get their fermented fix from home-brewed beer, sour milk and fermented corn. You can go for cottage cheese or yoghurt (check the label for live and active cultures).
Where women are happiest
What you can learn from Denmark
Find a lust for life, not for stuff. “Danish people believe that experiences, not material possessions, are what bring contentment,” says Kaare Christensen, professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern Denmark.
Research backs them up: when US scientists asked study participants about their recent big-ticket purchases, they found that people who put their dough toward an experience – such as concert tickets or a romantic dinner – were twice as likely to be happy with their purchase than those who bought material goods.
What you can learn from Iceland
Cook more fish. Despite long, dark winters, Iceland boasts low rates of seasonal affective disorder. Their recipe for happiness: Icelanders eat a hefty 102kg of cold-water fish per person per year – more than any people in the world, Miller says.
“Eat two or more servings of fish a week and you’ll reduce your risk of depression by 50%.”
For more nutrition and fitness advice visit Women’s Health.