Six Spanish secrets on how to live to the age of a hundred

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Six Spanish secrets on how to live to the age of a hundred
Photo: AFP

The number of people reaching the grand old age of one hundred has more than doubled in Spain in fifteen years.


With the death last week of Italian Emma Morano, who died at the grand old age of 117, the crown of oldest person in Europe was passed to Ana Vela Rubio.

Spain's oldest woman celebrated her 115th birthday at a nursing home in Barcelona last October.

Ana María Vela, 115, is Spain's oldest resident. Photo: La Verneda Nursing Home

READ MORE: Spaniard becomes oldest person in Europe

According to Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), there were just 5,760 or 0.8 percent of Spain's population who could celebrate their hundredth birthday in the year 2000.

But that figure has soared and there are currently 14,487 people over the age of 100 living in Spain, more than eighty percent of them women.

The number is expected to rise by around 10 per cent a year meaning that by 2029 that figure is expected to rise to include more than 46,480 people and by 2064 Spain is predicted to be home to some 372,000 centenarians.

Ana María Vela, who was born in Cordoba on October 29th, 1901, holds the title of Spain’s oldest woman, while Francisco Núñez at 112, is the oldest man in Spain and is in the running to claim the oldest man in the world Guinness World Record title.

In fact, Spain ranks second in the world behind only Japan for life expectancy, with life expectancy for babies born in Spain at 83.2 years.

But what is it about Spain that still makes its residents live so long? The Local takes a look.

1. The diet

People eating tapas in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien /AFP.

Previous studies have praised the positive health effects of a Mediterranean diet, with one report in 2013 showing that it can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent.

Still, according to the latest OECD report, Spaniards could probably improve upon their fruit and veggie consumption. Spain was just above the OECD average of 60 percent of adults saying they ate fruit daily.

2. Healthy hearts

Image: Bryan Brandenburg / Wikimedia Commons.

According to the OECD, part of what has helped the Spanish life expectancy to shoot up to second place in 2013 from sixth place in 2000 is the decline in deaths due to cardiovascular diseases.

Spaniards have one of the lowest mortality rates for heart disease, behind Portugal, the Netherlands, South Korea, France and Japan.

Part of this could be the drop in the number of people who smoke daily - a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease - which is down from 32 percent of adults in 2000 to 24 percent in 2013. Still, this rate is higher than the OECD average of 20 percent.

3. Low rates of suicide

Spain has the sixth lowest rate of suicide among OECD countries, behind Israel, Italy, Mexico, Greece and Turkey at the lowest.

Spain also has one of the lowest rates of inpatient suicide, behind just the Czech Republic, which can be an indicator for how well patients with psychiatric disorders are taken care of.

4. Jamón 

Photo: Valdavia / Wikimedia Commons.

OK, this one is a bit controversial in light of the World Health Organization’s recent report that placed cured meats like jamón in league with cigarettes for cancer risk.

But others say that because the meat is rich in oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil, jamón actually helps regulate cholesterol. And as The Local found in the below video, there are certainly many Spaniards who will insist that it is the ham that keeps them "fit" and long-living.

5. Health care

Photo: Gerard Julien / AFP.

Spain seems to do a comparatively good job making sure people, no matter their economic background, all get the medical care they need. Less than 1 percent of the population reported not having their medical needs met in 2013, meaning things like cost, traveling distance and waiting lists didn’t get in the way for the vast majority.

This put Spain at the top of the OECD charts, along with the Netherlands and Austria.


Spain is also rated highly for its diabetes care, with one of the lowest rates of avoidable hospital admissions, behind just Italy and Switzerland

6. Red wine

Photo: Family photo

One of Spain's oldest residents, who died in January at the age of 107, insisted that it was in fact his daily dose of homemade red wine that kept him in good health.

Antonio Docampo García from Vigo could drink a litre and a half of red wine at lunch time and the same again at dinner, according to his son.



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