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

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

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

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.


World’s oldest man dies aged 113 in Spanish village where he lived his whole life

The world's oldest man, a Spaniard from a village near Badajoz, has died at the grand old age of 113.

World's oldest man dies aged 113 in Spanish village where he lived his whole life
Marchena lived to the ripe old age of 113. Photo:

Francisco Núñez Olivera died on Monday morning.

He born on December 13th 1904 in the village of Bienvenida in Badajoz, in the region of Extremadura, western Spain.

Francisco – known as Marchena – fathered four children, nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. He became the world's oldest man in August on the death of Yisrael Kristal, a holocaust survivor who lived to the age of 113 years and 330 days.

He had been a widower since 1988 and his two sons have died but he lives with his eldest daughter, María Antonia, 81, and near his other daughter Milagros, 78.

He spent his last birthday when he turned 113 with Maria Antonia where he started the day with cake for breakfast and then read birthday cards sent to him from around the world.

READ MORE: World's oldest man celebrates 113th birthday in Extremadura

“He will be missed by everyone,” said Antonio Carmona, the mayor of Bienvenida, the town where Marchena lived his whole life.

 He will be buried on Tuesday and will be given an official sent off in the town where a day of mourning has been declared.

READ: Want to know the secret to long life? Live in Spain

He put his longevity down to “good genes”, “hard work” and a varied diet of homegrown vegetables. He also enjoys a daily glass of red wine.

His brother Luis, who lives in Asturias, is 95 and his sister Jacoba, who also lives in Bienvenida, is 93.

“I worked in the fields all my life,” he told El Mundo last year.

His ID says he was born on September 13th 1904 but his daughter says he is actually three months younger and was born on December 13th.

He was ten years old when the First World War broke out and in the 1920s he fought against the Berbers in Morocco during the Rif War between Spain and its North African neighbour. 

His secret to such a long life, he said was “to work hard. To not be weak and stay in the house.”

His daughter added a few more reasons as to why her father may have lived such a long life, including “a gentle routine in a quiet village, being his own boss, not arguing with the family and enjoying the good life – that revolved around the field, his house and the village bar.”

He also had a varied diet despite not having had his own teeth for four decades, she explained.

His daily food consisted of milk and madeleines (a light sponge cake) for breakfast with an Actimel. Meat, fish or stew for lunch, yoghurt for an afternoon snack and special cereal with milk for dinner.

Speaking last year he said he had enjoyed good health until he needed a kidney removed when he was 90, a cataract operation aged 98 and was hospitalized for a urinary infection when he was 108. He claims to have never broken a bone and to have perfect blood pressure.

While Francisco had the records to prove his age, they are not the originals – which were burned during the Spanish Civil War.

Spaniards have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, which is often attributed to the Mediterranean diet and traditional slower pace of life. 

READ MORE: Six Spanish secrets on how to live to the age of one hundred

Spain is also home to Europe's oldest woman, Ana Vela Rubio, who celebrated her 116th birthday in October.

But one Spaniard who lived to the ripe old age of 107 did so on a diet that consisted mainly of… red wine. 

The world's oldest human is currently Nabi Tajima of Japan who was born on Aug. 4, 1900 and is currently 117 years old.