What’s the Longevity Secret in South Korea?

A big new study published in the Lancet finds that life expectancy in most developed countries will increase substantially by 2030, with an interesting contender taking first place.

The researchers looked at data from 35 countries, starting from 1960. Using computer science to simulate the future, they ran numerous simulations of how life expectancy will change, and they statistically analyzed each model’s performance based on its ability to predict current life expectancy. After a lot of this computer wizardry, their models predicted that in the year 2030, South Korean women would have a 90% chance of living to be at least 87 years old and a 57% chance of living to be at least 90 years old. And, South Korea would surpass Japan, the current leader in life expectancy, as well as France and Spain. South Korean men are also projected to top the longevity list, followed by Australian, Swiss, and Canadian men.

Unsurprisingly, the United States was not in the top 10, but instead placed 27th for women and 23rd for men. This made the United States an exception among wealthy countries, and the researchers noted that this is likely a result of our growing obesity epidemic, high homicide rate, and high mother/child mortality (compared to other developed countries)—as well as inequality and rising healthcare costs.

So What?
Some day, South Korea (or part of it) could be a “blue zone”, a geographical region with extreme longevity and a growing population over age 100. Other blue zones have been identified in California, Costa Rica, Italy, and Japan. The people who live in these areas share lifestyle traits like exercising, having a purpose, low stress, healthy diets, faith, and social groups. The New York Times reports that these traits are present in South Korean women as they smoke less, weigh less, have lower blood pressure, and see their doctors more often. The good news is that these aren’t genetically gifted traits; they are mostly things that we can actively change in our own lives, especially through exercise and healthy diet!

Isaac Everitt

Isaac Everitt is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.