Iceland has become a tourist hotspot in recent years, attracting visitors with its Northern Lights and geothermal pools. The country also happens to be home to some of the longest-living people on the planet.
Iceland is consistently ranked on the top of the list for countries with the longest life expectancy, with male citizens surviving to an average age of 81, according to World Bank Data. Despite its cold weather and limited daylight hours during winter, Icelandic people are outliving much of the rest of the world. But why?
One of the reasons is that the country consumes a lot of fish, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a longer life. The country also has low pollution and as well as an athletic lifestyle. But beyond lifestyle—the reason most often cited for longevity—genetic factors are also at play, Kari Stefansson, founder of DeCode Genetics, told NBC News.
His company has collected genetic information on one-third of Iceland’s population, and they compared the genes of those 90 and up to see if they were more related to each other than control groups. Indeed they found that the genes of those living past 90 were more related to each other than average. Because of the harsh conditions of life in Iceland’s past, Stefansson says, the toughest were the most likely to survive, reproduce and pass that hardy DNA down the line.
Others nations that top the list of longest-living populations include: Hong Kong, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan, Liechtenstein (the tiny principality nestled between Switzerland and Austria) and Luxembourg. According to 2014 World Bank statistics, the average life expectancy of a male in the U.S. is 77, which puts us among the top 50 nations on the list.
One common denominator that should not be overlooked among the countries with long-living citizens is wealth. The absence of developing countries from the top of the expected lifespan list is significant in large part for this reason. Countries that are able to provide their populations with clean air, clean drinking water and access to quality medical care will see citizens living longer than those with more limited resources, no matter how healthy their individual citizens’ lifestyles may be.