While Americans have made many strides in health and wellness markers (we’re no longer the most obese country on Earth, yay!), we can still learn a thing or two about healthy living by looking beyond our borders. We asked experts around the world what fit and healthy women in their countries do to get lean, banish stress, and live happier, healthier lives.
1. They dress up their water.
Healthy women in Mexico make homemade aguas frescas, or fresh waters, to ensure they drink plenty of H2O. “These refreshing drinks substitute high-calorie drinks and add vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to your table,” says Yvonne Trevino Hayek, a Mexican nutritionist and elite runner. Aguas frescas from restaurants or street vendors usually contain a lot of sugar, but you can easily make a healthier version at home simply by muddling fresh fruits, vegetables, or herbs into cold water. “The most popular flavors are cucumber, lemon, hibiscus, and coconut,” Hayek said. (These 25 slimming Sassy Water recipes will get you started.)
2. They work to live (rather than live to work).
“Balance is one of the hottest buzzwords amongst Aussie women right now,” says Jacqueline Mooney, editor of Prevention-Australia. More and more, women in Australia are striving for well-rounded lives, prioritizing social activities and regular vacations as hallmarks of successful, healthy lives, she explains. “And we love a weekend getaway! With so many amazing natural environments, it’s easy to find a refreshing change of scene and instant mind- and body-reset in just 48 hours,” Mooney said. Many studies have found that taking vacations can improve mental and physical health.
3. They bike for transportation, not just leisure.
Women in the Netherlands bike everywhere. Not just for their weekend exercise or with their kids, but to get from A to B. A major trend among Dutch women is attaching a large wooden box to the front of their bikes to carry groceries, according Dutch nutritionist and health coach, Yneke Vocking. “It’s our secret for gorgeous legs,” she says. The European Commission found that Dutch people use bikes as their main mode of transportation for about one-third of their daily activities, more than any other European country. And scientists have found a correlation between rates of obesity and the amount of “active transportation” populations undertake in various countries, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. People in leaner nations tend to bike and walk to get where they need to go, rather than drive. (Here are 6 ways anyone can bike to work—even you!)
4. They make vegetable their main course.
“Greece has the highest consumption of vegetables in the world,” says Elena Paravantes, RDN, the editor of olivetomato.com and the founding nutrition director of Prevention-Greece. “Many main course vegetable dishes are a key part of a healthy Greek woman’s diet.” Multiple studies have found that plant-rich diets help keep you healthy as you age. Recent findings published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that healthy vegetarian diets contain more of several protective nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, and vitamin K, which fight osteoporosis.
5. They get massages regularly.
While Americans tend to get massages only when they’re injured or have a gift card kicking around, women in Thailand strongly believe in getting frequent, regular massages in order to stay healthy, fit, and lean, according to Nitra Kitayakara, the author of two bestselling books about yoga and mindfulness. Many studies have found that Thai massage can improve a wide variety of physical fitness measures, including flexibility, agility, speed, and strength.
6. They make yerba mate their coffee.
Yerba mate is a tea-like, natural stimulant drink that studies show can help protect bone health and fight cancer. It’s more popular than coffee or tea in most of South America—Argentinians consume 175,000 tons of the stuff, more than 11 pounds per person, every year. “I drink mate every morning—it wakes me up, but it’s softer than coffee. I feel the connections in my brain after the first sip,“ says Agata Szekely, a health journalist from Argentina. “I also drink it after lunch to avoid drowsiness and feel more energetic in my late-day workouts.”
7. They make socializing a priority.
“Swedish women relax and de-stress by taking time to sit down and meet with their friends,” says Emma Lindblom, RD, a nutritionist in Sweden. The key to “fika,” a traditional practice ingrained in Swedish culture, is that it’s a break in your day, usually around 3 pm. It’s not lunch or dinner, and its not having a coffee at your desk, Lindblom explains, it’s truly time off from work—which Swedes make time for most days—to socialize with your friends. Numerous studies have found that women who have strong social connections are happier and healthier, and a recent study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science finds that solid friendships help you live longer.
8. They wouldn’t dream of avoiding the natural sugars in fruit.
“I eat fruit at almost every meal,” says Andrea Estevam, a health journalist and competitive cyclist and runner in Brazil. Estevam says that healthy women in Brazil do not shy away from fruit because of its sugar content, like many American dieters do—rather they see natural sugars as a great source of energy to fuel their workouts and daily activities. (Make the most of your fruit with these 20 super-healthy smoothie recipes.)
9. They rely on a trusted guru as part of their health care team.
For many years, women in India were taught to put the needs of others—family, friends, work colleagues—ahead of their own, but that’s finally starting to change, says the editor of Prevention-India, Sanghamitra Chakraborty. And part of that gradual shift has led to the resurgence of a traditional Indian practice: visiting a personal guru as an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. While they’re not necessarily religious in nature, gurus offer spiritual guidance, and they’ve recently become “the go-to place for healthy Indian women to feel centered and calm,” Chakraborty explains. While a personal spiritual guru may be tough to find in the US, a therapist or health coach may provide similar benefits.
Published: April 26, 2015. By Veronika Ruff Taylor
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