The first thing I bought when I moved back to Pennsylvania after eight years in Hong Kong was a bag of my favorite potato chips. The second thing I purchased, fearing all the weight I could gain, was a scale.
I'd returned to my hometown of Lancaster this past September in large part to be near my parents. They're both now in their mid-70s and have suffered a number of health issues over the past few years: rheumatism, neuropathy, hip replacements, cataracts, a back surgery here, a neck surgery there, not to mention gallbladder surgery and one rather painful broken tooth.
I want to be nearby to help them out when they need it. They've done a lot for me, and I think it's time for me to return the favor.
But now that I'm back, I'm not just concerned about their well-being, I'm concerned about my own, too. Life expectancy in the U.S. peaked in 2014. Today, on average, Americans live roughly as long as they did in 2013 — and that's before you account for the pandemic's disastrous effects on older adults. For the planet's wealthiest country, our longevity stats are troubling.
Fortunately, I can draw on my years in Hong Kong as I plan for the future. The territory, which is a special administrative region of China, boasts the longest life expectancy of any country or territory on Earth. Women live 87.6 years on average, while men last 81.9 — about six years longer than their U.S. counterparts.
So ... why do Hongkongers live so long? And what lessons can we borrow from them to live longer, healthier lives?
A diet that's all about balance (and pleasure)
Dietitians point to the healthfulness of the Hong Kong diet, with its emphasis on stir fries that provide a great balance of high-fiber carbohydrates, brightly colored vegetables and healthy proteins like fish, tofu, or chicken.
But what may be just as important to longevity is how meals are shared family style, with food being a major focus of every day. As Mary Purdy, a Seattle-based registered dietitian notes, “Taking pleasure in eating is critical, and bringing a sense of enjoyment to a meal often leads to less overeating.”