On a recent trip to Barcelona to plan our next LCO clinic (Dates TBA), I couldn’t help notice the throngs of elderly people sitting in the public squares. There they were, well into their 70s and 80s, eating, drinking and laughing with the robustness of 20-somethings.

One afternoon, after two elderly woman elbowed me out of the way to board the bus, I began to jot down some of my observations about these vibrant seniors and why I suspected Spain enjoys such a high life expectancy rate (85 years for women, 79 years for men). Here’s what I noticed:

1) Sun makes all the difference

For all our talk about harmful UV rays, the sun is still crucial for our health and emotional well being. If you aren’t a snow bird now, then I highly suggest you become one. Vitamin D is essential and here in Spain they have it in loads. So put on some sunscreen (minimum 30 SPF) and find sunny days. Your body will thank you.

2) Olive Oil is a LIFESAVER

A very popular Spanish breakfast is a piece of toasted bread rubbed with tomato and a drizzling of olive oil on top. Tomatoes and olive oil are the perfect nutritional combo. Lycopene from the tomato is best absorbed by the body with olive oil, which is in itself an excellent source of HDL cholesterol (the good kind). By adding virgin olive oil to toasts, salads and pastas, you are helping to fight inflammation in the body and and reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease. For gorgeous recipes from the Spanish kitchen, including a life giving and truly delicious Gazpacho, click here 

3) Wine is good…really good

The Spanish love their wine. In most places in Barcelona, a glass of very nice red wine is a little bit more expensive than a cup of coffee. For many Spanish, a glass or two of red with lunch es necesario. And why not? Red wine is full of antioxidants as well as our friend, HDL cholesterol. It is also effective in digestion, activating the enzymes necessary to break down food far more effectively than water or nasty soft drinks. So drink up and say, “Salut!”

4) Don’t Drive…Walk!

After a week in Barcelona, I had gotten used to three-course lunches and plenty of gorgeous desserts including my personal favourite, creme catalana. And yet despite my Olympic eating, I rarely felt that sickening full feeling like I usually do in the States, when ambling out of a TGI Friday’s I can’t wait to go home and enjoy a well deserved food coma. Not here. Everyone walks or bikes or rollerblades. I even saw a few brave souls using a monocycle to get around. Elderly people are constantly active, walking to do their errands or simply enjoying a stroll in this beautiful city. Walking increases your heart rate and burns fat while lubricating joints and muscles, especially important for aging bodies. Haven’t I given you enough reasons to start moving?

5) Fruits of the Sea

I have never seen so much shrimp, crab, lobster, prawn, salmon and cod consumed as I did in Spain. Here in Barcelona, the rule seems to be that if it lives under water it can go into a paella. While fresh fish is in abundance so is frozen fish which nutritionists claim is just as healthy and even safer than a fresh catch as it contains less bacteria. But the power of seafood, frozen or fresh is indisputable as it contains essential Omega 3 and HDL cholestorol (notice a pattern here?).

The wine, the long lunches and walking are easy enough rituals to adopt, but it should be noted that these habits are part of a much larger factor for healthy aging. Attitude. Here, I’ve noticed that older people seem to maintain an attitude of excitement. They look forward to their next meal or outing with friends and family. That attitude, mixed with a little wine and a lot of sunshine, is what keeps all of us young.

For information on LCO’s Gerontology program, click here