Although Hong Kong is a densely populated urban area, known for some of the world’s worst air pollution; the city is climbing the charts, when it comes to an increase in average longevity rates. In fact, the average life expectancy for men and women in Hong Kong (in 2016) was 81.3 for men and 87.3 for women—leading global averages.
Keeping up with the Blue Zones
Surprisingly, the people of Hong Kong have surpassed the Blue Zones (such as in Okinawa, Italy and other Mediterranean regions of the world) when it comes to the average lifespan. “Over the last few decades, (Hong Kong) has caught up in a big way,” said Dr. Timothy Kwok, professor of geriatric medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Dr. Gabriel Leung, dean of the faculty of medicine at Hong Kong University, noted that “we inched past Japan about five years ago. It’s not a position that we’ve found ourselves in for decades.”
Since Hong Kong is not formally a country, but rather a Special Administrative Region, or SAR, it is not included in the Global AgeWatch Index (a measure comparing social and economic well-being in various countries). The index ranks countries by how well their older populations are faring. But, although Hong Kong is not considered one of the 96 countries in the index, Dr. Kwok proceeded in using the same criteria, to discover why the population of Hong Kong is living so long.
Study Discovers Many Reasons Hong Kong is a Leading Region in Longevity
Here are some of the reasons people in Hong Kong are living longer than people in other areas of the world:
- Universal healthcare for hospitalization
- Priority healthcare for the elderly
- Close family networks (providing financial and social support to older family members)
- Easy access to amenities, resulting in people walking more, and driving less
- Access to green spaces (parks) in the city for walking and connection with nature
- Nearly all districts are members of the WHO global network of age friendly cities (WHO encourages members to provide spaces with access to leisure activities, and programs for spiritual well-being of older people
- Plentiful outdoor activities (such as hiking, mountains, beaches for swimming and surfing)
- Easy access to cheap public transit, providing the elderly with the means to get out and socialize
- Easy access to walking routes via footbridges and elevators
- Marine and land gateway to various parts of Asia–enables access to fresh food (such as fish, fruits and vegetables.
- The diet is primarily comprised of whole, healthy foods (like the Mediterranean diet)
- Frequent traditional family get-togethers (including every Sunday afternoon for dim sum)
- Government action plan asking older people to identify barriers to mobility (such as walking path obstructions for seniors trying to get places on foot).
- Strong minded population, many fled to Hong Kong from China
- Subtropical weather (thought to play a part in less climate related deaths)
- “Hong Kong ranks first for enabling environments,” Kwok said. “That may explain our longevity.”
- “We are greener than most cities,” Kwok said, explaining that commonly, elderly people are seen in the city’s green spaces doing tai chi or qi gong in the early morning hours (after practicing they spend time socializing).
- “A lot of them [residents of Hong Kong’] came as economic migrants [from China] … and were almost triathletes,” he said. “They climbed, they ran, and they swam. Physically, you need to be fit to endure the journey,” he said.
Although Hong Kong’s record-breaking statistics on longevity may be temporary (changing diets and pollution may impact future patterns), Leung’s study aims to use the information discovered to ensure that the people of Hong Kong continue to be among the healthiest and longest living, on the planet.
Senthilingam, M. (2018, March) CNN News.