How do French women live long?

Why are French women the longest-lived in Europe? Is it diet, lots of water or lots of sex?

12 November 2011

FRENCH women live the longest in Europe and the second-longest in the world, after the Japanese: so what’s the secret?

Depending on who you ask, it is either diet, daily exercise, olive oil, lots of water... or lots of sex that keep people like 76-year-old Brigitte Bardot going so long.

Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, says diet is the answer and she sticks by three meals a day, one or two glasses of wine and lots of water.

Almost the same tale from the world’s longest-lived woman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. She said the secret of her longevity was the olive oil in her diet, but said she also enjoyed chocolate, wine and cigarettes.

But there is more to it than just diet: while French woman can expect to live to 85.1 – as against 82.4 in the rest of Europe (according to latest demographic figures from Eurostat) – men are falling behind and many share the same diet. The gap in the life expectancy of men and women in France is the largest in Europe at 7.5 years.

Ms Guiliano said: “Diet matters a lot, as well as movement and we French do what is now recognised as the best (and cheapest): walking and stair climbing... biking is not bad either and Ms Calment did so till 100. Today, in my village in Provence, a few women in their 80s still bike and are in top shape.”

Women’s magazine Femme Actuelle says the answer lies in diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle. It recommends a handful of walnuts a day as part of its key recipe to beat off old age, along with broccoli, white tea (Camellia sinensis), grapes and oily fish.

Editorial director Maryse Bonnet said family meals also play a part: “French women live longer because they eat with the family at the table and have a varied diet of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and proteins – plus they ban snacks between meals, ban crisps and fizzy drinks, but they allow a little chocolate and drink good wines in moderation (never beer).

“They work, they bring up their children, look after their husbands and play sport.”

Dietician Dr Frédéric Saldmann says the answer lies rather deeper down: “Making love regularly helps protect against certain illnesses, and produces hormones such as oxytocine which helps prevent breast cancer.”

Royal Edinburgh Hospital researcher Dr David Week also showed in a study of 3,500 people that making love three times a week could help you to live 10 years longer.

If you are doing everything right you can also check your prospects for a long life.

The Société Française de Gériatrie et Gérontologie published a study showing that your speed of walking is an indicator of how long you will live.

The University of Pittsburgh study said those walking at one metre a second and higher lived longer than average, and it found that the faster older people walked the longer-lived they were.

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