With all the horrid stories about China’s lack of food standards, dangerous lead-laced toys, environmental abuses, exorbitant pollution, and widespread poverty, it may surprise you to find out that China boasts a life expectancy surprisingly close to that of the United States.

Even more surprisingly, they manage this feat while paying a fraction of the healthcare cost per capita, compared to the United States and the rest of the Western world. China spends a mere $277 per capita, whereas the United States, which has by far the highest level of health care spending, pays nearly $6,100 per capita.

What impact does the U.S. health care spending have on Americans’ life expectancy?

U.S. life expectancy is about 78 years – one of the lowest life expectancies among developed nations. Lower than Cuba’s, and just marginally higher than Slovenia, according to figures from the United Nations.

China’s life expectancy lies around 73 years, which includes the high infant mortality rate of the rural areas. According to the Chinese Municipal Center for Disease Control, the life expectancy in cities like Beijing and Shanghai is about 80 years, and Hong Kong comes in with a life expectancy of over 82 years, despite the many health hazards inherent with living in these over-crowded cities.

Clues to the Chinese secret of longevity can be found in the streets, in the form of morning and evening rituals, involving large masses of people of all ages practicing tai-chi, aerobics, games, and even open air ballroom dancing.

Daily exercise is widespread and woven into the Chinese culture, offering more than just a way to burn calories. It also enforces social interaction, limiting the isolation that so often comes with old age in the United States.

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