Japan leads the world in life expectancy. According to the 2004 UN Human Development Report, a Japanese newborn could expect to live to be about 81.5, given this year’s patterns of disease and death.

But Vanouver, BC isn’t far behind. A new study (reported here) shows how life expectancy varies from city to city in Canada. As a group, Vancouverites live longest, with life expectancies of 81.1 years—just a few months shorter than the Japanese average. Residents of Victoria aren’t far behind, with a lifespan of 80.9 years. Those two cities rank first and third, respectively, in Canada. And they also have high rates of physical activity and low rates of smoking—two factors that significantly influence lifespan.

The study confirms a well-known fact: even within a single country, life expectancy can vary significantly. (The same is true even for a single metropolitan area: see here for examples from the US Northwest.) Not surprisingly, regions with higher incomes and better educated residents tend to have longer lifespans.

Even Japan, the world’s leader in life expectancy, isn’t immune from substantial variations in regional health. The island of Okinawa is among Japan’s leaders in life expectancy, and has an unusually large number of centenarians. And Okinawa is an exception in other ways as well: it is also Japan’s poorest prefecture, which bucks the typical trend of wealthier regions within a country being healthier ones. Some researchers have suggested that Okinawa’s long life expectancies can be attributed to healthy lifestyles—especially good diets and strong networks of family and friends.

That’s a lesson we can all take to heart.