When it comes to living a long life, Italy is the place to be. According to the Bloomberg Global Health Index, a baby born there today can expect to live to live long enough to be an octogenarian. Even though they suffer from economic woes, with 40 percent of their youngsters out of jobs, the country ranks first in being the healthiest in the world. Ironically the United States comes in 34th with an obesity rate of 67.3 percent.

When I read the above I was honestly stunned. Part of me shouted, “Yes! Yes, of course!” My response is certainly predicated on the fact that I am Italian-American and have relatives that lived well into their 90s. I grew up watching many of them smoke; drink wine; eat sausages, cheese and pasta; and down lots of espresso. They also ate a lot of vegetables and fruits. The Italians, like many other Europeans, smoke which should elicit a shorter life span but hasn’t. We have spent years eliminating smoking from our culture which I know is a much better choice, but it has not necessarily helped us to live longer.

Where the conundrum lies for me is the amount of effort that is put into trying to change health habits in America which don’t seem to be working. We continue to promote products that take the place of real food and replicates their taste through chemicals. A famous soda company recently unveiled a drink that has zero calories and no sugar. The replacement for the sugar is aspartame which has been shown to create health problems. The list of chemicals contained in some sodas and foods often feels analogous to what you might find on a paint can.

I think one of the most important issues that affects health and longevity is the fact that Italians are not workaholics. Their average workweek is 36 hours. They also take time to eat lunch, have four weeks of vacation, and spend a lot of time with friends and family. We have become addicted to being available to our workplace 24/7. In order to break away from work, chores and our incredible attachment to gadgets, we try to fit in some down time when possible. Instead of making relaxation, fun and connection to the important people in our lives primary, we try to find a space to give them somewhere in our crowded schedule.

Americans are also suffering from a great deal of stress — the end product of feeling like we are on a runaway train. Our perpetual need to fill each day with multiple tasks and trying to keep up with the constant flow of information is creating a culture riddled with anxiety. It’s time to start realizing that “ Life is not a Stress Rehearsal!”

— Author, humorist, PBS star and Fortune 500 trainer Loretta LaRoche lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. To share your pet peeves, questions or comments, write to The Humor Potential, 50 Court St., Plymouth, MA 02360. Visit her website at stressed.com.