02/24/2014 03:15 pm ET | Updated Mar 03, 2014

What South Korea Can Teach The Rest Of The World About Living Well

The culture that dreamed up K-pop, kimchi and Taekwondo has a lot to teach the rest of the world about health and wellness. In fact, South Korea is home to some of the best health care, entertainment, and traditional medicinal wisdom in the world. In honor of the launch of HuffPost Korea, here are seven things the next Winter Olympics host city can teach the rest of the world about living well.

One word: kimchi.


Kimchi -- fermented cabbage with garlic, vinegar and spices -- is a staple of Korean cuisine. Labeled one of the "world's healthiest foods" by, kimchi is a condiment served with most meals in Korea (and, they report, it's so abundant that natives even say "kimchi" instead of "cheese" when snapping photos!). It's filled with vitamins A, B, and C, but perhaps more importantly, kimchi is loaded with probiotics, which can support healthy digestion. What's more, lactobacilli, one probiotic found in kimchi, is thought to possibly be an anticancer agent.

They take Internet addiction seriously.

technology addiction

South Korea is one of the most plugged-in countries in the world -- 98 percent of households have broadband Internet access and almost two-thirds of citizens own a smartphone. Plus, CNN reports, Korea has the fastest Internet in the world.

Internet addiction is gaining increasing recognition globally, but in South Korea the issue is being confronted head-on. The South Korean government provides counseling and psychological treatment for roughly 2 million people who are struggling with addictive behaviors around online gaming, according to the Associated Press.

Perhaps as a result of such programs, the number of South Korean teens exhibiting symptoms of Internet addiction has declined, The New York Times reported. And while the problem continues to be on the rise amongst adults, the treatment options, at least, are there.

They make entertainment a priority.

korean theatre

South Korean arts and pop culture have been exported around the world, and for good reason. The South Koreans put a high value on arts and entertainment, and it's resulted in a culture with a rich film, theatre, music and visual art scene. Seoul alone has a $300 million theater market, and pop music (also known as "K-pop") is a multibillion dollar industry in Korea.

"K-pop is known for its high cuteness factor, fast-paced choreography and seductive winks, smiles and double takes, as well as lyrics that tend toward frothy fun or breakup boohoo," writes Patrick Healy in The New York Times. "The music has become one of Korea’s most lucrative exports, propelling the so-called Korean Wave of culture through Asia while exploding into a YouTube phenomenon in the United States and elsewhere, thanks largely to the viral video 'Gangnam Style,' by the singer Psy."

It's a phenomenon that may even have health and well-being payoffs. A number of studies have demonstrated the mood-boosting power of music, including a 2013 University of Missouri study, which showed that listening to happy music (and trying to feel happy during it) might elevate mood.

They practice Taekwondo.


The traditional Korean martial art of Taekwondo fuses self-defense and combat. But Taekwondo is more than a physical activity: It's also a philosophy of using the strength of the body and the power of the mind to create greater peace in the world.

According to the World Taekwondo Federation, the sport is a "discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind." The WTF explains:

Taekwondo can be characterized by unity: the unity of body, mind, and life, and the unity of the pose ["poomsae"] and confrontation, and cracking down. When you do Taekwondo, you should make your mind peaceful and synchronize your mind with your movements, and extend this harmony to your life and society... Taekwondo is a way of life, much like having a job, raising a family, fighting for a cause, or any one of numerous raison d'etre.

They swear by a powerful (and all-natural) health elixir.

ginseng potencia sexual

For centuries, traditional Chinese medicine has used Korean panax ginseng as a remedy for stress, and as way to strengthen the immune system and improve well-being. Now, the herb, most commonly grown in Korea, is used by proponents to soothe a number of ailments.

Preliminary studies suggest that Korean ginseng may increase physical endurance and improve mental function, according to the NYU Langone Medical Center, although more research is needed.

They enjoy the great outdoors.


Camping is becoming an increasingly popular trend in South Korea -- and many South Korean campers are seeking refuge from the urban hustle without ever leaving the city. Seoul-based international news outlet Arirang News reported that stressed-out urbanites are now flocking to campgrounds within the city of Seoul to enjoy some relaxing time in nature -- the number of campers has doubled since 2010 to 1.3 million last year.

"We live in an extremely fierce and competitive world," one Seoul resident told Arirang News. "Coming out here in nature, I feel a sense of healing, so I keep coming back."

With the recent camping boom, some campgrounds have gone high-tech, adding electricity kiosks to individual camp sites.

They're happy with their health care.

hospital south korea

Out of 15 countries surveyed in a 2013 Ipsos poll, South Koreans were most satisfied with their medical care. In fact, they scored the highest across all categories in the poll.

South Korea has had a universal health care plan since 1989.

"National health insurance in Korea has been successful in mobilizing resources for health care, rapidly extending population coverage, effectively pooling public and private resources to purchase health care for the entire population, and containing health care expenditure," Sooman Kwon, professor of public health at Seoul National University, wrote in the Oxford Journals' Health Policy And Planning.

They engage in contemplative practices.


Buddhism is one of the most common religions in South Korea, and the principles of Korean Buddhism exert a strong influence over cultural attitudes and beliefs. Korean Buddhism mainly follows the Seon (translated as "meditation") lineage, a path that is closely related to Japanese Zen Buddhism. Like Zen Buddhism, Korean Buddhism places a strong emphasis on the importance of meditation.

And meditation has been linked with a number of physical and mental health benefits, including reduced stress, protection against heart disease, and increased emotional well-being.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story had a photo of non-Korean Buddhist monks. The image has been replaced.

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