A recent collaborative study from La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that people in the UK who closely follow a Mediterranean lifestyle are at a decreased risk of death from all causes and specific diseases.
The Mediterranean lifestyle, often praised for its health benefits, goes beyond just the diet. While the diet forms a substantial component, the lifestyle as a whole encompasses a range of habits and practices traditionally found among people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Overall, the Mediterranean lifestyle emphasizes a diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in added salts and sugars. It is also focused on sufficient rest, physical activity, and social interactions.
Focus of the study
The study, which is published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, is distinctive as it evaluates the health advantages of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle outside its traditional region. This offers insight into the adaptability of the diet and its benefits, even when implemented using locally available products and within different cultural settings.
“This study suggests that it’s possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet…and to adopt the overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts,” remarked Mercedes Sotos Prieto, the study’s lead author. She further added, “We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health.”
How the research was conducted
The research team analyzed data from 110,799 participants, aged between 40 and 75, from the UK Biobank cohort. This population-based study spanned England, Wales, and Scotland.
Participants were evaluated using the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index, which evaluates the following three categories: “Mediterranean food consumption” (intake of foods part of the Mediterranean diet such as fruits and whole grains); “Mediterranean dietary habits” (adherence to habits and practices around meals, including limiting salt and drinking healthy beverages); and “physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality” (adherence to lifestyle habits including taking regular naps, exercising, and spending time with friends).
Each item within the three categories was then scored, with higher total scores indicating higher adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle.
What the experts discovered
Nine years after the initial data collection, the researchers reviewed the health outcomes of the participants. Their findings revealed that those with higher adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle, as gauged by the MEDLIFE scores, had a 29 percent reduced risk of mortality from all causes and a 28 percent lower risk of cancer mortality.
The results showed that the category “physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality” from the MEDLIFE index was particularly influential. Adherence to this category was not only associated with the reduced risks that were previously mentioned, but also with a decreased risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases.
Overall, the study highlights the potential universal health benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle, suggesting that its positive impacts aren’t restricted to its place of origin.
More about the Mediterranean lifestyle
The Mediterranean lifestyle is a way of living that encompasses more than just food choices. It’s a comprehensive approach that integrates various aspects of daily life and has been linked to numerous health benefits.
- Whole foods: A focus on whole, unprocessed foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
- Healthy fats: Olive oil is a staple, and it’s used generously in cooking and dressing foods.
- Lean proteins: Fish and poultry are preferred over red meat. Seafood is consumed often, at least a couple of times a week.
- Dairy: Low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt.
- Wine: Moderate consumption of red wine, typically with meals.
- Herbs and spices: Seasoning foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
Regular physical activity is a cornerstone. Whether it’s through daily chores, walking, or more structured forms of exercise, being active is an integral part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Prioritizing family and community. Meals, for instance, are often communal affairs where families come together.
Social engagement and having a strong social network are viewed as essential for mental well-being.
Rest and siestas
In many Mediterranean countries, it’s common to have a short nap or siesta in the afternoon, especially after the mid-day meal. This rest period is believed to rejuvenate and provide a break from the day’s hustle.
Connection with nature
Gardening, farming, or simply spending time outdoors is a common practice. It not only provides fresh produce but also helps in grounding and establishing a connection with nature.
Meals are relished and eaten without rush. This mindfulness ensures better digestion and an appreciation of the flavors in the food.
Lower stress levels
While it may not be exclusive to the Mediterranean region, the lifestyle emphasizes reducing stress, whether through daily practices, mindfulness, or community connections.
Numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean lifestyle to a range of health benefits. These include reduced risks of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and even depression. The combination of a nutrient-rich diet, active living, and strong social connections seems to create a holistic approach to well-being.
The Mediterranean lifestyle is not exclusively available to those who live in the Mediterranean region. The principles can be integrated into daily routines anywhere, making it a globally recognized and recommended lifestyle for health and longevity.
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