Health & Lifestyle

Want to avoid an early grave? Live the ‘Mediterranean lifestyle’: Good food, good friends and adequate rest cuts the risk of an early death 29%, study suggests

Living a Mediterranean lifestyle with good food, good friends and adequate rest may cut your odds of dying prematurely by 29 percent.

A study suggests people can live longer by copying the habits of those in countries like Italy and Spain, even if they don’t live there.

Researchers looked at 110,799 people in the UK, aged 40 to 75, who were asked questions about their diet, eating habits and lifestyle.

Scientists found that following the Mediterranean lifestyle, even if you don't live in that area of the world, could help someone live longer (stock)

Scientists found that following the Mediterranean lifestyle, even if you don’t live in that area of the world, could help someone live longer (stock)

Having a Mediterranean lifestyle was defined as getting six to eight hours of sleep, socializing with friends and family, not spending too much time sitting around, getting exercise, doing sports with other people, and taking naps.

Having a Mediterranean diet included eating lots of fruit, vegetables, seafood and nuts, while having Mediterranean dietary habits includes limiting consumption of salt.

When these three categories were taken together, people received a score out of 25 for how much they followed a Mediterranean way of life.

The study then compared these scores among people who died, who died from cancer specifically and who died from cardiovascular disease, like a heart attack or stroke, after tracking their medical records for an average of nine years.

The quarter of people in the study with the most Mediterranean lifestyle, based on their scores, were 29 percent less likely to die than people with the least Mediterranean way of life.

They were 28 percent less likely to die of cancer, the figures showed.

The study’s senior author, Dr Mercedes Sotos Prieto, from the Autonomous University of Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said: ‘This study suggests that it’s possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet using locally available products and to adopt the overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts.

‘We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health.’

It is well known that eating a Mediterranean diet, including lots of healthy foods like seafood, fresh produce and legumes, and even a moderate amount of wine, can cut the odds of dying early — likely because of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

But it is rare for researchers to examine the possible benefits of living the Mediterranean way for people who don’t live in Mediterranean countries.

Researchers looked at volunteers from the UK Biobank study, who answered six questions that could be compared to the Mediterranean lifestyle.

Among these, having six to eight hours of sleep a night, limiting time spent sitting around, such as watching television, and taking part in collective sports, like tennis or a running group, were each linked to a lower risk of dying early or dying from cancer.

When all six items were taken together, they reduced the risk of dying early, dying from cancer and dying from cardiovascular disease.

A Mediterranean lifestyle appeared better for doing this than a Mediterranean diet or dietary habits.

But, less happily for fans of an afternoon siesta, naps alone were not linked to a reduction in the odds of dying.

However this may be because people who nap in the UK often do so because they are sleep-deprived or in ill health, raising their risk of dying prematurely in some cases.

The UK Biobank study also included six questions used to determine if people had Mediterranean dietary habits.

These included if they consumed healthy drinks like tea and coffee, did not have too many sugar-sweetened drinks, limited snacks, had a preference for whole-grain foods, had low salt consumption and limited the salt they added to food.

Having Mediterranean dietary habits was linked to a lower risk of death, and a lower risk of death from cancer, as was sticking to a Mediterranean diet, which was judged using people’s consumption of 12 types of food and drink.

The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, was not able to look at olive oil, which is an important element of the Mediterranean diet, and people may also exaggerate the healthiness of their lifestyle.

But the results suggest living well, including socializing, which can reduce stress-triggered inflammation in the body, is good for longevity.

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