The Mediterranean way to longer life is not just a diet, but a lifestyle

Conviviality, the quality of being friendly and lovely, is good for your heart.

Conviviality, the quality of being friendly and lovely, is good for your heart. Photo: Getty

More vegetables, fruits, extra virgin olive oil, wholegrains, beans and nuts and seeds. Cut the red meat to a minimum. Go for a nice piece of salmon.

Even if you don’t follow the Mediterranean diet, you might have a rough idea of what’s in it and that it’s often touted as the healthiest way to eat.

For the sixth year in a row, it was named the best diet overall by US News and World Report. This was on the advice of 30 nutritionists, doctors and epidemiologists.

Now a new study demonstrates the Mediterranean path to a longer, healthier life isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the Mediterranean ‘lifestyle’.

And no … that doesn’t mean having a picnic in the olive groves with your pet donkey.

What’s with the lifestyle?

The Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index is derived from a lifestyle questionnaire and diet assessments.

It’s a measure of how healthy you are, in the context of how well your diet matches up with the Mediterranean diet, but also looks at your behaviours at the dining table – to what extent you are limiting added salt and sugars, and how conservative you are when it comes to filling your wine glass.

But it also judges you on how much rest (not just sleep), physical activity and socialising you’re routinely engaged in.

The socialising aspect is an interesting one. Because it’s not just a matter of hanging out, playing cards or watching footy on the television together. It’s more about how convivial you are – how friendly and lively.

This doesn’t exactly mean that shy and retiring types are headed to the grave sooner than lampshade wearers. Or maybe it sort of does.

The point might be – make an effort, get involved, shake off the emotional strait-jacket and let off some steam.

What’s the benefit?

A new Harvard study found that people who followed the components of the prescribed Mediterranean lifestyle – more fruit and wholegrains, less salt and sugar at the table, and more rest, physical activity and socialising – cut the odds of dying a premature death by 29 per cent.

Impressively, people who “adhered to the lifestyle’s emphasis on rest, exercise, and socialising with friends had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality”.

The study wasn’t based in Greece, Italy or any of the 21 countries planted around the Mediterranean Sea.

The land of black pudding and curries

Instead, the researchers analysed the habits of 110,799 members of the UK Biobank cohort, a population-based study across England, Wales, and Scotland using the MEDLIFE index.

The researchers followed up nine years later to examine participants’ health outcomes.

Among the study population, 4247 died from all causes; 2401 from cancer; and 731 from cardiovascular disease.

Analysing these results alongside MEDLIFE scores, the researchers found that the participants who adhered more to the Mediterranean lifestyle (abandoning black pudding and the pork pie) lived longer than those who didn’t.

Participants with higher MEDLIFE scores were found to have a 29 per cent lower risk of all-cause mortality. They also had a 28 per cent lower risk of cancer mortality. This was compared to those with lower MEDLIFE scores.

Mediterranean diet/lifestyle studies routinely boast these sorts of results.

The result to think about most: The ‘physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality’ category was “most strongly associated with these lowered risks, and additionally was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality”.

This suggests that what you put in your mouth predicts how well and long you might live. But how you spend your time seems equally important.

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