Warm blue waters and sunny skies are conducive to a relaxed way of life, which shows up as higher levels of wellness in the fishing villages and market towns of southern Europe.
According to statistics from the World Health Organization, residents along the shores of the Mediterranean are much healthier than Americans and other Europeans.
In fact, they experience almost 50% fewer deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes or obesity than Americans do.
One reason for this is their diet. The sea provides coastal dwellers with an abundance of fish and shellfish. Meat, dairy products and eggs are eaten in moderation. Vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes are staples instead of potatoes or processed foods, and whole grain breads are consumed plain or with olive oil, replacing butter that’s high in saturated fats.
But it’s not just what the people of the Mediterranean eat but also how they eat it that contributes to their health.
Food is consumed slowly, in small portions and frequently throughout the day. With wine or other drinks, the Greeks enjoy mezethes, small plates of tasty morsels that bring out the best in beverages. In Spain, tapas serve a similar purpose, as do hors d’oeuvres in France.
Meals are as much for socializing as for nourishment in this region. Here people recognize the importance of enjoying dining with family and friends, as opposed to gobbling down burgers and fries from drive-through restaurants or hastily eating sandwiches at their desks.
Throughout the Mediterranean area, mid-afternoon siestas commonly break up the day. That means leisurely dinners can extend well into the evening, followed by strolls along the promenade—a place made especially for walking, which is another reason why these coastal residents are so healthy.
Indeed, daily physical activity is one of the hallmarks of the Mediterranean lifestyle—at least 30 minutes of exercise per day or more, walking, doing chores or on the job.
Another characteristic is moderate alcohol use. Red wine, in particular, has been shown to have many health benefits, which may explain why it has been the beverage of choice throughout the Mediterranean for centuries.
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