Ahh…I am currently traveling to meet up with my family in Italy! Pasta, wine, old cathedrals, and winding cobblestone roads are calling my name. Having studied abroad in Rome one summer, I realized one thing quite quickly — Italians living ‘La Dolce Vita’, (the sweet life) appear to be rather healthier than Americans. After a brief Google search, my theory proved true. Italians do in fact live longer than both Americans and Brits! But why? Follow on to find out more in La Dolce Vita: 4 Reasons Why Italians Live Longer!
1. The Mediterranean Diet
You’ve probably heard that the Mediterranean diet is linked to long life. But why is that? It turns out that the key ingredients that make up the unique diet – is loads of veggies, greens and herbs, legumes, fish, dairy from free-range animals, olive oil, are all associated with longevity and better heart and cognitive health.
These ingredients have been shown to lower overall inflammation in the body, and improve blood vessel function. Heart disease and cancer incidence especially is reduced by this diet.
Though the stereotypical Italian diet often appears to be one of pasta and pizza, in actuality the locals don’t solely eat carbs around the clock! While pasta and baked goods are often part of their cuisine, Italians are great about consuming proper portion sizes, and balancing their meals out with plenty of veggies and protein!
5 Simple Rules to Understand the Mediterranean Diet Better
- Portion Control: be aware of calorie intake!
- Minimal salt!
- Use only unsaturated fat (like that in olive oil); avoid saturated and trans fats
- Choose wholesome ingredients (with lots of fiber) and cook simple recipes
- Avoid extra sugar!
2. Getting Your Steps in
Something I realized about summer in Rome quite quickly, was that Italians are not sedentary like Americans! Now that I live in New York, I appreciate the art of a walking lifestyle. When you walk to work, or walk regularly as part of your commute, you are expending calories which would otherwise be unspent. Unburnt calories ultimately equate to weight gain over time.
Not only is an active lifestyle key to extending life expectancy, it’s immensely helpful in preventing chronic disease. So, take a page from the Italians’ book and start walking more!
3. Minimal Preservatives
When I visit Italy, I’m always surprised by how quickly the produce goes bad. But then, I think to myself – what is in the “fresh” groceries I am eating at home that doesn’t go bad so quickly…? The answer of course, is preservatives!
Preservatives are defined as substances or chemicals added to food products that prevent decomposition by microbial growth, or undesirable chemical changes. Generally, preservatives are added to foods that are processed (the very thing the Mediterranean Diet aims to avoid). While preservatives can extend shelf life, they’ve been associated with weakened heart tissue, increased incidence of cancer, and hyperactive behavior in kids.
It’s clear that avoiding preservatives is probably best for your health, and is another likely reason that Italians are living longer.
4. Work / Life Balance
The Spanish take siestas, and the Italians take 2-hour lunch breaks, so they can afford to slow down, appreciate and enjoy life more! I so admire the Italians’ view on work. They seem to work to live not live to work, a concept that seems foreign to New Yorkers like me.
The typical Italian work week is 36 hours and cannot be over 40 hours without entering into “overtime” pay. This manageable work week is also likely due to Italy’s underpinning family values; life is focused on family rather than work, and that’s embedded in the culture.
In past articles, I’ve described the negative relationship between stress and health – the more stressed you are, the more likely you are to develop chronic health issues.
Coming from a country and city that idolizes work and permits it to stress them out to the max, I love the contrasting view of the work/life balance Italy offers, and am sure it’s a key component to Italians’ longevity.
Incorporate La Dolce Vita, with these 4 Tips!
- Walk more, ride less
- When grocery shopping, think fresh! (If it doesn’t expire in a week, chances are it’s NOT that healthy)
- Work to live, don’t live to work
- Eat less meat; more veggies, legumes, and whole grains
What do you think about the Italian way of life? Do you have any Italian friends or family that have imparted some ‘La Dolce Vita’ wisdom on you? Have you tried out or implemented the Mediterranean Diet to some extent into your life? Let us know in the comments below, and feel free to join in the conversation on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!