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Mediterranean Lifestyle May Prolong Your Life

Adhering to a Mediterranean lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, physical activity, and socialization may lead to a longer life and healthier life, even for those living outside of its region of origin.

Extensive research has shown the health benefits of a Mediterranean lifestyle and diet. A new study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings focuses on how a Mediterranean way of living and eating habits impact people who live outside the region.

"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," said lead author Mercedes Sotos Prieto, Ramon y Cajal research fellow at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and adjunct assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School.

Researchers analyzed data from 110,799 members of the U.K. Biobank cohort, a population-based study across England, Wales, and Scotland. They used the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index, which is derived from a lifestyle questionnaire and diet assessments.

Participants, aged 40 to 75, were asked to provide information about their lifestyle according to the three categories the index measures:

  1. Mediterranean food consumption, which is a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  2. Mediterranean dietary habits, such as limiting added salt and sugars.
  3. Physical activity, rest, social habits, and conviviality. This includes taking regular naps, exercising, and spending time with friends.

During the nine years follow-up period, 4,247 participants died from all causes, 2,401 from cancer, and 731 from cardiovascular disease.

Analyzing these results alongside MEDLIFE scores, the researchers found that better adherence to a Mediterranean lifestyle and diet was associated with a 29% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28% lower risk of cancer mortality.

Higher scores in each MEDLIFE category independently were linked with lower risk of all-cause and cancer mortality. Regular physical activity, rest, and socializing appeared to have the most significant impact on lowering these risks and were also associated with a reduced risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

As more than 20 countries border the Mediterranean Sea, there is not one specific Mediterranean way to eat. However, these countries share many common eating habits:

  • Consuming plenty of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Fiber helps to keep gut microbiota healthy, lower high blood pressure, and balance cholesterol levels, among other health benefits.
  • Using extra virgin olive oil instead of butter or other oils. It is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, the "good fats" that help to lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Limiting red meat and dairy products, except Greek yogurt. One of the main protein sources in the Mediterranean diet is fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and sardines. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that are shown to reduce inflammation.
  • Limiting sweets, added sugars, sodium (salt), and highly processed foods.

Although a recent study suggests that adopting a Mediterranean-style diet may produce the same benefits as walking 4,000 extra steps daily, it is important to combine healthy eating habits with regular exercise.

Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Although it is recommended to spread aerobic activity throughout the week, squeezing all weekly exercise in one or two days may have similar benefits.

While moving to a Mediterranean country is not an option for everyone, adopting its lifestyle and diet may add extra years to your life.

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