Rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, the Mediterranean diet has long been linked with improving health. In fact, living a Mediterranean lifestyle in general could be the ticket to a longer, healthier life.
A new study using data on 110,799 people in the UK has identified specifics in diet, socializing, and rest that reduce the risk of all-cause and cancer mortality.
The new research, from academics at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid in Spain and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, is one of the first to analyze the effects of the Mediterranean diet on a population outside of a Mediterranean country, and to incorporate other aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle (including levels of rest and socializing).
Those who ranked higher for adhering to a Mediterranean way of life were found to have a 29 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28 percent lower risk of cancer mortality on average, compared to those whose daily habits were least Med-like.
"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," says Mercedes Sotos Prieto, from La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.
"We're seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health."
The researchers emphasize that ways of life must be adapted from country to country – based on climate, local foods, customs, and so on – but that the principles of the Mediterranean peoples appear to have health-boosting effects.
Participant questionnaires were used to assess diet and lifestyle, with people reporting on what they tended to eat and do on a day-to-day basis.
It was actually "physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality" that had the most effect on mortality risk.
The Mediterranean lifestyle covers the basics that we already know to be good for us: staying active, getting enough sleep, keeping up with friends, and limiting how much time we spend sitting in front of a screen of some description.
However the jury is still out on napping: in this research, having regular naps actually increased the risk of an early death. Napping is difficult to assess in terms of duration, time of day, and so on, and the researchers would like to see more investigation in this area.
It's always worth remembering with these types of studies that they lack the data and rigor to directly show cause and effect – that a Mediterranean way of life is directly causing these health outcomes – but they do show an interesting association that suggests one is indeed related to the other in some way.
There are many ways we can all meet our ultimate end, but we have more control over avoiding some of them than others. Switching to Mediterranean-type foods and adopting more of the lifestyle of the region seems like a simple way to stay healthier.
"Modifiable behaviors, such as diet, physical activity, or alcohol consumption, play key roles in the prevention of multiple noncommunicable diseases and premature deaths," write the researchers in their published paper.
The research has been published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.