Mediterranean Lifestyle Improves Disease Prevention and Life Expectancy – Real Simple

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A new study finds you don’t need to move to Sardinia to prevent disease and boost longevity.
Maggie Seaver is the digital health and wellness editor at Real Simple, with seven years of experience writing lifestyle and wellness content. She spends her days writing and editing stories about sleep, mental health, fitness, preventive health, nutrition, personal development, relationships, healthy habits, and beyond. She loves demystifying complicated health topics, debunking wellness fads, and sharing practical, science-backed solutions for healthy living.
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The Mediterranean region is well known for being home to some of the happiest, healthiest, longest-living people on Earth. In fact, Icaria, Greece, and Sardinia, Italy, have both been dubbed two of journalist and researcher Dan Buettner’s “Blue Zones”—locations around the world whose populations thrive into their hundreds. Studies have shown time and again the beneficial associations between their lifestyles—especially their diets, physical activity levels, and social lives—and their impressively low rates of chronic disease, early death, cognitive and mental health disorders, and more.
Another study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, by La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, reveals even further evidence of its benefits—and that you don’t necessarily need to be born and raised on the Mediterranean Sea to benefit from a similar way of life.
The study analyzed 110,799 healthy individuals (free of heart disease or cancer) between 40 and 75 years old from the UK Biobank cohort, between 2009 and 2012. Researchers asked participants’ to measure their lifestyle habits against the Mediterranean Lifestyle index (MEDLIFE), comprising three categories: 
Researchers then followed up with this group in 2021. They found that participants who most closely followed a Mediterranean lifestyle had a lower risk of death from cancer and other causes. Those with higher MEDLIFE scores had a 29 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28 percent lower risk of cancer mortality, compared to those with lower MEDLIFE scores, according to the study’s press release from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The Mediterranean diet—both the foods and drinks enjoyed and the way that food is prepared and approached—is a core facet of this well-rounded lifestyle. There’s an emphasis on eating plants, including fruits, vegetables, legumes/beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Protein sources are lean and eaten in moderation—lots of fish and little red or processed meat. Healthy fats are also key—olive oil, nuts and seeds, and, again, fatty fish. Mealtimes are shared with friends and loved ones, inflammatory added sugars and salt are used sparingly, and alcohol is for sipping slowly and socially.  
Adhering to these Mediterranean-inspired eating habits is far from the only important lifestyle factor to influence health outcomes. Those who also prioritized healthy habits such as resting and taking naps, spending time with loved ones, staying active (including getting regular exercise), reaped the most healthy rewards. In fact, according to the press release, "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 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. We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health," concludes lead study author, Mercedes Sotos Prieto, PhD, Ramon y Cajal research fellow at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and adjunct assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School.

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