By now, we’ve all heard of the health (and wallet) benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet — healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds with limited amounts of red meat and dairy. But adopting the Mediterranean lifestyle might be the true ticket to a longer, healthier life, a new study has found.
The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that people who adhered to a Mediterranean lifestyle were less likely to die from any cause, and less likely to die from cancer specifically. This type of lifestyle has also been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
But what is a Mediterranean lifestyle? Well, it’s not just a diet. There are other characteristics that define a Mediterranean lifestyle, and unfortunately for all you homebodies out there, one of them is being social.
In addition to a diet focused on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low in added sugars and salts, healthy habits such as physical activity, adequate sleep, and healthy socialization are all characteristics of the lifestyle.
What makes the new study unique is that the participants weren’t from the area considered Mediterranean — Southern Italy, Greece, and Crete. They were from the U.K.
Researchers from La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined data collected from 110,779 people and added to the U.K. Biobank. The team analyzed data according to the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index, which, according to a press release, catalogs factors such as:
- “‘Mediterranean food consumption’ (intake of foods part of the Mediterranean diet such as fruits and whole grains);
- ‘Mediterranean dietary habits’ (adherence to habits and practices around meals, including limiting salt and drinking healthy beverages); and
- ‘physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality’ (adherence to lifestyle habits including taking regular naps, exercising, and spending time with friends).”
Nine years after the initial analysis, 4,247 participants had died — 731 from cardiovascular disease, 2,401 from cancer, and 1,115 from other causes. The researchers determined that participants with higher MEDLIFE scores were 29% less likely to die from any cause during the nine-year study period, and 28% less likely to die from cancer. Participants who scored highest in the “physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality” section were also less likely to die from cardiovascular disease.
“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,” study author Mercedes Sotos Prieto, Ramon y Cajal research fellow at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and adjunct assistant professor of at Harvard Chan School, said in a statement. “We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health.”
Other studies have shown the positive effects of healthy social interaction on long-term health and well-being. The U.S. Surgeon General recently announced that the U.S. is suffering through an “epidemic of loneliness” that contributes to increased rates of chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cognitive disorders such as dementia, and has a similar effect on lifespan as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. And a Veterans Affairs study found that being social can lengthen your life.
Small social interactions and short bursts of exercise throughout the day can make a big difference in mortality and quality of life as we age. So go for a walk, chat with a neighbor, and take a nap — your body will thank you for it!