Mediterranean lifestyle, not just diet, can greatly improve health

American Heart Association News

WEDNESDAY, March 1, 2023 (American Heart Association News) — Much is known about the heart health benefits of adopting a Mediterranean-style diet, with a heavy focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and oils healthy. But what about the rest of the Mediterranean lifestyle?

In addition to relaxing on the beaches of southern Italy or on an island in Greece, adopting a focus on relaxed family dinners, afternoon naps and strong community ties can also improve health?

A group of researchers explored what would happen if middle-aged and older British adults – who live about 1,500 miles northwest of the Mediterranean Sea and their sociable way of life – embraced not just the diet, but also physical activity and social habits of its southern inhabitants. neighbors. And they found that the more they adhered to this lifestyle, the lower their risk of dying from cancer, cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.

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The findings, presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Conference in Boston, are considered preliminary until the full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“This study suggests that the adoption of a Mediterranean lifestyle adapted to the local characteristics of non-Mediterranean populations is possible and can be part of a healthy lifestyle,” said senior study researcher Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, assistant professor at Department of Prevention Medicine and Public Health at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain. She is also an adjunct professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Previous research has shown that the Mediterranean-style eating pattern helps protect against cardiovascular disease, lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. In this latest study, researchers looked at the impact of other Mediterranean lifestyle factors — including physical activity, rest, social and social habits — on 110,799 middle-aged and older adults living in England, Scotland and Wales.

Participants were selected from the UK Biobank, a multicentre population study of people aged 40 to 75 who were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease when they enrolled between 2009 and 2012. They were followed through 2021.

A 25-point MEDLIFE index was used to score their adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle. The index was divided into three blocks: consumption of Mediterranean foods (12 points), which analyzed what people ate; Mediterranean Eating Habits (7 points), which looked at additional factors such as snacking, adding salt to meals, or preferring whole grains over refined grains; and other lifestyle factors (6 points).

The last block included questions about whether people had meals with family and friends (living together); involved in physical activity with other people, for example, going for walks together; how often they met with family and friends (social habits); and how much they slept, both at night and during naps (rest).

After a median follow-up time of 9.4 years, death registries were used to compare death rates from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all other causes among those with the highest and lowest MEDLIFE index scores. The analysis showed that the more people adhered to the Mediterranean lifestyle, the lower the risk of dying from cancer or any other cause.

Specifically, compared to those with the lowest MEDLIFE index scores, adults with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle had a 29% lower risk of dying from any cause and a 28% lower risk of dying from cancer. Higher scores for each of the three blocks of the MEDLIFE index were associated with lower risks of cancer and death from all causes. Higher scores for the third block, related to lifestyle activities, were also associated with lower risks of cardiovascular death.

The study highlights the important roles that community and social engagement play in good health, said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, associate professor of medicine and director of the Center of Excellence for Sleep and Circadian Research at Columbia University in New York. .

“The Mediterranean lifestyle involves interactions with other people,” she said, a component that is particularly important for people as they age. Studies have shown that social isolation can increase a person’s risk of having or dying from a heart attack or stroke.

The findings underscore why “we must pay attention to aspects of lifestyle other than physical activity,” said St-Onge, who was not involved in the study. “Perhaps we need to look more and more at these social factors.”

One thing the study didn’t explore and would be of interest in future studies is the impact of stress, she said. “When you think of the Mediterranean lifestyle, you think of living at a slower pace, but this study doesn’t seem to capture that.”

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]

By Laura Williamson, American Heart Association News

Mediterranean lifestyle, not just diet, can greatly improve health

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