Study finds Mediterranean lifestyle, not just diet, may improve heart health



  • New research has found that a Mediterranean lifestyle can improve heart health.

  • This includes the ever-popular Mediterranean diet, which prioritizes fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and lean protein.

  • Experts agree that the combination of diet, social life and physical activity can have a generous impact on an individual’s heart health.

The Mediterranean diet has long been lauded for its positive health benefits, but new research finds that a Mediterranean lifestyle — including, but not limited to, the diet — may specifically improve heart health.

While the Mediterranean diet, with its focus on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, fish and lean meats, is helpful for a myriad of health reasons, the researchers found that lifestyle emphasis was worth emphasizing around the diet.

“It’s not just the diet, it’s the other environmental factors as well that benefit us,” said John P. Higgins, MD, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School, who was not involved in the new study.

The Doctor. Higgins continued, “Things like setting up your environment so that walking is a healthy choice, being happy and smiling, having sociable interactions, as well as good sleep, seem to work in tandem with the Mediterranean diet to improve health and well-being. ”

Adhering to a certain lifestyle can seem overwhelming, but the Mediterranean lifestyle is quite simple to follow. Sustainable changes in nutrition, physical activity, and social life are all that are needed for these heart-healthy habits.


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Understanding the impact of a lifestyle

The new findings supporting a Mediterranean lifestyle for heart health were presented February 28, 2023, at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology, Prevention, Lifestyle, and Cardiometabolic Health conference in Boston.

The researchers collected data from over 110,000 individuals, aged between 40 and 69, registered in the UK Biobank cohort. These participants were followed between 2006 and 2010 through 2020 to fully understand how their lifestyle affected their ongoing well-being.

To understand the data points behind these factors, the team used a 26-point Mediterranean Lifestyle Index (MEDLIFE) to measure how well each person in the study adhered to a Mediterranean lifestyle. This included what they ate, how they ate it – including whether or not they ate or added salt to their food – whether people ate meals with family and friends, how often they were sedentary and how often they participated in physical activity with others, with how often they socialized and how much they slept each night.

The team followed up after about 9.5 years, taking into account death records and causes of death (cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all other causes). They found that the more people followed a Mediterranean lifestyle, the less likely they were to die from cancer or cardiovascular disease. Those with the closest adherence were about 30% less likely to die from cancer or heart disease than those with the lowest adherence.

Related:Best Mediterranean Diet Meal Delivery Services

Prioritizing a Healthy Social Life

Research has shown that isolation and loneliness increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, highlighting the importance of the social aspects of a Mediterranean lifestyle.

“Meals are something that happens around family and friends,” said Mercedes Sotos-Prieto, PhD, an assistant assistant professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health and first author of the new study. Health. She noted a concept called conviviality, one of the key factors evaluated in the new study. The concept concerns as individuals eat, not what they eat. In the study, this was measured as sharing meals.

“This is something very characteristic of the traditional Mediterranean way of life, the pleasure of sharing meals that promotes a sense of community,” explained Sotos-Prieto. “That moment when we talk in a relaxed way while enjoying the food.”

Social habits were also linked to doing physical activity with other people, such as walking, or how often people participated in different social events that applied to their lives, such as going to church.

At their core, social interactions like these foster opportunities for hospitality and social support systems, according to Sotos-Prieto. Such support can reduce the stress that burdens the cardiovascular system. When combined with exercise – like taking a walk with a friend – this can make a big difference to an individual’s overall health.

Eating meals in a social setting can also affect what an individual is likely to eat.

“I have a lot of single patients who eat alone, and I think they are less likely to plan and prepare a healthy, balanced meal for themselves, and then their nutrition is compromised,” explained Jenifer Bowman, RD, a registered dietitian in the department of cardiology at UCHealth. in Fort Collins, Colorado.

By simply sharing a meal with someone — family, friends, roommate — individuals can naturally make more nutritious (and heart-healthy) decisions.

How eating habits affect heart health

According to Bowman, early research into the Mediterranean eating plan sought to identify a single nutrient responsible for reducing the risk of everything from heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s.

However, she emphasized, “It’s not just one individual nutrient, it’s the power of all these nutrients together that makes the Mediterranean meal plan healthier.”

Eating style prioritizing fruits and vegetables provides fiber and antioxidants. It also encourages whole grains as well as beans – more fiber-rich foods.

“Fiber gives your digestive system some work to break down, so you get a more gradual rise in blood sugar with fiber-rich foods,” Bowman explained. “Fiber also has the ability to bind to cholesterol and help remove that cholesterol from the digestive tract, which helps to control cholesterol in general.”

The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes healthy fats, especially olive oil, nuts and seeds, and lean meat, especially fish.

According to Sotos-Prieto, these foods have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, including omega-3 fatty acids, which improve heart health by lowering triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, reducing the risk of irregular heartbeats and slowing down the construction. -up of plaque that hardens and blocks the arteries.

According to Dr. Higgins, the way of eating also increases levels of nitric oxide, a gas that regulates the dilation of blood vessels and therefore blood flow, which increases heart function.

Following a Mediterranean diet

If an individual wants to start sticking to a Mediterranean diet, Bowman encourages keeping it simple for the sake of sustainability.

“Their perception of healthy eating is often more complicated than it actually is,” she said. Health. “It doesn’t have to be just fresh fruits and vegetables, that’s a big myth. Frozen is fine.

If fatty fish is not accessible, lean meat such as skinless chicken breast provides healthy protein without added saturated fat. The important thing is to avoid pre-packaged and processed meals whenever possible, she said.

“The people in this [Mediterranean] region aren’t eating macaroni and cheese and frozen pizza,” she said, adding that it might be helpful to keep in mind that three-quarters of your plate should be plant-based.

“Half your plate should be vegetables, one quarter lean protein, and the other quarter high-fiber plant foods like beans or whole grains,” she said. “The Mediterranean meal plan is nothing fancy. It’s fruits, veggies, lean meats, legumes, and whole grains.”

Related: What is the Green Mediterranean Diet—and Should You Try It?

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Read the original article in Health.

Study finds Mediterranean lifestyle, not just diet, may improve heart health

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