A growing body of evidence shows that a Mediterranean-style diet can help people to lose weight, but it appears that the Mediterranean has more than just a diet; it also has a lifestyle that research published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggests can help to significantly lower the risk of death from all causes. This lifestyle prioritizes rest, exercise, healthful eating, and socializing.
While the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits have been established, the adoption of the lifestyle itself outside of the Mediterranean region has not been studied as extensively; but those living in the region have been found to have a decreased risk of dying from all causes including cancer and cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
“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 study lead author Mercedes Sotos Prieto, Ramon y Cajal research fellow at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and adjunct assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School. “We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health.”
For this study the group of international researchers utilized data from the UKbiobank to assess the lifestyle of 110, 799 participants between the ages of 40-75 years old who had provided details on their diets and lifestyle habits based on the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) Index. After a 9-year follow up 4,247 participants died, of whom 2,401 died from cancer and 731 died from cardiovascular diseases.
The 3 categories the index measures included: “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). Each item within the three categories was then scored, with higher total scores indicating higher adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle.
According to the researchers, their results indicate an inverse relationship between adherence to the lifestyle and mortality risk. Those with higher MEDLIFE scores were found to have a 29% decreased risk of all-cause mortality and a 28% decreased risk of cancer mortality compared to those with lower scores. Adherence to each MEDLIFE category independently was associated with lower all-cause and cancer mortality risk, with the “physical activity, rest, and social habits and conviviality” category being most strongly associated with lowered risks and a lower risk of CVD mortality.