Zoom Image

Market stall in Palermo, Sicily: Lots of fruit and vegetables

Photo: Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

Those who eat a Mediterranean diet are healthier, that is well documented. However, you don't even have to live on the Mediterranean for this effect – this is now shown by a study based on data from adults in the UK.

"This study suggests that it is possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet with locally available products and adopt the entire Mediterranean lifestyle into their own cultural context," says Mercedes Sotos Prieto, associate assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the paper, which has now been published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

29 percent lower mortality risk

According to the study, people who live a Mediterranean lifestyle have a lower risk of dying from cancer, for example. This includes a diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. However, the researchers also looked at healthy eating habits, such as restricting certain habits and practices around meals or salt and sugar. As well as habits that favor sufficient rest, exercise and socializing, for example, regular naps and spending time with friends.

These three categories together formed the Mediterranean Lifestyle Index. The team used a dataset of 110,799 participants between the ages of 40 and 75 from a population-based survey in England, Wales and Scotland. About nine years after the survey, they looked at the health status of the respondents: among them, 4,247 had died from all kinds of causes, 2,401 from cancer and 731 from cardiovascular disease.

The result: The higher the score in the Mediterranean Lifestyle Index, i.e. the more the lifestyle of the respondents corresponded to the Mediterranean lifestyle, the lower the risk of mortality – overall it was 29 percent lower, the risk of dying specifically from cancer by 28 percent. With more rest, exercise and time with friends, there was also a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.