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Changing Your Life for Health and Happiness the Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean diet is about more than food. It’s a way to embrace life to the fullest, to find peace and happiness in everyday events, and to stay active and engaged in meaningful ways. In fact, the benefits that accrue to those who follow the key principles of the diet itself aren’t solely related to single foods but to the diet as a whole, which includes not only what you eat but how you live.

Getting a good dose of daily activity

Historically, the people in the rural Mediterranean got plenty of daily activity through work, getting where they needed to go on foot, and having fun. Although you may rely heavily on your car and think such a lifestyle isn’t realistic for you, you can still find ways to regularly incorporate activities that get your heart rate up and use your muscles.

  • Put the car keys away for a healthy stroll.

    Getting in your car to run every errand isn’t a way of life on the Mediterranean coast. Walking to the corner market or bakery is more common practice (much like a New Yorker’s experience).

  • Find fun ways to get daily exercise.

    Even though formalized exercise wasn’t exactly a traditional part of life on the Mediterranean coast —the old folks in Crete didn't spend much time in a gym 50 years ago — you can incorporate scheduled exercise into your daily life to increase your level of physical activity.

    Make a list of all the physical activities you enjoy — pastimes such as gardening, swimming, hiking, jogging, bike riding, skateboarding, or skiing — and make more time to partake in those hobbies. If you love hitting the gym, by all means, add that to your list. Incorporating one fun activity each day goes a long way for your health.

Slowing down

If you spend your day going, going, going and fall into bed each night wondering where the day went or mentally ticking off items for tomorrow’s to-do list, you definitely need to embrace the idea that slowing down is good for you.

If you don’t believe that slowing down can really do that much for your health, consider this study: Researchers from the University of Rochester found that from Friday night until Sunday, study participants, even those with high income or exciting work lives, were in better moods, showed greater enjoyment in life, and had fewer aches and pains.

  • Take time for the day’s biggest meal.

    Even though the Mediterranean residents of days gone by were hard workers, often doing a significant amount of manual labor, they always made time for their largest meal of the day. Taking time for meal and family was a priority; you didn’t see people eating in five minutes at the countertop.

  • Make time for rest.

    Sleep is a basic, fundamental need that is now getting pushed aside by busy schedules. The average amount of sleep Americans get today is 2 hours less than it was 50 years ago. Sleep is crucial for proper health, and a lack of sleep can affect you in many ways, including decreasing your cognitive thinking ability (say good-bye to effective problem solving!) and increasing your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, weight gain, and skin aging.

    For health purposes, doctors recommend you get eight hours of sleep each night. A Mediterranean lifestyle promotes rest time, including basic downtime and sleep. An afternoon siesta isn’t all that uncommon.

  • Take some time to smell the roses.

    People on the Mediterranean coast enjoy all aspects of life including food, art, music, and nature. They fill their senses with great appreciation. When was the last time you listened to music or sat in a garden admiring the flowers? These small things can make a big impact on your health because taking in things that are beautiful to you is a significant part of relaxation and stress management.

Working to live rather than living to work

In many areas, especially the Mediterranean region, working is a way to live life to the fullest rather than the main focus of life. Many people in the United States and Canada are working longer and longer days, and competition makes the daily grind feel like an unending battle to reach your career goals.

Although the traditional workday is 8 hours, 10-to-12-hour days seem to have become the norm. If this description sounds all too familiar, work may be consuming more than its fair share of your life.

Embracing life

No man or woman is an island. And one way to get the full benefit of Mediterranean lifestyle is to embrace the connections you have to your family and circle of friends and to allow yourself to discover and enjoy the things you’re passionate about.

  • Enjoy time with friends and family.

    A hallmark of Mediterranean life is time spent with family and friends. In fact, many families in the Mediterranean have dinner parties once or twice a week rather than the once or twice a year as many Americans do. The fun and laughter that come with friendly get-togethers are vital for stress management. Without these little joyful experiences, stress can tip to an unhealthy balance.

  • Create a life where fun and passion are priorities.

    Enjoying life, having a good laugh, and making time for fun is a priority in certain regions of the Mediterranean coast. Fun is unique to you. Perhaps it means spending time with family, watching a funny movie, doing something active like skiing, or simply playing cards. No matter what you find fun, do more of it! Fun activities help you combat stress, not to mention make memories.

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