Living the Good Life: The Mediterranean Lifestyle and Diabetes

By Alan L. Rubin, Cait James

Although diet is an essential part of the Mediterranean lifestyle, there is much more to it than just the diet. Most of the way that people live their lives is consistent with prevention or amelioration of diabetes. Many other behaviors that make up the Mediterranean lifestyle contribute to the long, healthy lives of people who live in the Mediterranean region.

Taking a run on the beach in the morning, a stroll around town, or a brisk walk in the evening is typical. People in the Mediterranean also use their bicycles to get around a lot more than Americans typically do. Exercise is a key part of the prevention and management of diabetes. The mild winters and the long hot summers of the Mediterranean make the outdoor lifestyle a lot easier, too.

In the Mediterranean, the “eat and run” concept is unheard of. Stores close in the middle of the hot day, and people return home for a long lunch, during which they chew their food slowly and don’t watch TV or check their email. They may have a glass of red wine with their lunch. Often there are guests and conversations ensue, which everyone enjoys. Conversation also slows down the pace of eating. Their bodies are given time to feel full so people tend to eat less. Eating less leads to more normal weight, another key part of the prevention and management of diabetes. And, of course, they cook their own food.

Relaxing with friends also reduces stress and increases longevity. It’s part of what makes life worth living. Stress reduction is another essential part of the prevention and treatment of diabetes. When you relax, you don’t secrete the hormones like cortisol that tend to raise your blood glucose.

Another important aspect of the Mediterranean lifestyle is the tendency to take a nap. The long lunch and the glass of wine lead to a calm feeling that makes you tired even though, typically, people in the Mediterranean area don’t set clocks to wake themselves early in the morning. Rest is not only good for diabetes but for your blood pressure and your heart.

Although the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are greatest when eaten as a part of a total lifestyle, you don’t need to move to Greece or Italy to profit from it. You can adopt the diet and follow these tips to immerse yourself in the lifestyle:

  • Take a walk after dinner every night. Tell yourself you’re going for a passeggiata (an evening stroll), and maybe you’ll feel like an Italian!

  • Walk or ride your bike instead of driving, at least for errands closer to home.

  • Make an effort to eat slowly, at a table, free of distractions. Invite friends to join you in conversation, or if you’re dining alone, listen to some relaxing music. Cap off your meal with a glass of red wine.

  • Take an afternoon nap to stay rested. And make sure to get enough sleep every night. Aim for eight hours.

  • Plan a two-week trip to the Mediterranean coast of Greece if you can. If that’s not in your budget, rent Mamma Mia! and imagine yourself dancing the night away with Meryl Streep.