Do you want to live to 100 or live longer? Italians have the secrets to the fountain of youth and it’s easier than you think. Increasing life expectancy, or living to 100 so to speak, is mainly based on factors within your control. For example, lifestyle is a stronger determinant of health and life expectancy than genetics. Smoking, poor diet, obesity or being overweight and a lack of physical activity can cut years from your life. Instead, the Italian lifestyle promotes good health and longevity. Read our blog and discover lessons from Italy that can help you live longer.
The secret to Italian longevity can mostly be attributed to the lifestyle habits of its citizens with a smaller influence from good genes. Factors include healthy body and mind, healthy eating habits of the Mediterranean diet, family unity, positive social influences and good sleep.
The Italian way of life involves daily physical activity. Everyone from young children to the elderly participate in daily activities and exercise. There is a regular ‘passeggiata’ (a leisurely walk, often with friends and family in the afternoon or after dinner) – some do this daily and others 3-5 times per week. The passeggiata can even include walking up and down many steps or rocky/mountainous terrain which is common in Italy. Garden and general maintenance and even cleaning contributes to daily activity. There are also seasonal activities like swimming at local beaches, hiking and playing sport.
Italians enjoy life to the fullest. There is a saying in Italy “Il Dolce far niente”, meaning the sweetness of doing nothing. Mastering the Italian art of doing nothing is something I have come to enjoy in the past 3 months we stayed in Italy. Il dolce far niente isn’t reserved for the time-rich but a philosophy ingrained in Italians, and I love it!
Family and community activities are an important part of the culture in Italy which assists in mental/emotional health and well-being. It is almost as if family and community are valued above all else while work, success and money take a back seat. The Italians might be onto something there.
A healthy mind is also about seeking beauty in our surroundings and gratitude. Feeling grateful reduces our stress levels and forces your mind to adopt an abundance mindset. I must say, I am extremely grateful to have a wonderful husband and two beautiful children. We are healthy and so blessed to be living in Australia and enjoying trips to breathtaking Italy almost every year. For a healthy mind, it is important to remind yourself of the things you are grateful for every single day.
The Mediterranean diet is a key factor in Italian longevity. Before we go into what to eat, it is important to state that Italians are a big fan of portion control, enjoy ‘treat-type’ foods in moderation, generally eat less fat and avoid overeating. Sure, Italians eat their pizza and pasta, but their portion sizes are less than many Australian meals and again, in moderation. There is also a reduced consumption of alcohol in Italy. Foods that are related to a healthy Italian diet and therefore a longer life include:
Our favourite recipes using garlic: Spaghetti ‘aglio olio e peperoncino’ (with garlic, olive oil and chilli), Chilli mussels, Broccoli cream pasta with pork sausage and Four hour slow roasted lamb shoulder.
Good genes are important, but it isn’t everything. Instead food and lifestyle choices which we have control over, are much more important factors in longevity. Italians tend to have a strong bond with their family members. A typical example of this is the unity of four generations of family members during special events such as Christmas. Enjoying good food and wine (with portion control, of course) in the company of friends and family is important for Italians.
Social influences on food choices, portion control etc. can be positive or negative. Social influences can be direct (by living with others who buy/cook food) or indirect (learnt from family/friend’s behaviour). This means that even if you cook and eat alone, your food choices can still be influenced by social factors because attitudes and habits are developed through our interaction with others. For this reason, it is important that you spend time with people who promote heathy eating and exercise habits. If this is a picture of what your family and/or friends are about – awesome! If not, you may need to look for positive influences to promote longevity.
Good sleep powers the mind, restores the body and strengthens virtually every system in the body. The right amount of sleep for an adult is 7 to 9 hours each night. Quantity of sleep contributes to overall health including improved cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and nervous systems. This means that being well rested is key to boosting longevity. It is also important to go to bed and get up at roughly the same time throughout the week.
Italians are definitely onto something with their siesta, a short sleep after lunch. Having an occasional Italian siesta has many health benefits to reduces stress, help cardiovascular functions, and improve alertness and memory. A siesta is particularly beneficial if you tend to get less than the required number of hours sleep during the night. For your afternoon siesta, aim for 20 minutes or no longer than 30 minutes for the greatest benefit. This prevents the body from reaching deeper stages of sleep which allows you to wake up feeling refreshed. Anything more than 45 minutes will dip into deeper sleep and is likely to make you feel groggy afterward, defeating the purpose of a nap.
I am not saying that life is perfect in Italy, but they certainly know how to live life to the fullest. When it comes to living a long and healthy life, let’s focus on what we can control. That is:
• Healthy body and mind
• Healthy eating habits
• Healthy family unity, positive social influences and
• Getting as much sleep as possible.
Even if you don’t live in Italy, you can take these principles and live a longer and better quality of life from anywhere in the world.
Happy living all!