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What is the secret to Italian longevity?

18 Jan 2019
What is the secret to Italian longevity?

Have you ever wondered why Italians live a longer life? We could all learn from the Acciaroli Italy diet, a town in Italy where 1 in 10 people live beyond their 100th birthday and home to more than 300 centenarians. It is also a town with next to no Alzheimer’s or heart disease.

The question is how does this happen?

Factors include healthy eating habits of the Mediterranean diet; healthy mind and body; good genes; family unity and good sleep.

 
 
 

1. Healthy eating habits of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is a key factor in Italian longevity. Italians are a big fan of portion control and less fat. Sure, Italians eat their pizza and pasta, but their portion sizes are half the size than many Australian meals. There is also a moderate consumption of alcohol in Italy. Foods that are related to a healthy Italian diet and therefore a longer life include:

  • Rosemary –

Italians add lots of herbs to meals which has many health benefits. Studies indicate that rosemary, in particular is beneficial as it aids brain function and is one of the secrets to longevity. Italians that live in the town of Acciaroli have a higher than average consumption of rosemary, eating it daily.

  • Extra virgin olive oil –
  • Olive oil is one of the main ingredients of the Mediterranean diet and also linked to living longer. It is particularly rich in monounsaturated “healthy fat” that is full of antioxidants. Regular consumption of olive oil has health benefits such as protection of the body against free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging) and reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancer. To get the benefits, extra virgin olive oil should be your main cooking oil. This is because the antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil are resistant to high heat, resulting in retained and sometimes increased nutrient content of food which is usually lost through cooking

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables –
  • When it comes to eating fruit and vegetables, more is more. Fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants to protect the body against free radicals. They also contain essential vitamins, minerals and fibre with health benefits including lower risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease and reduced blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Italians have a high consumption of fruits and vegetables in their diet – with many Italians still living off the land. Instead of thinking ‘what can I buy that is healthy’, Italians eat what they grow – which is healthy. The recommended fruit and vegetable intake is at least 400 grams per day, ideally five servings of 80 grams. Many Australians and people from other countries of the world are not eating enough fruit and vegetables – are you?

  • Garlic –
  • The health benefits of eating garlic go on and on. Garlic is rich in antioxidants that protect the body against free radicals. It is also great for boosting the immune system, which is especially important for elderly or people with dysfunctional immune systems. It also reduces the risk of common brain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and reduces the risk of certain types of cancer. High doses of garlic supplements (600–1,500 mg which is equivalent to 4 garlic cloves) per day are also effective in reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. It can even reduce cholesterol, particularly in people who have high cholesterol. Consult your doctor for medical advice, but given the benefits of consuming garlic or taking garlic supplements has on the body combined with its ability to fight infectious disease, it makes sense that garlic can help you live longer

  • Fresh fish and seafood –
  • The Mediterranean diet is high in fish and seafood. Fish is rich in protein, vitamins A and D, omega-3 fatty acids and various other vitamins and minerals which are important for optimal function of your body and mind. Omega-3 fatty acids are also essential for development of the brain and eyes which is why expecting and nursing mothers should eat a sufficient amount. Interestingly, omega-3 fatty acids have benefits in reducing symptoms of depression, and significantly increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. Consumption of fatty fish at least once or twice a week (ideally 2-3 times) can make you a happier person, reduce risk of diseases such as heart disease, stroke and dementia and may even lead to improved sleep due to vitamin D content. As Italians consume more fish, they have a lower risk of diseases and slower rates of cognitive decline which improve quality of life and contribute to living longer

  • Hydration –
  • To maintain heathy hydration, people should drink from 2 to 3 litres of water per day. We need water to maintain the balance of body fluids, which is essential for digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, maintenance of body temperature and much more. Italians consume a high amount of water and why not? The more hydrated your cells are, the firmer and brighter your skin will be – there’s your fountain of youth right there. On the opposite scale, dehydration has negative effects on healthy aging. Question is – how much water are you drinking each day?

2. Healthy mind and body

The secret to longevity is not just about the food that you eat. The Italian way of life involves daily physical activity as a form of entertainment. Everyone from young children to the elderly participate in outdoor activities and exercise on a regular basis – whether be swimming at local beaches, hiking, playing sport or a ‘passeggiata’ (a leisurely walk, usually with friends and family in the afternoon or after dinner). Italians also enjoy life to the fullest – enjoying good food and wine in the company of friends and family. 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 also healthy and so blessed to be living in beautiful Australia with annual trips to the breathtaking Italy. It is important to remind yourself of the things you are grateful for every day.

3. Good genes and Italian family unity

Good genes are important but it isn’t anything. 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 4 generations of family members during special events such as Christmas. It is important to 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.

4. Good sleep

Quantity of sleep can be an indicator of your overall health. You may be surprised to know that getting enough sleep (six to seven hours each night) improves cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and nervous systems and being well rested is key to boost 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 six hours of sleep during the night – just make sure that your nap is not more than forty-five minutes.
 
 
I am not saying that life is perfect in Italy. While some people may think that health and wealth go hand in hand, it is not always the case. In 2018, Australians earnt more on average than Italians. Australia also has half of the unemployment rate of Italy yet in 2018, Australia ranked number 10 for countries with the highest life expectancy. Now number 10 is not bad, but the top 10 countries with the highest life expectancy are in Asia or Europe, Italy ranking number 3. If Australians earn more than Italians on average, why are we not taking better care of ourselves to live longer?

When it comes to longevity, let’s focus on what we can control and that is healthy eating habits, healthy mind and body, family unity 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. Buon appetito and happy living all.

 

What is the secret to Italian longevity blog authored by Vanessa Bottaro.

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