A Mediterranean lifestyle could help you live longer

Healthy food and an active social life can drastically lower the chances of early death, new research has found.

You don’t have to live on the Mediterranean to adopt a Med lifestyle – and a new study shows that eating well, getting six to eight hours sleep a night, and spending quality time with friends and family can cut the risk of early death by a staggering 29%.

The study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, looked at the link between a Med lifestyle and the number of deaths cancer and cardiovascular disease within the British population. A group of 110,799 people aged between 40 and 75 were each given a score out of 25, based on answers to a set of questions about diet and lifestyle, then their medical records were tracked for an average of nine years. The participants came from the long-running UK Biobank study – the same study which recently showed that exercise and mental health go hand-in-hand.

The quarter of participants with the most Mediterranean lifestyle (based on their scores) were 29% less likely to die than those with the least Med way of life.

There’s no need to feel the heat to feel the benefits

The link between a healthy Mediterranean diet and longevity has been well documented. This study adds something new by looking at the Med lifestyle more broadly, and also by showing that you can be in less balmy countries, like the UK, and still reap its benefits. 

The study’s senior author, Dr Mercedes Sotos Prieto, from the Autonomous University of Madrid and Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, said: “The study suggests that it’s possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet using locally available products and to adopt the overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts.”


We must get together – for fun and longevity

Alongside eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts and legumes, the social aspect of the Med lifestyle was shown to be equally important in terms of extending lifespan. Cutting down on watching television in favour of participating in communal activities, such as tennis and running, was also linked to a lower risk of early death and the risk of dying from cancer.

This is not the first study to suggest that having solid social relationships is good for your health. Research also suggests that participating in group activities may help us maintain our thinking skills later in life and slow down cognitive decline. With social isolation becoming an increasing risk as we get older, this study proves that social contact is as vital to longevity as a healthy diet. 

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told Saga Exceptional: “Loneliness is a huge issue affecting many older people, with nearly a million older people across the UK saying they often feel lonely. It’s been linked to poorer health and has been associated with depression, sleep problems, stress and other mental health problems. Taking part in a class or activity in your local community is a great, fun way to spend time with others, meeting new people and maintaining social connections.”

Five ways to “go Med”

  1. Ensure you get six to eight hours’ sleep every night.
  2. Swap your sugary snacks for fruit and nuts.
  3. Take up a fun group activity, such as tennis or a dance class.
  4. Cut down on your salt intake.
  5. Up your intake of fish and wholegrain foods.

Written by Bev Hislop