Spain’s Secrets to Healthy Longevity: Mediterranean Diet, Sociability, Exercise
Spain has one of the longest life expectancies of any country in the world. Spaniards live an average of nearly 84 years, an accomplishment that often is attributed to the country’s healthy Mediterranean diet rich in seafood, olive oil, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
National Institutes of Health: Diet may help preserve cognitive function1
Research has long confirmed the benefits of such a cuisine in boosting and maintaining one’s health. The Mediterranean diet also has been associated with better cognition, memory, and brain health.
But healthy foods are not the only factor adding quality years to the average Spaniard’s life.
Mealtimes are an occasion for social interaction, laughter, camaraderie, and good cheer that lower stress levels, foster connections, and generally ward off negative factors, such as isolation, that can diminish health and reduce one’s lifespan.
Pharmacists might offer tips from the Spanish experience to help their clients live a longer, healthier life. These include:
The famous diet is followed by millions of people in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy, and Spain. The diet includes significant intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, whole grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It also usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
In addition to seafood and fish, Spaniards love their jamón and other cured meats, which ironically have been associated with negative health outcomes. But some research contends jamón is rich in oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil, and the meat has been found to help regulate cholesterol levels.
The diet is associated with positive health outcomes, including good heart and brain health. Research has found correlations between the Mediterranean diet and lower rates of cognitive decline, as well as lower risks of cognitive impairment.
According to a recent analysis of research data by the National Institutes of Health, adherence to the Mediterranean diet correlates with higher cognitive function. Participants with the greatest adherence to the diet had the lowest risk of cognitive impairment. High fish and vegetable consumption appeared to have the greatest protective effect, the research says.
Takeaway: Evaluate your daily food intake and consider ways to add more Mediterranean-style dishes.
Tapas, Tapas, Tapas
Spanish cuisine is perhaps most noted for its tapas. These small dishes of seafoods, meats, cheeses, olives, and more, are a delight to eat and share around a table. Because they are small, tapas also help people manage their food intake and keep better track of their diet, important factors in maintaining a long, healthy life.
Takeaway: Consider preparing various small dishes to share, rather than one large main dish per person. They’re healthy and enjoyable!
Red Wine (regularly but in moderation)
Spain is well known for its delightful red wines, including Riojas, which have become popular in the U.S. The bottles are cheap, cheerful and served at most meals. That said, Spaniards typically drink wine and other alcohol drinks in moderation. This allows people to acquire the benefits of drinking red wine without the damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption.
Takeaway: A glass of red with dinner is fine, but keep tabs on how many you consume.
Take Time to Digest
While the traditional Spanish siesta, or short noontime nap, is generally a thing of the past, most Spaniards do take more time with their midday meal than other nationalities. On any weekday — and certainly on weekends — you’ll find many Spaniards sitting down to an hour-long multiple course lunchtime meal. This leisurely pace allows them time to relax and fully digest their food.
In addition, many meals are taken with friends and family, and come with healthy doses of laughter and of animated conversations. These elements help vanquish a sense of isolation while boosting a sense of wellbeing.
Takeaway: Pick up the phone and invite your friends over for a long Saturday lunch!
Take a Stroll – for Errands and Pleasure
Spanish cities are ideally suited for walking, with most shops and businesses within easy access of a relaxing stroll. Spaniards think nothing of walking a half mile or more to the grocery store whereas residents from many other countries would likely take a car. Evenings are spent walking along pedestrian streets and visiting with friends outdoors.
Takeaway: Get off the couch and get out and walk.
Spain is blessed with beautiful weather, beautiful beaches, fascinating history, tightknit communities, and a lively cultural life. But even if you live in cold weather climes far from your neighbors and extended family, you can still find happiness in exploring your community’s cultural offerings, including local choirs, evening classes, and amateur sports teams.
Takeaway: Get out there and live life to its fullest!
1National Institutes of Health: Diet may help preserve cognitive function