Today, my post will not focus as much on the Mediterranean diet but on certain aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Recently the New York Times published an article about the Greek island of Ikaria and how people there live a long life. I was happy to see an article like this highlighting the habits of these Greek islanders and particularly their diet.
Upon reading it, I noticed that the habits and diet described in the article are the habits of most Greeks, 30-50 years ago, not only of the Ikarians. The Ikarian diet is described as a “variation of the Mediterranean diet”; it is in fact the Greek diet, 30-50 years ago. The secret of these islanders (more so the older ones) is that they continue to have this diet and lifestyle today, whereas unfortunately, many other Greeks especially those that live in cities and large towns, do not.
I remember experiencing this lifestyle (and I’m not that old) particularly when I spent time with my grandparents. My grandfather lived till he was 103, my great-grandfather 106, and my other grandparents lived long as well, reaching the age of 90. So in the next few posts I’d like to share some of these habits as I remember them. Some are not related directly to nutrition but nevertheless are part of the Greek lifestyle.
In the article about the Ikarians it mentions the nap or siesta. In a Greek study that investigated the lifestyle of the Ikarians, they noted that all participants that were over 90 took daily naps. In Greece we have the word “mesimeri” which means midday describing the time between 2 -5 pm, but it also has another meaning: quiet time.
I remember when I would come to Greece as a child the word mesimeri basically meant it was time to be quiet and take a nap. Until 30 years ago most people worked until 2 or 3 pm and the nap was part of the daily routine. Today there are still traces of this healthy habit even in big cities. Stores close for mesimeri and re-open in the afternoon. In smaller towns and villages the streets are empty, it’s like a ghost town. And yes you still have to be quiet. There is even a law defining this period of quiet time: it is between 3-5 pm varying a bit depending on the season. During these official quiet hours you are not allowed to have loud music or make noise. Roadwork, construction or other kinds of work also stop at that time.
I have fond memories of this quiet time, although as a kid, I remember not wanting to be quiet at all and looked forward to the afternoon when everybody woke up and we could be our usual loud selves. Once 5:30 came around, the whole town/village would come to life. Slowly people would open their shutters and start making their afternoon coffee, sitting on their balconies and not being quiet.
What can you do?
No I won’t tell you to take daily naps. But I will tell you about another study conducted by Greek researchers. They basically examined the napping habits of over 23,000 Greeks aged 20 to 86 years old and the relationship with death from heart disease. The results showed that individuals who took a nap regularly (3 times a week for at least 30 minutes) had a 37% less risk of dying from heart disease. The good news is that even if you occasionally take a nap you also have benefits: 12% less risk of dying from heart disease.
So how about trying to take that nap on the weekends when things are not as busy or urgent? You’ll be resting and you’ll be doing your heart some good.