people who follow a Mediterranean lifestyle – which includes a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains; healthy eating habits such as limiting added salt and sugar; Habits that promote adequate rest, physical activity and socialization lower the risk of all-cause and cancer mortality, according to a new study led by La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. People with lifestyles that emphasized comfort, exercise, and socializing with friends had a lower risk of mortality from heart disease.

The study will be published on Wednesday, August 16 Mayo Clinic Proceedings,

While numerous studies have established the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, little research has been done on the diet outside its region of origin. “This study shows that it is possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt a Mediterranean diet using locally available products and an overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts,” said Ramon y Cajal of La Universidad said research fellow and lead author Mercedes Sotos Prieto. Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Health at Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard Chan School. “We are seeing lifestyle changes and their positive effects on health.”

The researchers analyzed the habits of 110,799 members of the UK Biobank cohort, a population-based study in England, Wales and Scotland, using the Mediterranean Lifestyle Index (MedLife), which is derived from lifestyle questionnaires and dietary assessments. The participants, who ranged in age from 40 to 75, provided information about their lifestyle according to three categories measured by the index: “Mediterranean food consumption” (part of the Mediterranean diet such as consumption of fruits and whole grains); “Mediterranean dietary habits” (adherence to dietary habits and practices, including limiting salt and drinking healthy beverages); and “physical activity, rest, and social habits and sociability” (adherence to lifestyle habits including taking regular naps, exercising, and spending time with friends). Each item was then scored within the three categories, with higher total scores indicating higher adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle.

The researchers examined the participants’ health outcomes nine years later. Of the study population, 4,247 died from all causes; 2,401 from cancer; and 731 from heart disease. Analyzing these results with the MedLIFE score, the researchers observed an inverse association between adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle and risk of mortality. Participants with a high MEDLIFE score had a 29% lower risk of all-cause death and a 28% lower risk of cancer death compared to participants with a low MEDLIFE score. Adherence to each MedLife category was independently associated with reduced risk of all-cause and cancer mortality. The category “physical activity, rest, and social habits and sociability” was most strongly associated with these reduced risks, and was additionally associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

Other co-authors from Harvard Chan include Stefanos Kalles.

Funding for the study came from the Carlos III Health Institute; Secretary, R+D+I; European Regional Development Fund/European Social Fund; National Plan on Drug Abuse; Fundación Soria Melguizo; Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities; Universidad Autónoma de Madrid; Cancer Research UK Population Research Fellowship; and the World Cancer Research Fund.

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