Why do people emigrate to Spain? Most people mention the weather, closely followed by good food and quality of life. The sun shining makes everyone feel better and more fresh air and a relaxed lifestyle definitely contribute to a sense of wellbeing.

The Mediterranean diet has been well-documented over the years as having nutritional benefits. Bring all these factors together and it is easy to see how Spain attracts so many. But just how beneficial are these aspects of Spanish life to our health?

The Mediterranean diet

One recent study suggests that the Mediterranean diet is indeed a key feature in helping us to live longer and live better. The ‘Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study’ suggests that cell death is slowed down as a result of eating the Mediterranean diet. In this research the diet is specified as consisting of:

 

  • a high intake of vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and grains (mainly unrefined)
  • a high intake of olive oil but a low intake of saturated lipids
  • a moderately high intake of fish and a low intake of dairy products
  • a regular but moderate intake of alcohol (specifically wine with meals)

 

The study was carried out on 5,000 nurses and it was found that those who stuck to the diet had fewer signs of ageing in their cells. Other benefits of the diet that this study refers to include:

 

  • reduction of overall mortality
  • reduced incidences of chronic diseases, especially major cardiovascular diseases
  • increased likelihood of having a health old-age

 

It is pointed out that fruits, vegetables and nuts have well known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

 

The study is a long-term one. It was initially established in 1976 and followed the nurses through with regular blood samples and biennial questionnaires. It is a positive reinforcement of the importance of a healthy diet and the extent to which that enjoyed in Mediterranean countries resembles it.

The Spanish lifestyle

The pace of life in Spain generally feels a little slower than in some other European countries. It might be the heat of the sun, the opportunity to have a siesta or the continued insistence on taking time over meals that gives the impression of a more relaxed approach to life.

Many people report that when they move to Spain, they slow down and feel less anxious generally. Some of this change in lifestyle coincides with retirement. However, many working individuals comment on this too.

There is research1 to support the idea that having less stress in your life can also contribute to a slow down in the ageing process. This research, again based upon the Nurses’ Health Study, suggests that high phobic anxiety might be associated with ageing.  It found that chronic psychological distress could have an ageing effect of up to six years.

The chronic psychological distress the researchers referred to includes disorders such as panic attacks and agoraphobia. Early intervention to prevent the development and continuation of these conditions might help slow down the aging process. Not only this but reducing anxiety could prevent other disorders such as mental health problems and serious chronic medical conditions taking hold.

Many factors

Of course, it is important to keep it all in perspective. Living in Spain is not going to prolong life or slow down the aging process if you are still a coach potato, smoking your way through 40-a-day. However, it does seem that avoiding anxiety and choosing the Mediterranean diet can help you live just that little bit better and longer.

More information

Mediterranean diet and telomere length in Nurses’ Healthy Study:

http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6674