While considered a traditional, economically backwards region for the past few hundred years by their industrialized, rapidly growing northern neighbors, modernity eventually did arrive in countries of the Mediterranean coastline. However, while urban inhabitants have picked up their share of modern habits like driving and vegetating in front of the TV for extended periods, in the countryside and smaller towns, the people continue to live in a way that, in addition to the healthy diet, naturally promotes long and healthy lives. This is contributed to by both economic and cultural factors.
Healthy Mediterranean Habits 1: Get Some Sun
A high proportion of Southern European’s still work in agriculture. It is not unusual to come across farms or vineyards that have been run by the same family for a dozen generations or more.
The Mediterranean climate, with its hot dry summers and mild, wet winters, means that most regions can grow different crops year-round, so they don’t have a 5 month winter break spent hiding from the cold and binge drinking like their northern neighbors do. This abundance of outdoor activity means they are out in the sun a lot, which means their skin produces a very high amount of vitamin D.
Since Southern European towns and villages date back to the middle ages and beyond, they are compact and very pedestrian friendly. While many European Mediterranean residents’ own cars, they still walk much more than Americans.
This isn’t just because the towns are smaller, traditionally, the center of social life in Mediterranean towns and villages revolved around the town square, known in various times and places as the agora (Greek), the forum, (Roman), the Plaza (Spanish) and the Piazza (Italian), the town center is where the cafes, local church, government offices, and daily outdoor markets are usually hosted. Even today on any evening, these venerable places swarm with young couples, families, and retired folks enjoying life together.
Social links are very strong on Mediterranean culture, commonly valued as much more important than their economic situation. Indeed, unlike the Anglo-Saxon obsession with measuring personal success with wealth, prestige, or position, Southern Europeans commonly measure their level of fulfillment by the quality of their family and social lives.
This is not just true in the countryside, where in the rugged valleys; the entire population is literally related to everyone else. While it is considered normal in certain countries to come home and catch up on work, it is more common along the Mediterranean to leave work and family completely separated (except, of course, in a family farm or business).
While family life is often the centerpiece of social life, people typically “get on” with each other more. In the cafes and squares that dot the region, newly met strangers commonly swap stories and share drinks over a game like dominoes in Spain or lawn bowling in Italy