Why is Italy the healthiest country in Europe (and second in the world)?

Healthy food enjoy panzanella at The Watermill

Healthy food: enjoy panzanella at The Watermill

I have just been reading a fascinating article by Francesca Bezzone in the online magazine Life in Italy (http://www.lifeinitaly.com/) which ponders on why Italians are so healthy. I agree with all the factors she cites below and I’d like to add the ‘rhythm’ of Italian life – taking the time to enjoy the pleasures of each day — food, conversation, art, architecture, sunshine, scenery, wine. Viva la vita in buon salute italiana.

Francesca writes: “With an economy struggling to take off, high levels of unemployment and a rampant immigration problem, there is very little Italy can cheer about these days, BUT… it is the second healthiest country in the whole world!

Recently Bloomberg published the results of its research into the healthiest places on earth. And Italy fared excellently, being the healthiest country in Europe and second healthiest in the whole world, second only – and by a minimal margin – to Singapore.

Of course, part of this success is related to the fact that, in spite of our complaints and criticisms, the Italian healthcare system works well. Although there are issues, … the system is solid, well established and fair. Access is open to all Italian citizens for free, as well as tourists and even illegal immigrants. Family doctors are available basically every day of the week, pay home visits and can only have up to 1500 patients, so that they can care for each of them properly.

That diet plays a huge role in Italy’s health is obvious: the Mediterranean diet, an immaterial World patrimony according to UNESCO, is Italy’s natural form of eating. Rich in vegetables, fruits, fish and healthy oils, such as of course, extra virgin olive oil, the Mediterranean diet also endorses consumption of healthy grains, such as barley and spelt, which are great to increase fibre intake and keep cholesterol at bay.

It also encourages a moderate consumption of alcohol, namely a glass of good wine per meal, which has been proven to be beneficial for our heart’s health. Thanks to this penchant for health and fresh produce, even the dishes that made culinary Italy famous around the world have a much healthier kick to them than everywhere else: pizza toppings are usually fresh and lighter than those used in the US or in the UK, and the same can be said of pasta sauces, largely tomato and vegetable based. Alfredo sauce, for example, is something we do not know in Italy.

Dinner at the watermill..Great tastes, good company.

Dinner at the Watermill..Great tastes, good company, time to enjoy them

There may be more to it, though. Italians have naturally healthy habits also when it comes to several more aspects of nutrition. Italians eat their three meals a day religiously, and like to take their time while doing it. It may seem a silly point to make, but it is not: sitting down to eat your food and having proper, non-processed ingredients is an important way to keep us healthy, just as not skipping meals is and let us face it, you would barely find an Italian skipping lunch or dinner on a regular basis.

Walking and cycling to get to work or school is still very common in Italy, too, which means Italians are on average less sedentary than others (even though we have been faring worse than before on this side in recent years). And even good weather, in the sense of a good balance between cold and warm months, may be playing a role in keeping us healthy for longer.

Good healthcare, great food and a series of good, well ingrained healthy habits seem to be at least in part to thank for Italy’s longevity and health. Of course, it is not as simple as that, as many scientists point out: in 2013 the Lancet, one of the most reputable medical journal in the world, published a comparative study on the improvement of health in European countries over the past 20 years, where Italy had already proven to be the second healthiest country in the continent (a result surpassed today, as we have seen). Yet, Dr Jessop, one of the research leaders, when asked how Italians do manage to keep healthy and live longer than many other people, answered: “to be honest, nobody knows. Life expectancy looks like a simple number but it’s incredibly complicated – with a huge number of factors all playing a part. We can speculate about the causes, but it’s impossible to give a single definitive answer.”

Let us follow the Italian example, then, even if we don’t know exactly why it works so well!”

So, come and enjoy the healthy Italian lifestyle on one of our famous painting, knitting, Italian language or yoga courses. We’d love to welcome you hear for a relaxing, yet stimulating week. More about everything can be found by clicking here.

A lovely photograph of the mill and the riverside gardens. Lots of greens!

The Watermill and the riverside gardens. Relax and enjoy.

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