The secrets of healthier nations

When looking at cultures where cardiovascular disease is less common, one sees they often have a healthier diet but there are usually other protective "ingredients" in their lifestyle as well.

The secrets of healthier nations

More than just food

  • For example, green tea contains chemicals known as catechins and theanine that have been shown to have various positive effects. But the simple act of making the tea may be as beneficial. In one study of more than three thousand women aged 50 and over, those who regularly practiced the Japanese tea ceremony — an elaborate ritual for brewing and drinking green tea — lived longer than women who did not. It appears that the calming and relaxing effect of the ritual itself bestows benefits.
  • Often, protection cannot be nailed down to a single factor like food. No one knows if it was just the Paleolithic diet that protected our ancestors from cardiovascular disease, or also the activity that hunting and survival entailed. How much did tracking and chasing wild animals, or seeking and picking fruit and other produce, contribute?
  • Similarly, you may have heard how the Mediterranean diet reduces people's risk of heart attacks and strokes. And you've seen that multiple ingredients of the typical Mediterranean diet — such as olive oil, fish, fruit, vegetables and red wine — all individually have protective effects. But the Mediterranean "package" also includes home-cooked food, leisurely meals with friends and family, laughter, siestas and sunshine.
  • Food in these countries is both important in itself and intimately interwoven with the joy of living, pleasant surroundings and good company. Contrast that with a hurried lunchtime sandwich that comes in a plastic wrapper, fast food and take-out meals laden with salt and fat, or microwavable meals eaten in front of the television.

The whole package

  • While it's good to find out just what works and how much, science can only provide a limited number of answers. What's really important is the whole package, because it represents a lifestyle — your lifestyle. Safeguarding yourself against heart attacks and strokes involves many diverse aspects, and there are so many different things that you can do to reduce your risk. The more that you can blend the ingredients together, the more likely you are to protect yourself not only from cardiovascular disease, but also from all the other damaging effects of lifestyle diseases.
  • And the really great news is that, as well as being physically fit, you are likely to live not just a longer and healthier life, but a happier and more fulfilled one too.
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