When in Rome: European Longevity Lessons
Longevity tips I learned during my most recent trip to Europe.
Before getting into this week’s article I want to say thank you for being here with me. As much as I enjoy researching and writing these articles, it’s no match to the fulfillment I feel when someone has been able to tweak their life for the better because of this newsletter.
Let’s get right into it…
Last week I returned from a three-week trip to Europe where I spent most of my time in the Provence and the Côte d'Azur, better known as the French Riviera, regions of Southern France.
While I was there I couldn’t help but notice a few cultural differences between France, many other parts of Europe in general, and North America that seem like worthwhile lifestyle choices to consider adopting at home. Here they are.
Everything in Moderation
From coffee to meals at restaurants, everything you’re served is based on higher quality ingredients served in moderate portion sizes. Even if you venture into a McDonald’s, a large coffee there is a shade bigger than a small coffee here and is made by hand from an espresso machine, one at a time.
But for some reason, coffee shops here get away with serving semi-strong drip coffee by the litre. Reshifting your preferences to enjoying smaller quantities of higher quality products will carry over from what you drink to the food you eat and can have a profound impact on your relationship with food. The most beneficial application of the moderation principle is when you enjoy a treat.
You can have a taste or a small portion size of something without it spiraling into a binge. Changing my mentality from ‘go hard or go home,’ whether that be “eating clean” into deprivation or binging on junk food once in a while, is something I personally have ample space to improve upon. A more balanced approach to nutrition is healthier both mentally and physically.
Another subtle benefit to eating in moderation, and the reason why Europeans can stay thin (other than the incessant smoking) regardless of eating what appears to be an unhealthy diet, is caloric restriction.
By eating in moderation throughout the day, the end result is being in a state of caloric maintenance or even a deficit which translates to maintaining or losing weight.
Even better, if you can change your relationship with food to being content with smaller portion sizes and leaving the table a little hungry then this can serve as a fantastic and eventually effortless way to lose and maintain weight.
The mantra I’m working towards holding myself to is less but better, portion size is moderation, and take the time to do things right.
Whether it’s over morning coffee at the local cafe or wine and appetizers from early afternoon into the evening, Europeans know how to relax. If you’re anything like me, your Type A personality doesn’t let you sit still for more than a couple of minutes without springing into action or feeling guilty that you aren’t doing something.
Consequently, this can have elevating impacts on stress levels which as we learned by studying The Blue Zones is detrimental to longevity. One’s ability to deal with stress, the skill of distress tolerance, has profound effects on both daily well-being and overall lifespan.
One of the best ways to decrease stress is by slowing down and spending time socializing with those who make you feel good. In addition, feeling like you belong to a social group and receiving the support, positive behaviour reinforcement, and overall good feeling from time spent with those near to you will fill your life with good habits and a sense of joy and belonging.
I was able to get into this state of just relaxing with a drink, good company, and enjoying the sights around me a few times during my trip. It was truly quite enjoyable. I left feeling relaxed, joyous, and excited to continue my day with a more grounded state of mind.
Adopting the habit of eating slowly and emphasizing the social aspect of mealtime won’t only greatly reduce stress and increase positive emotion but will greatly contribute to helping eat in moderation.
Active Throughout the Day
I always watch with irony when someone hops in the elevator to ride up to the gym instead of opting for the staircase right beside it. Going for a workout doesn’t give you a hall pass to sit around for the rest of the day. Of course, it’s important to have scheduled and planned exercise sessions but I would argue it’s of equal importance to be active throughout the rest of your day.
Take the stairs, go for a walk at lunch and after dinner, use a standing desk, play a pick-up sport, garden, or integrate some manual work into your days. It can be very simple and easy to stay active throughout the day and it’s a surefire way to boost your mood, reduce stress, and help you stay at a healthy weight.
Oftentimes when you’re served a coffee in certain parts of Europe, they accompany it with a glass of water. Although I can near guarantee that this wasn’t their intention, I loved the idea.
Coffee generally doesn’t have a substantial dehydrating effect, but depending on the amount of caffeine it can impact your hydration status. A glass of water along with your coffee not only prevents potential dehydration, but it helps get rid of any coffee breath after your cuppa.
Against the Norm
Adopting habits that are largely against the cultural norm of where you live is a difficult feat as everything from the advertising you see to those around you are reinforcing the opposite.
However, pulling out positive aspects of how different cultures live and proposing specific lifestyle changes to experiment with over a predetermined period of time to your family and friends can be a fun challenge. You may pick up some positive habits or find a new way of living that you prefer to the cultural norm you’ve grown accustomed to.
Experiment, adapt to make it uniquely your own, keep what’s useful, and discard the rest.
Challenge of The Week
Over the next week, I propose two challenges for you to tackle…
Walk a minimum of 6,000 steps per day (your smartphone has a step counting ability so no excuses).
Have one slow meal with family or friends. The focus on food and drinks should take a backseat to conversation and relaxation.
If you take on the challenge, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your experience or include a photo of you completing the challenges by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or shooting me a message @jackrossdixon on Instagram. I’ll get back to you with my progress and how successful I’ve been in continuing with these habits – I always respond.