Don’t forget your daily passeggiata.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that eating lots of carbs, drinking alcohol, being unemployed, and possibly smoking would be a recipe for poor health. But in its most recent Global Health Index, Bloomberg just revealed that the Italians—even with their struggling economy, relatively high tobacco use, and low spending on healthcare—are in fact the healthiest citizens on earth.
Using data from the World Health Organization, the United Nations Population Division, and the World Bank, the study’s authors graded 163 nations on factors like life expectancy, causes of death, and various health risks—obesity, malnutrition, and high blood pressure among them. Italy ended up with a score of 93.11. For comparison’s sake, the United States ended up in 34th place (just before Croatia but behind Costa Rica) with an abysmal score of 73.05.
In light of this news, we caught up with Natalie Kennedy, proprietor of the delightful expat blog An American in Romeand a contributor to Live Like an Italian, for her on-the-ground advice for any Americans who might wish to adopt a more Italian way of life for the sake of their health. She suggested these five lifestyle changes to make for you to be number one while your fellow countrymen dilly-dally all the way down in 34th place. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out The 100 Easiest Ways to Be a Healthier Man Right Now.
Yes, Adopt a Mediterranean Diet
There’s a reason Italy has an obesity rate more than 5 points lower than nearby Great Britain. And no, this does not mean you should start chomping on pizza every night. It simply boils down to one core concept: “everything in moderation.” No one counts calories or cheat days. Italians just focus on eating well—fresh meats and vegetables, and sauces that are “homemade,” says Kennedy, “rather than canned atrocities loaded up with cream, salt, and sugar.” For more healthy eating advice, here are 10 Painless Ways to Upgrade Your Diet.
“Leisure time is taken very seriously in Italy,” says Kennedy. The average Italian puts in 36 hours per week. On top of that, national laws cap labor at 40 hours per week, with no more than 8 additional hours of overtime. If any employee exceeds those limits, their employer faces fines. Oh, and Italians also get a blessed four weeks of vacation time per year. “The first thing Italians like to ask Americans is, ‘Is it true you only get two weeks of vacation a year!?’ ” Yes, it’s true. And yes, we’re jealous.
Connect More with Your Loved Ones
By working less, you get the added benefit of enjoying time with the wife, kids, friends—maybe even the folks. Alone time is essential, but “nothing can bum you out faster than feeling isolated,” says Kennedy. “Italians rely upon friends and family.”
Also, they’re not afraid to reach out to their social networks to stay connected. If an Italian ever needs help with something, they—in the vein of every mob movie, ever—“always know a guy.”
Go on a Pre-Dinner Walk
Start taking a passeggiata—what the Italians call a daily walk before dinner—which is something of a national pastime. “It is the break between work and play, a chance to catch up with friends and neighbors, and a good excuse for a bit of exercise,” says Kennedy. “But not too much exercise. Remember: everything in moderation.”
Develop a Healthy Relationship with Alcohol
“Italian living is about enjoyment, not excess,” says Kennedy. To that end, most Italians will uncork a bottle of wine and enjoy a glass or two with dinner—without even thinking about it.” On the other hand, the binge drinking that is so prevalent in America and elsewhere in Europe is basically unheard of. So enjoy that glass, don’t chug it. And for more amazing advice for living smarter, looking better, feeling younger, and playing harder.