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Mediterranean lifestyle associated with a significantly lower risk of mortality

[Aug. 20, 2023: Ehud Zion Waldoks, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev]

Mediterranean lifestyle
Embracing a Mediterranean lifestyle can exhibit a notably decreased risk of overall mortality and, more specifically, cancer-related deaths.(CREDIT: Creative Commons)

Embracing a Mediterranean lifestyle could mean more than just indulging in a plateful of olives and feta. A recent groundbreaking study reveals that those who adhere to a lifestyle which reflects Mediterranean values — comprising a diet abundant in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, paired with habits like limited salt and sugar intake, adequate rest, and rich social interactions — exhibit a notably decreased risk of overall mortality and, more specifically, cancer-related deaths.

In a collaboration between La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this study made waves when it was recently published in the reputed Mayo Clinic Proceedings.


The health community has long recognized the advantages of the Mediterranean diet. However, a majority of this research has centered around the populations living in the Mediterranean region itself. What this new study does differently, is highlight how this lifestyle can be adapted and embraced beyond the Mediterranean basin, using locally available products, while reaping the same health benefits.

“This study suggests that it’s possible for non-Mediterranean populations to adopt the Mediterranean diet using locally available products and to adopt the overall Mediterranean lifestyle within their own cultural contexts,” remarked the lead author Mercedes Sotos Prieto.


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As a distinguished research fellow at La Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and an adjunct assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard Chan School, she further emphasized, “We’re seeing the transferability of the lifestyle and its positive effects on health.”

To understand this better, let's delve deeper into the methodology.


The research team directed their focus on the habits of a whopping 110,799 individuals, all part of the UK Biobank cohort - a broad-ranging population study spanning England, Scotland, and Wales. The age range of the participants lay between 40 and 75.

These individuals provided insights into their lifestyle via the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index. This index stands out as it does not solely focus on diet but encapsulates the broader Mediterranean lifestyle. It comprises three primary categories:

  • Mediterranean Food Consumption: This pertains to the intake of traditional Mediterranean foods, such as fruits, whole grains, and the like.

  • Mediterranean Dietary Habits: This involves adherence to specific practices surrounding meals, like curtailing salt intake and opting for healthier beverages.

  • Physical Activity, Rest, and Social Habits: This last category is a holistic representation of the Mediterranean ethos, emphasizing on regular naps, physical exercises, and enriching social interactions with peers.

Every item within these categories received a score. A higher cumulative score directly indicated a higher adherence to the Mediterranean way of life.


Nine years post this data collection, the research team returned to the participants to assess their health outcomes. The results were nothing short of startling. Of the study group:

  • 4,247 individuals had passed away due to various causes.

  • 2,401 had succumbed to cancer.

  • 731 had lost their lives to cardiovascular diseases.

The Mediterranean lifestyle was assessed at baseline through the Mediterranean Lifestyle (MEDLIFE) index, derived from the lifestyle questionnaire and diet assessments and comprising three blocks: (1) “Mediterranean food consumption,” (2) “Mediterranean dietary habits,” and (3) “physical activity, rest, social habits, and conviviality.” (CREDIT: Mayo Clinic Proceedings)

When juxtaposing these outcomes with the MEDLIFE scores, an evident inverse relationship emerged between adherence to the Mediterranean lifestyle and mortality risk. Astonishingly, those who scored higher on the MEDLIFE index experienced a 29% reduction in the overall risk of mortality and a 28% diminished risk of cancer-related mortality compared to their counterparts with lower scores.


Interestingly, when broken down, every MEDLIFE category individually showed an association with diminished risks. However, the “Physical Activity, Rest, and Social Habits” category stole the show. Not only was it most robustly linked with overall reduced mortality risks, but it also displayed a significant connection with a lowered risk of deaths due to cardiovascular ailments.

Mercedes Sotos Prieto

In a world rapidly urbanizing and globalizing, lifestyles often pay the price. Amidst this, the Mediterranean lifestyle emerges as a beacon of holistic well-being, emphasizing balance, wellness, and community. This study not only highlights the transferable benefits of such a lifestyle but also underscores the importance of looking beyond diet and focusing on wholesome living. In essence, the Mediterranean way is more than a diet; it’s a lifestyle choice that promises longevity and health.


Key points:

  • In a study of adults in the United Kingdom, those who adhered closely to a Mediterranean lifestyle—including eating a healthy, plant-based diet with limited added salts and sugars and getting adequate rest, exercise, and socialization—were found to have a 29% lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 28% lower risk of cancer mortality compared to those who were nonadherent to the lifestyle.

  • Adherence to Mediterranean lifestyle habits around adequate rest, exercise, and socialization was most strongly associated with lower risk of all-cause and cancer mortality, and was independently associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Content may be edited for style and length.


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