From spices to siestas, we can learn a lot from other cultures when it comes to staying healthy…
GettyFit yoga teacher making Sukhasana (Easy Pose)
Eat real food
“France may be our neighbour but the obesity and heart disease rates are far lower, despite them eating more dietary fat,” says Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Meat Advisory Panel.
That’s because they tend to eat high-quality food and fresh, local, seasonal produce, which leaves them more satisfied and less likely to snack.
Get the habit: Eat “real” food, such as cheese, yoghurt and bread, in moderation rather than low-fat or diet versions. And include the cornerstones of the traditional Mediterranean diet – olive oil, nuts, fish, lean meat, vegetables and fresh fruit – instead of relying on packets and ready-meals.
GettyBeautiful woman eating a tomato on the beachBeautiful woman eating a tomato on the beach
Have a siesta
The Spanish and Greeks have long extolled the benefits of having a short sleep in the afternoon. A nap after lunch can help reduce stress, boost cardiovascular functions and improve alertness and memory, according to a report from the Spanish Society of Primary Care Physicians.
This echoes a recent Nasa study that showed that when pilots were allowed to take a nap for 26 minutes during their working hours, their efficiency increased by 34%.
Get the habit: Shut your eyes for a maximum of 30 minutes in a comfortable armchair – not in bed to avoid entering deep sleep. Set an alarm just in case!
Cook with spices
Whether you love Indian curries or Mexican fajitas, eating spicy foods could help you to lose weight and protect against dementia.
According to studies, turmeric – a spice found in many curries – could help to slow the onset of Alzheimer’s, which may explain the low incidence of the disease among the ageing population in India.
Hot chilli peppers can speed up your metabolism and make you eat more slowly, giving the brain more time to register that you are full.
Get the habit: Stock up your store cupboard and get into the habit of using spices to add flavour instead of salt and pepper.
GettySpices with Mortars and PestlesSpices with Mortars and Pestles
Choose fish rather than meat
Take inspiration from Japanese and Scandinavian diets and go for fish over red meat.
Recent studies have linked a high intake of red meat to bowel and breast cancer as well as heart disease.
Aim to eat a wide variety of fish. White fish, such as cod and haddock, are low in fat while oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, trout, salmon and pilchards, are rich in heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
Get the habit: Try canned and frozen as well as fresh fish but avoid deep-fried fish or fish coated in batter or breadcrumbs, as these are higher in fat and low in nutrients. Visit nhs.uk/livewell/goodfood for more details.
Drink wine with meals
Rather than opening a bottle because you’re watching the TV or because you’ve had a stressful day, try adopting the Mediterranean practice of drinking wine with meals – and savour each sip. This reduces the health risks associated with alcohol as well as the calories!
Get the habit: Have a glass of red wine with dinner for its heart health benefits.
Ditch the car
There are more bikes than people in Denmark and the Netherlands, where cycling is the preferred method of transport. But even if hopping on a bike isn’t feasible, try to be more active generally, says fitness expert Janey Holliday ( fitforaprincess.co.uk ). A recent study found that reducing the amount of time you spend sitting could boost your life expectancy by up to two years!
Get the habit: Walk more. Get up from your desk and move, pace while talking on the phone, always take the stairs and only drive if you can’t possibly walk to where you need to go.
Do a de-stressing exercise regime
“Yoga has been a staple of Indian life for over 5,000 years to prevent illness and stress,” says Christianne Wolff, celebrity trainer and author of The Body Rescue Plan ( bodyrescue.net ).
“And the Chinese have used Tai Chi for thousands of years with similar benefits. Raising your energy levels while lowering your adrenalin levels teaches you to really tap into your inner strength,” she adds.
Get the habit: While any exercise is better than none, we tend to focus on sports and cardiovascular exercise, which use adrenaline and therefore raise stress levels, explains Christianne. So try to incorporate yoga or Pilates moves into your fitness schedule to reduce stress.
Eat at the table
“You would never see a French person having a TV dinner!” says Christianne. “This means they have an awareness of how much they consume and are not eating under stress.
“They also really celebrate food and see it as a sensual experience combined with a social love of life, typically spending two hours having a big lunch and a small supper.
“This allows time to digest and absorb the nutrients of the food and feel full.” And a recent study found that children who eat at the table with their families at mealtimes are up to 40% less likely to be overweight.
Get the habit: Make meal times a family affair – a time to catch up on news and spend time together. Take your time, pause between mouthfuls and savour the flavours and textures of the food.