From quaffing the occasional glass of wine to appreciating cucina povera, or even diving into passionate love affairs with careless abandon, Italians have a reputation for living life to the fullest. Not all Italians have healthy habits – smoking kills even if accessorised with a stylish suit, Marcello-Mastroianni-style – but try out these traditions, customs and rituals practiced in the bel paese and you could lift your spirits, improve your mental wellbeing and even live longer.
Italy is officially the world’s healthiest nation, enjoying lower blood pressure, less cholesterol and more robust mental health than its Canadian, American and British counterparts. Following a balanced, nutrient-rich diet is a big part of this, so do as the Italians do and eat locally sourced fruits and vegetables, filling whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats like olive oil.
Italians love wine – as a nation, they get through 13.6 billion glasses a year – and drinking it in moderation can be good for your health. Studies have shown that people who enjoy a glass of red with dinner have lower cholesterol levels, less chance of cardiovascular disease and even a reduced risk of mortality.
Just as important as what’s on the menu is who you sit down at the table to eat with. Spending mealtimes with family is still a key part of Italian food culture – good news, as research shows that people who eat together are healthier, show fewer signs of depression and have a more positive outlook on life.
While being tardy for a business meeting might not be a good idea, turning up at social events 10 minutes later than everyone else really is no big deal in Italy. Do as the Romans do and adopt a carefree attitude towards lateness and you could find yourself less stressed, more optimistic and enthusiastic, and ultimately, more successful.
The Italian love of coffee runs deep, and downing multiple espressos in a day is easily done when you’re on first-name terms with your local barista. Drinking coffee is associated with a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, with – for some conditions – the largest benefit to be had by consuming three or four cups a day.
Taking a passeggiata, or short stroll, happens all across Italy in the biggest cities and smallest towns, usually in the afternoon or early evening. The purpose is to socialise with friends and family, escape the daily grind and clear the head – and even a slow 20-minute walk burns around 80 calories.
These days, the idea that wet hair causes sickness is generally considered to be an old wives’ tale. In Italy, however, this belief is widely held to be true – so leave the house without blow-drying at your peril. While we now know a virus causes the common cold, there could be some method in the Italians’ madness. One theory suggests there could be an increased risk of getting sick due to cold – and therefore constricted – blood vessels being less able to transport infection-fighting white blood cells around the body.