Even back as a medical student, I’ve seen multiple doctors burst out in tears (during office hours) because of how stressed they are. The hospital life is busy, hectic and full of communication problems – all the while you’re trying to give patients the best care you can. While making other people healthier, many doctors ignore their own stress .. making me marvel at the irony.
Whether you are a doctor, a cook or a ballerina, your health comes first. No matter what kind of job you do, it’s always a wise decision to take a holiday, go far away or stay at home, as long as you just – relax.
Last September, I took a 17-day break for a holiday on a semi-isolated Mediterranean island (you’ve seen the Mediterranean photos flashing by on Instagram).
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According to scientific research, living a Mediterranean lifestyle is not only a promising intervention for type 2 diabetes patients but seems to have an important role in protecting us from heart disease. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet might protect against dementia (Adherence to a Mediterranean-Style Diet and Effects on Cognition in Adults, Front Nutr 2016) and seems to be a natural antioxidant, so hooray for that! (The Mediterranean Lifestyle as a Non-Pharmacological and Natural Antioxidant for Healthy Aging, Antioxidants 2015).
Blue zones, the areas in the world with most healthy centenarians (read the New York Times article: “The island where people forget to die”), also emphasize the importance of diet, in combination with lifestyle as key players in staying healthy up to old age.
If you go on holiday and bring your normal life/style with you, not much will change.
Since I was happy to try out the Mediterranean lifestyle, I agreed to:
- no laptop, no TV
- no internet access (occasional social media = okay, but hours on Facebook = no-no)
- books instead of digital screens
- notebooks instead of word docs
- no processed foods from the supermarket
- local food from the farmer’s market & traditional restaurants
- local lifestyle (flexibility as opposed to planning, patience as opposed to rushing)
- lots of walks
- limiting intense exercise (so, no running at noon!)
I always try to make my life as the Mediterranean as possible, but actually being on a secluded island was more fantastic than I could have hoped for!!
On day 1 to 3, I was still on work-mode. I woke up a bit tired, planned a full day of activities, had a quick bite to eat when it was convenient, looked around sights, went to the beach, had a big dinner etc.
By day 17, I was waking up with the sunrise, doing yoga before breakfast, taking a walk to get some fresh fruits, stopping at the beach for a swim, enjoy prolonged eating times (eat what you want, when you want, as long as it’s fresh & local), napping freely in the afternoons, strolling lazily wherever I was going to, partying at night and still waking up refreshed!
The island (Hvar, Croatia) is a touristic place, but still semi-isolated. It’s very self-sufficient, which also makes it limited in some ways. There are no hospitals and no midwives. Pregnant women must leave the island a couple of weeks before their due date to temporarily live on the coast in a city where there is a hospital/midwives.
The fishermen catch fresh fish every day, but if the Southern winds blow too hard one day, the fisherman don’t go out to sea, and there is no fish on the whole island. The plus side: if there is fish, the fish is local, and restaurants get fresh supplies daily.
After spending a few mornings at the beach when it is still quiet & tourist-free, it became obvious to me that all the locals know each other. They were shouting and chatting across the beach, asking each other how they’re doing, how their cousin is doing, and how the renovation of their cousins’ cousin’s house is going. The whole island is connected – everyone knows everyone’s business, and that’s alright.
There is an undeniable love for the sea. Most of the locals are elderly – and the impressive thing is that most of them seem to have a habit of taking a swim in the sea every morning. Even school kids jump into the sea, over and over again, having fun and laughing – all in the middle of their school day during breaks or free periods.
There was a general sense of wanting to be outside and be active.
(MODERATELY) ACTIVE LIFESTYLE
You won’t find locals jogging. Every single jogger is a tourist, no doubt. The locals would be crazy to be caught running in the heat – getting around the island is already being active enough! Because of the island’s rough terrain, getting anywhere requires walking up/down couple flights of stairs or a hill. I must have spent 3-4 hours each day just walking around – squats were no longer needed. Idyllic!
Related: active lifestyle may help prevent endometrial and ovarian cancer, scientific review.
I already live an active lifestyle, but being away inspired me to enjoy the activity even more (it didn’t hurt that the weather was great). I did yoga almost every day, aside from swimming, snorkelling and jogging (yes, because I was a tourist). It felt amazing. I can highly recommend moderate activity throughout the day as the way to feel fit!
Here’s the view I had on my daily walks:
FOOD, WINE & LAVANDER
Mediterranean diet consists of olives, olive oil, vegetables, fruits, fish and nuts. This is how I ate. Obviously I had some pancakes and even some cookies at one point or another – and it was great!
The point is to eat not too much, mostly local and not to worry about every carb you put in your mouth.
The food on the island was simple and fresh. At the farmer’s market, you could easily buy local fruits, oils & vegetables. The island is also known for its gnocchi (potato pasta), and I had some with tuna steak in a stew, which was simply splendid. Hopefully, I’ll get to re-create the recipe and post it for you sometime soon!
Wine is abundant, especially since some of the country’s best grapes are grown on the island. Locals mostly mix the wine with water, meaning more wine but less alcohol. Smart!
During a free tour of the main town, the guide was casually telling us about local produce and ended up giving a lyric talk about the benefits of lavender. Lavender is also grown on the island and apparently used by the locals as a remedy for everything. According to the tour guide, lavender oil could treat depression, be used as anti-septic in case of wounds, and be used to improve quality of sleep. I don’t know if all the benefits of lavender are real, but the fact that the locals believe in them with such emphasis surely must at least bring about some beneficial placebo effects!
Dessert eating does happen on the island and is a very social happening. There are a couple of patisseries, including one with only traditional cakes (Nonica, Hvar) made according to someone’s grandmother’s recipes, amazing! To have dessert, people gather with their friends and enjoy a treat as well as an hour – or longer – gossip session about the current events on the island…
The way in which the locals eat and socialise in no way resembles the socially-isolated Netflix-watching dessert eating session most of us experience on a regular basis.
REST & DIGEST
I almost forgot to tell you about one of the most important things – sleep. Not only did time away from work give me a chance to wake up without an alarm clock (always a welcome change) and with sunrise (I was getting up earlier than usual with no additional effort, the sunrise was enough to get me going), it also provided me with good quality sleep.
Being active and actively relaxing (yes, that’s a thing you’ll have to do if you generally have trouble sitting still) during the day lowers stress levels and can really work wonders for the quality of your sleep.
Also: napping. The fact that you can let go of routine enough to let yourself fall asleep during the day, just for that power hour or maybe a bit more if you need it, is amazing. Be careful: if you sleep poorly at night, you should not sleep throughout the day because it will mess up your circadian rhythm even further. BUT: if you sleep well at night, there is nothing wrong in getting an hour of nap time in the afternoons, especially if you feel your body needs it. Sleep tight!
MEDITERRANEAN LIVING BACK HOME?
So I’ve had a great holiday, then I took a flight and came back home. I thought it would be fun to try and adopt some Mediterranean habits – in order to stay relaxed, well-rested and active – in my usual, hectic environment. I’ve already placed a huge plate of fruits on my work desk (check it out on my Instagram account), and more lifestyle tips to follow…
TIPS TO LIVE LIKE A MEDITERRANEAN
Other than multiple servings of fresh fruits & veggies daily, here are some wonderful tips to live more like the Mediterranean:
- Socialise: Meet up with a friend or family member, and do so often. Watch Netflix together, I don’t care – as long as you socialise! Discuss your problems, make jokes and laugh out loud together – a lot! Socialising with friends and family members is a huge part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
- Eat: Mediterraneans don’t skip meals. They eat. Eat when you want and what you want – as long as it’s fresh, local, unprocessed food.
- Be in beautiful surroundings: Beautiful views inspire us. If you don’t have a beautiful view around, find one! Ask around for a great park, a hilly part of town or even go out of the city for views of nature. It’s worth it!
- Be moderately active: Take walks during lunchtime, cycle to work, take the stairs (because in most Mediterranean offices, there is no elevator), go outside and play with your kids. There’s no need to run a marathon in order to live like the Mediterranean. It’s all about moderate activity, daily.
Will you be trying any of the tips above? Let me know in the comments!
Have a great (Mediterranean) week,
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