Jump In Wherever You Are
This is the time of year I post my columns from a small, impossible-to-get-to Greek island in the Aegean, where heavy loads are still moved by donkey.
It's not a vacation, I remind family, friends and business associates. It's where I live for a few sunny months; it's where I come to slow down, turn off the TV-well, I don't have one-and study the celebrated Mediterranean diet up close and personal. That means daily doses of local goat cheese, tomatoes that taste like tomatoes, and wild greens called horta, lightly dressed with extra virgin olive oil pressed by a friend in the next village.
The Mediterranean style of eating is not a fad, as in passing. It's still considered the gold standard for healthy eating, and if you're not sure why, check out the delicious food philosophy at www.Oldwayspt.org.
Their mission makes me smile: to "encourage people to seek out the joys of good food and drinks, well prepared and consumed with pleasure, in the company of family and friends." Ahhh ...
Of course, the Med diet is not for everyone. Someone born in Singapore will not resonate with feta and olives. But it's become wildly popular in the U.S-sales of hummus, yogurt and whole grains are booming-because it's based on real food and generous amounts of healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, and wine. And it's easy to follow when you're eating out.
On my Greek island-traditional, no airport, with blessed Internet-we eat out often, socializing at the end of the day at friends' houses or family tavernas that pour their local wines from small glass pitchers.
And that's another part of the Mediterranean lifestyle worth toasting.
It's not just the healthy food. Relaxing with friends-making human contact over a coffee, an ouzo, a stroll around town-is one of the best things you can do to lessen your stress and increase your longevity, according to the Blue Zone researchers at www.bluezones.com.
They study Greek islands like mine. (I watch the sun set over Ikaria, a Blue Zone of exceptional longevity, from the roof.) Want to live longer?Schmooze more; fret less. And be grateful.
Staring into space is a time-honored tradition here. Guys call it fishing. The pace of life is slower; the moments of life more appreciated. Of course, there is great suffering too-salaries and pensions have been slashed; there is crushing unemployment-and friends struggle, innovate, survive.
But where you live is a great influence on your well-being. When you spend time in a community that values friendship and leisure time, as well as hard work, you experience the richness of a more balanced life.
On this island, for example, it's perfectly acceptable that shops close down in the afternoon and reopen a few hours later, after you've gone home, had lunch with your kids, and rested. Imagine that.
On the darker side, you probably can't imagine how many Greeks still smoke cigarettes. Though the law says you're forbidden to smoke in a public bar or restaurant, people still do.
"But it's the law!" I said to my local barkeep, choking on fumes while listening to some sweet bouzouki. "In Greece," he whispered, "laws are more like suggestions."
As your most personal trainer, I suggest you start looking for ways to create some Med-style moments in your own life, wherever you live. (Except for the smoking part.)
It's not just the fresh food you eat, it's also the choices you make, from where you shop (local markets) to how much you buy. (The shopping cart only arrived at my island four years ago.)
Here the stores are small, and choices are limited. Less is more. But in a short while I'll be back in the land of More is Never Enough. How will I keep it simple? How will I stay connected to what counts?
That's my cue to stop, breathe, put on my running shoes and go find some goats, remembering my Epicurus: