As I wander down to the beach at sunrise every morning to exercise, the same couple is there watching the sunrise. They light a cigarette, saunter down to the water and steal glances at my husband and me grunting through push-ups, sit-ups, and the like.
Today is my birthday and I can’t help but feel a little irked. The Italians drink more wine, smoke more cigarettes, eat more sweets and carbohydrates, exercise less, and work fewer hours than their American counterparts and they live an average of 3.37 years longer than we do! There are many theories about why this is the case, from the Mediterranean diet to the benefits of red wine. Here is my first hand, disgruntled birthday view . . .
Every day in Italy I see:
- Both parents playing with their children
- Three or four generations walking together
- Families sitting down for at least one meal, usually two
- Men and women over 80 riding bicycles or walking through town for errands
- Friends and family participating in passeggiata – which means walking and talking and greeting with no agenda except, perhaps, to show off your new clothes!
- People shopping for only the food for that day – fresh fish and vegetables. No one-stop shopping at Walmart!
- A pace, even in the big cities, that is much slower than the United States
- So much less choice in even the massive supermarkets. There are fewer processed and prepared foods and usually out of season produce is non-existent.
As my children tell me about their Italian teachers smoking and drinking espresso on the playground, and I am trying to find something to prepare besides pasta at the supermarket, my frustration mounts. I continue to research and ask many Italians we know questions. Are they more satisfied with their government or hopeful about their economy? No and no! And the onset of heart disease and cancer and diabetes is much later for Italians so their quality of life is better for longer.
The secret is family, friends, and fresh, whole foods. From our perspective, living in this community (and a few others across Italy), Italians take the time to connect with each other, remain geographically closer to their extended family, drive less, walk more, and spend more time around the table.
While I appreciate knowing all I have learned about the dangers of smoking and carbohydrates and gluten, the Italians turn it all on its head with dizzying success! For my birthday this year, and to quote the man who smokes on the beach every morning during my workout, “tranquille, piano, signora . . . “ Slow down, relax, lady.