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Jul 31, 2011 BY Joy McCarthy

The Venetian Lifestyle: 4 Observations Of A Slim City

—  found in  Well-being  —

I've recently returned from my trip to Austria and Italy. I wrote this post while I was away to share my observations on the Venetian lifestyle. Why? Because we can learn from these observations -- how to live happier and healthier!

As I was relaxing into my daily afternoon siesta after walking around for hours in the hot Venetian sun, I came to the realization that every local person I see is healthy-looking and somewhat fit. When I say "fit" I don't mean the iron-pumping, protein-shake-slurping-kind. What I mean is, you really don't see any obesity in Venice – people are slim. This is due to a variety of reasons which I'm going to outline here.

Observation 1: Diet.

We've all heard that the Venetian (Mediterranean diet) is the healthiest and a report in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" states that a Mediterranean, Italian-style diet -- such as the Venetian diet -- is definitely beneficial to overall health, particularly heart health. Fish and seafood, as featured in the Venetian diet, are excellent sources of lean protein, good fats and the use of fresh produce in Venetian cooking provides vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

The American Journal is right. In a nutshell, Venetians don't eat fast food or processed phood-like items. In fact, when I went grocery shopping in Italy, it was hard to find much junk. There wasn't an entire aisle of salad dressing concoctions. Instead, there was olive oil and balsamic vinegar. There wasn't a snack food aisle full of chips, cheese puffs and pop tarts. Instead, there were bakeries with fresh homemade breads made with few ingredients. There was no Kraft Dinner or Chef Boyardee. There were many markets scattered all throughout Venice with fresh fruits and vegetables. Fish markets, cheese markets, butchers with food that WILL go rotten if not eaten within a few days (this is a good thing, a sign of "real" food).

Observation 2: Lifestyle (They know how to chill out!)

Locals take naps and shut down stores mid afternoon for a few hours to relax and rejuvenate. While we North Americans get cross-eyed staring at our computer for hours on end, skip lunch, sometimes work 10-12 hours to come home and become hypnotized by our televisions. We can learn a thing or two about taking a break. Stress causes 99% of disease. We need to take time to chill out. Even if it is a five minute break from our computer to walk around the office.

Observation 3: Social Interactions

I noticed that every cafe/bar/restaurant we travelled to, no one, I really mean no one, was staring down at their blackberries or ipods/iphones. They were visibly and joyfully engaged in conversation. They didn't suffer from any ADD-like symptoms either. Meaning, they were totally in the present moment. I feel like you can't go anywhere in the city of Toronto without 95% of the people being attached to their cell phone, (myself included)!

Observation 4: They walk – everywhere!

Obviously in Venice, you don't have much of a choice, walking is your mode of transportation. But I've noticed the same to be true in most European cities I've visited in the past that a large majority of people walk and/or ride a bike. There aren't fitness gyms everywhere, but there are people everywhere walking, rain or shine.

Observation 5: They drink wine.

Now I'm slightly joking here and you've likely heard all the studies ie. "The French/Italian Paradox" how they have less heart disease despite their saturated fat consumption and it's been theorized that it's because they drink wine. I'm not saying that wine is the reason there is less heart disease because alcohol pretty much negates the benefits of the antioxidants found in wine and you are far better off to eat grapes, if obtaining antioxidants is your goal.

People are more social and seem to engage more, but not to the point of being completely intoxicated (at least the bars I was hanging out at). Now I'm sure just like any big city there is a lot of drunkeness going on. Point of all this being, they are more social, therefore they seem to live life to the fullest more often than North Americans do. Studies prove this, people who have strong social networks (no, not facebook, twitter or LinkedIn), live longer.

Are there any observations you've taken note of having travelled somewhere new?

Jul 31, 2011 BY Joy McCarthy
11 Comments
Cynthia   •   July 31, 2011

Great points. The road to a healthy fit life is so more a matter of what we take out of it than what we need to add. Sure we might need to add exercise, but if we take out some of the 'busyness' and stress, we will go along way to being Venetian :)

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Suzanne Williams   •   July 31, 2011

You could not be more correct. My fiance and I lived there (Italy-Val di Fassa--North) for 6mos a couple of years ago. WE didn't work out nearly as hard and ate worse (carbs, etc) and lost weight. It was actually not difficult. We weren't even trying to lose. Everything is so fresh and stress free. We napped everyday too. Might as well, nothing else to do. Bread was hard as a rock w/in 2 days. You're right though, we walked everywhere--to the grocery, bakery and there's a different place for everything. Fish store, butcher, bakery, groceries, etc. I found it easy to eat well there. I find it very difficult to get the "freshness" here though. Glad you had a good time. Suzanne

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Joy McCarthy   •   August 1, 2011

Erica Robinson   •   July 31, 2011

I love the Venetian lifestyle :) I was totally there! And while I agree their general lifestyle sets them up for better health, and that the Mediterranean diet is healthier than the Standard American Diet, there is definitely no research to definitively show it is the best or healthiest diet. Species-specific paleolithic eating (eg the original human diet) always yields better results in every study in which it is compared to the Mediterranean diet. And oddly the paleolithic and ketogenic diets are far more often used in studies for therapeutic results than the Mediterranean diet ever is. But that's just me and my science-oriented opinion speaking :)

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Joy McCarthy   •   August 1, 2011

Ashley   •   August 3, 2011

This is a really good post. Its so true - Europeans (especially Italians) have such a different outlook on food. They really spend a lot of time sourcing quality ingredients and then spend just as much time properly cooking them. Another thing I noticed over there was that they still enjoyed sweet desserts, albeit with moderation. They eat really good, small portioned desserts...ones that you really savor and enjoy. None of the low-grade sweets we have hear like pop tarts or cheap chocolate bars.

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Jeanette   •   August 9, 2011

Love the article Joy! I also noticed how slim people were when I went to Italy a few years ago. In fact, the less healthy looking folks always seemed to be tourists. I love all your observations, but I REALLY love number 2 and 3 because it's so easy to forget the value of taking a break and disconnecting from work and technology.

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Kristina   •   January 18, 2012

It makes sense that there wasn't an entire isle of salad dressings. A simple misxture of olive oil and lemon with a pinch of salt is the perfect dressing for most salads. Although I like balsamic vinegar and olive oil on salad as well, I've stopped using balsamic vinegar because of the sugar found in grocery store brands (at least the once I come accross). Is there an authentic brand of balsamic vinegar you would recommend? Thanks Joy!

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