By Prof. Jelena Hélène Cvejić, PhD
Lifestyle – the way we live and act every day has a profound influence on the quality of our lives. It doesn’t just affect our perception of happiness, it also plays an important role in our overall health, potentially influencing both the development and even the reversal of certain diseases.
Ever since I delved deeper into the realm of Lifestyle and Quality of Life (QoL) I’ve come to realize that sometimes people don’t make a clear distinction between these terms. Let’s be clear, the Lifestyle I wish to talk about is not related to the materialistic aspects. It stands apart from the well-known concept of a ‘luxury lifestyle’ – usually marked with typical status symbols.
The lifestyle I’m referring to relates to our everyday life. It encompasses the entirety of our daily existence. It comprises the way we eat, the choices we make in terms of physical activity, our interactions with others, the structure of our work routines, and the rhythm of our sleep patterns. Moreover, it includes how we perceive life itself, our moments of relaxation, and much more.
On the other hand, quality of life emerges as an outcome of our chosen lifestyle. It reflects the condition of our health as well as the level of satisfaction and happiness we experience. This concept is deeply entwined with our perception of our overall position in life influencing our experiences and shaping our journey through it.
It’s well known that the Mediterranean diet significantly contributes to our health. Yet, researchers suggest that the broader Mediterranean lifestyle pattern may be just as, or perhaps even more, important. In contrast to what we often refer to as the ‘Western lifestyle,’ which is linked to a higher occurrence of various diseases, science indicates that embracing the traditional Mediterranean way of life could considerably reduce these risks.
The Mediterranean lifestyle encompasses not only the famed Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, healthy fats, fish, fermented dairy products etc., but also a sense of conviviality and additional aspects. It’s about sharing meals, connecting with those around us, spending more time outdoors, engaging in physical activity and immersing ourselves in nature. These elements are scientifically proven to have a significant positive impact on our overall health, resilience, and indeed, our quality of life.
On the contrary, the Western lifestyle is marked by sedentary behavior, typically involving spending considerable amounts of time without moving, often in front of various screens. It is also characterized by a high consumption of unhealthy food, including those rich in added sugars, unhealthy fats and artificial additives. In addition, frequently experienced sustained stress levels, along with insufficient sleep, when conjoined with the above-mentioned factors, create an environment conducive to the development of various health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and more.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Why is all this important? It’s undeniable that we achieved greater longevity. Life expectancy at birth in Europe was around 35 years in 1800, expanded to 50 years by 1920, and reached 80 in 2019. However, is mere longevity truly what we seek? It’s finally becoming increasingly evident that the focus should shift towards how we spend these ‘additional’ years that have been ‘gained’ through advancement in science and technology.
It’s now more about the quality of life, about preserving our mental, physical, and emotional well-being, ensuring our ability to cope with everyday life and above all to enjoy it. Each of us has forged distinct daily ‘paths’ over the years, shaped by our goals, wishes, personal adaptability, and determination. Yet, in reality, those routines are also significantly molded by external influences and specific circumstances, which can often prove challenging to manage.
However, do we truly have a conscious perception of our Lifestyle? At times, we may believe we’ve crafted a particular lifestyle, only to find that our day-to-day reality often diverges from the ideal. Admittedly, adhering to our aspirations and plans isn’t always straightforward. However, in this case, it’s worth the effort.
A healthy lifestyle is associated with the number of so-called ‘disease-free life years’ (DFLY), which shows an inverse relationship with the number of risk factors present in your daily life. By eliminating certain risk factors (such as an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity etc.), you can potentially add up to an additional 9 years in your life without experiencing certain diseases. In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 60% of factors influencing an individual’s health and overall quality of life are closely tied to their lifestyle choices and behaviors.
MAKE A CHANGE
To transform your lifestyle, slow down and seek out the activities you enjoy, the environment that you feel nice and relaxed in. Surround yourself with company that you can laugh or be silent with. It’s also about managing stress, taking a break, and learning to play again. Shift the perspective, find moments to unwind and breathe, and start noticing the changes in the quality of your life.
At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that it’s not about ‘luxury’. In fact, leading and managing your lifestyle, in a manner that empowers you to fully enjoy all aspects of your life and elevate your quality of life to new heights – that, to me, is the essence of true luxury. And it depends mainly on you. To start with, just observe. Just pay a bit of attention to your lifestyle. It truly deserves it.
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to Milos Starcevic for comprehensive text editing.
Prof. Jelena Helene Cvejić, Ph.D., is a scientist dedicated to utilising scientifically based lifestyle interventions that encompass nutrition, physical activity, and stress management for enhancing the quality of life. She is passionate about exploring how our daily lifestyle choices impact the quality of our lives. Specialised in nutrition, she takes pleasure in crafting and preparing healthy and delicious meals. She is a co-founder of Serbian College of Lifestyle Medicine, a certified Lifestyle Medicine advisor and a member of the Mediterranean Lifestyle Medicine Institute.
The article was first published in Issue 26