Europe. It’s a beautiful continent with a long, rich history. I’ve always felt privileged to have such close ties to it, as both of my parents were raised there, and the majority of my extended family still lives there.
Having visited a handful of times myself, I’ve learned that Europeans have some great health habits we could all learn from. Yes, Europe is made up of many beautiful and unique cultures, and I know that I’m simplifying things on a massive scale by lumping them all together, but here’s a few things I’ve noticed that are a trend throughout European nations:
1. Forego the To-Go cup
I read recently that Finns drink twice as much coffee as Americans do, and the Dutch even more! But they rarely, if ever, drink it on the go. I noticed this on my own travels as well: coffee is a big part of culture in many European countries, but they almost always take the time to sit down and enjoy it. My parents still do this regularly. They go to Starbucks, order their coffee in real mugs, and sit for at least 20 minutes and chat. With each other. No phones.
I also recently took myself on a date to Starbucks and noticed the couple sitting next to me doing the same thing. Among the sea of busy patrons on their laptops, this pair stood out. They were talking to each other, and both seemed to be really engaged in the conversation. The language they were speaking? German. I’m not saying we as North Americans never do that, but I know that I for one aim to be more mindful of how I take my coffee breaks - starting with going inside, rather than through the drive-thru.
Sometimes it’s not what you eat or drink, but how.
2. Walk (or bike) to breakfast
My sister spent nearly a year living in Berlin a few years ago, and I remember her telling me: “You know what I love about Berlin? I wake up, walk downstairs, bike to the coffee shop for my croissant and coffee, and the guy there knows me by name!” Definitely community is important (see #4), but so is making movement part of your daily routine. There is much less of a gym culture in Europe, but there is also less obesity. Why? I think a lot of it has to do with their walkable cities and that of the 20 Most Bike-Friendly Cities in the World, 17 of them are European.
Whenever I visit Europe, I either walk or take the train everywhere I go. It's a great way to explore a new city, and stay fit and healthy!
3. Cook at home
I mentioned in a previous blog post that one of the best things you can do for your health (and wallet!) is to cook at home. I was lucky enough to learn how to cook from a young age, and it’s been a great benefit to me in adulthood. I remember sitting on the counter as a young girl while our Hungarian nanny, Ilona, cooked up delicious soups, stews, and desserts. My favourite was when she’d let me help her with the fondant flowers for my birthday cake. By learning the basics early, I’ve been able to expand on them and experiment with different recipes on my own - which I can now share with all of you!
4. Spend time with family
While this may not be as relevant as it once was, Europeans have traditionally placed a heavy emphasis on family. (Have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding?!) One of the best examples of this is the Roseto Effect. If you’ve never heard of it, it was a study done in the 1950’s on a close-knit Italian community in Pennsylvania. Despite the members of the community eating pasta, lard, and large amounts of red wine, they had drastically reduced rates of heart disease and heart attacks, compared to their American (non-Italian) counterparts. The researchers concluded that strong social ties accounted for the difference in health issues, and that as the community became more “Americanized”, their rates of disease and heart attack rose to meet the American average.
Whether it’s your biological relatives or a community that you’ve chose as your family, find your tribe and make time for them. They may help you live a longer and healthier life!
So there you have it. Four European health habits that have nothing to do with kale. I’d love to hear from you - have you found these to be true? If you’ve been to Europe, what would you add to the list? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!