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Is it just us, or is “wellness” the buzzword of the decade? We’re all about it, though it also seems like the U.S. is only now catching up on healthy habits that the Italians have been doing forever.
Think: Slowing down to appreciate what we’re eating, who we’re eating with, and moving our bodies in meaningful ways. These healthy habits are why we have so much love for the Italian way of life.
Be it their refreshing relationship with time, a bath culture dating back to the Romans, and leisurely walking rituals, we’re making every effort to incorporate these five Italian healthy habits into our wellness routines at home and abroad.
Five Italian Healthy Habits
Read on for five tips for a healthy lifestyle, Italian style:
Embrace “Dolce Far Niente”
The first healthy habit is to slow down. In Italian, there are a handful of definitions for dolce far niente. Essentially it translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing.” In American culture, “doing nothing” may feel lazy and unproductive, but hear us out.
Embracing the dolce far niente philosophy is more about viewing our days with an appreciation filter as much as possible so we can savor all of the things life has to offer—as long as we’re willing to pay attention.
If that sounds super abstract to you, know that dolce far niente might mean something different to everyone. For us food lovers at Salt & Wind, it’s the patience we practice by allowing our fave pizza dough to ferment for up to 48 hours so the dough develops a lot of flavors. Or lingering around the dinner table with good company long after plates have been cleared.
Life gets demanding but it’s almost as if we can slow time down just by tuning in to what’s happening at this very moment.
Schedule Bath and Spa Time
Italian healthy habit number two has a lot of history. You see, Italy has a rich bath and spa culture dating back to the Romans (as early as 27 BC). For the record, teh Romans took a page from the ancient Greeks’ interest in thermal springs.
Traditional Roman bathing rituals included spending time in different rooms with increasing temperatures before ending with a cold plunge. Back then, public baths were the social network in Roman times – they were places to see and be seen, exercise, and relax. This time period was also pre-modern medicine and natural hot springs were all about healing health conditions, including relieving muscle and joint pain.
As bath culture spread, spa towns popped up all over the region wherever mineral-rich thermal waters flowed. Many historic establishments still operate today, like magnesium-packed QC Terme San Pellegrino (yes, like the sparkling water in the green glass bottle), located just northeast of Milan in San Pellegrino. Waters reach 96 degrees Fahrenheit and feature original frescoes and more than 30 spa experiences. Rumor has it that artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci was a regular here.
In Tuscany, the little town of Saturnia is known for its sulfurous rock pools surrounded by olive groves. Montecatini Terme, another Tuscan spa town, even made UNESCO’s shortlist for its Great Spas of Europe designation. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization—you might recognize the acronym for its World Heritage Site designations around the world, such as the stunning Costiera Amalfitana (Amalfi Coast), and Rome itself.
Between travels, and at home, we like to channel this healthy habit by channeling Italian spa vibes with a salt bath, a facemask, and unplugging from our devices for a mini digital detox.
Follow The Mediterranean Diet
Most people probably have heard of the Mediterranean Diet and know it’s a key healthy habit. But did you know it wasn’t necessarily invented by any one person like Whole30 or the Paleo diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is a recognized eating pattern based on health discoveries in the 1950s. Its origins go back to a famous study in the health world called the Seven Countries Study. Scientists surveyed people from Italy, Greece, U.S., and others and they found that eating fruits, veggies, beans, fish, and grains on regularly was directly responsible for improved health outcomes.
Since then, more studies have backed up the benefits of Mediterranean-inspired eating patterns, which include olive oil, herbs and spices, and wine—in moderation, of course. For example, an ideal lunch might include this Wild Rice Pomegranate Persimmon Pistachio Salad and Pan-Roasted Trout With Walnut-Green Sauce for dinner.
What’s appealing about Mediterranean-style eating is that its guidelines are easy to work into our everyday lives since we’re always on the hunt for whole foods and fresh ingredients. But we’re taking the word “guidelines” to heart because we’re not afraid to go all-in and enjoy unique food experiences that aren’t always “health-conscious.”
A thing about the Mediterranean diet that can get overlooked, however, is the social aspect around food, which is deeply rooted in Italian culture (and our culture, tbh).
Prioritize Family Time
Speaking of the benefits of socialization, Italian culture is one of the most social cultures globally, so it makes sense that close family ties are part of the mix. If good food nourishes the body, spending time with our best people does wonders for our overall well-being.
It’s not all woo-woo stuff either. There’s science showing that strong social connections lower stress, increase our sense of belonging, and contribute to long-term health. In Italy, meals that last well over an hour are a thing. Not to mention the classic Sunday meal can go on for hours and involve extended family, multiple courses, and of course, wine.
If it were up to us, we’d gather our favorite people for lingering group meals every day. We might start with our Herbed Avocado Green Goddess Dip, and Citrusy White Negroni cocktails, then ease into a main like our Classic Bolognese-Style Lasagna and Classic Italian Panna Cotta for dessert.
A stroll isn’t just a stroll in Italy—it’s a social event that doubles as a healthy habit! Meaning a walk isn’t just a thing to do to go from point A to point B, it is the entire point.
Between the hours of 5 and 8 pm specifically, you may see locals doing la passeggiata. This is a long-standing cultural tradition where smartly dressed Italians take to the streets and piazzas to stroll. They walk, gossip, window shop, and greet friends and neighbors.
La passeggiata has roots in Italian courtship rituals where strolling in public was a way to announce women were eligible to be married. These days all Italians partake in la passeggiata. And since we’re talking wellness through an Italian lens, la passeggiata is like a one-two feel-good punch, combining daily movement (low-impact at that!) and socialization.
Care to partake? In Rome, make your way to Piazza di Spagna, or Via del Corso (for shopping lovers) to participate and work up an appetite before sitting down at one of our favorite restaurants in the city center. Elsewhere, Piazza Della Repubblica in Florence is an expansive square in the middle of the city.
Whether we’re strolling during golden hour, soaking up time with loved ones at the dining table, or treating ourselves to a device-free bath, these Italian wellness traditions prove that slowing down is totally worth it.
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Photo Credit: Cactus Creative Studio