French Lessons

This summer, I was fortunate to attend the first International Congress on Naturopathic Medicine in Paris. Besides learning from naturopaths from all over the world, I got to experience firsthand why France is one of the healthiest nations in the world. Currently the average life expectancy of a French person is 81.46 years in comparison with 78.7 years for the average American. Although national health policies and the 16 week paid maternity leave may play a role in the difference, there are a few aspects of the French lifestyle, which account for the disparity. Before you get too excited that I might suggest the all wine, bread and cheese diet (surprisingly only 17% of French regularly drink wine!), read the following tips.

Boire de l'eau (Drink water)
A bottle of mineral water is the centerpiece at most French dining tables and many French people start their day with a large glass of water. As a rule we should be drinking a third of our body weight in water (ie 150lb =50oz per day) plus 8oz for every "vice" caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Water helps with here to find out how youcaffeine and alcoholic beverages. Water helps with weight maintenance by improving metabolism and increasing feeling of fullness. It also aids in digestion and prevents constipation. It is crucial for kidney health and dehydration increases the risk of bladder infections and kidney stones.

Faites une Promenade (Take a walk)
Going to work, buying groceries, meeting up with friends, many French don't buckle their seat belts but tie their walking shoes. The average American takes between 5,000-6,000 steps per day which is less than half the 13,000-15,000 the average French person takes. Although Americans tend to hit the gym more then the French, the benefits might fall short of actually walking and standing. The main reason for this is that sitting negatively impacts our metabolism. For example, the molecule, lipoprotein lipase that plays an essential role in how our body processes fats is only produced when our muscles are in use. Even in healthy people who exercise regularly, it has been shown that those who sit the most during the day have larger waists and worse blood pressure than those who sit less.

S'Asseoir Pour un Bon Repas (Sit Down to a Good Meal)
Twice a week, I would wake up to an outdoor morning market right outside my apartment in Paris. In general, fresh whole unprocessed foods are plentiful in France. Besides using fresh ingredients, the French tend to take more time in preparing and savoring their foods rather than inhaling them. Lunch can take 1 to 2 hours with multiple courses, which helps give the body more time to digest. Quality is valued over quantity so portion sizes are much smaller. Eating tends to be a singular activity at a dining table not at the desk in front of the computer or on the couch in front of the TV.

Prendre des Jours de Conge (Take Time Off)
In Paris, it is not surprising that your favorite boulangerie will be closed for the summer. By law full- time workers in France are guaranteed at least five weeks vacation, which they take with great pleasure. What is more startling is the average US employee uses less than half of their vacation days. Besides contributing to more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions and depression, vacation time is important for heart health.

In a study of middle-aged men at risk for heart disease, those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30% more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year. The same applies to women. It was shown that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took at least two vacations a year. This might be due to the fact that vacation time lowers blood pressure, stress hormones, and waist size. If going out of town is out of the question, you can reap the same benefits from a "staycation."