This year I was lucky enough to travel to the Mediterranean and, while there, I noticed something strange: there was a distinct difference between the English, the Australians and the Mediterraneans.

The contrast was starkly confirmed when I arrived back in Manchester airport. Mediterraneans, in general, seemed to be fit, happy and healthy, while the Anglo-Saxons – myself included – seemed somewhat less so.

Such a case could be expected from England with its unwelcoming grey skies and cold waters. But the Australian and Mediterranean environments are very nearly equal, and each offers plenty of reason to stay happy and healthy.

And yet despite the similarities, research shows that isn’t the case for many Australians.

It can be said that Australians are not using their surroundings to a sufficient extent, which could come at a cost to their health and wellbeing.

How so?

With sultry air, warm waters and plenty of sunshine – Australia might be British in temperament, but Mediterranean in temperature.

Like them, we overwhelmingly settle by the sea, with 85% of the population living within 50km of the coast.

Our beaches and coastal communities are warm, resourceful and entirely hospitable for much of the year.

We each have parks, backyards, quiet streets and nature galore.

Yet for all that is available to us, Australia’s health problems are still very English.

As of 2016, Australian obesity rates stand at 28.6% of the population, a damning 0.5% higher than that of the United Kingdoms, and 5% and 7.5% higher than Croatia and Italy respectively.

Worse still, childhood obesity rates in Australia are some of the highest in Western world, with around 1 in 4 children being either overweight or obese.

From my veranda in Croatia over coffee, I could watch as the greyer-haired locals would dive in for a morning swim, while later in the day the youngsters were out from school and in the water.

A lifestyle full of exercise is certainly one contributing factor, but I believe the main answer to our differences comes down to the simple act of eating.

With food cultures based around fresh and locally sourced produce, The Lancet Global Health Journal suggests that Mediterranean countries have some of the best diets in the world.

While Australia – with its affinity for fried and processed food, has one of the worst.

Australians, with the biggest coast attributed to a single country, sadly makes little use of their plentiful seafood stocks, opting instead for fish and chip take-aways and the odd prawn on the BBQ.

Such seafood is often frozen or processed – or both – voiding it of its necessary vitamins and acids, before being battered, fried and served with chips and soft drink.

This cooking method, tellingly, was borrowed from the English – so perhaps it is time to turn our backs on the fried and, instead, buy fresh – and not just to serve our waistlines either.

A bad diet, says The Department of Health, can have a domino effect in other areas – including the psychological.

The stigma goes that Australians are the laid back ‘she’ll be right’ types of the world, yet studies show dipping levels of home and workplace wellness, coupled with higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety.

One simple remedy to this, as prescribed by doctors, is plenty of exercise and a good night sleep.

But in doing that, one must consider what they’re putting into their body.

We don’t yet know for certain what chemicals in foods can do to our brains, yet many signs suggest that some additives found in supermarket products can have mood-altering affects.

The best way to avoid these effects? Buy fresh.

Menus in the Mediterranean are full of squid, fish, scampi and other seafoods, and best of all they’re likely to be fresh and locally sourced.

One waiter even apologised to me for not stocking an item because storms disrupted the fishing boats that morning – a true testament to their devotion to freshness.

Seafood serves as a source of protein, is low in fat and cholesterol, and is likely lacking in any unwanted additives commonly found in manufactured products.

As fresh produce, it is unmatched in its wellness qualities: studies have shown that regular consumption of Omega 3 – a fatty acid prevalent in seafood – can have a positive effect on both mind and mood, benefiting memory and reportedly ailing depressive symptoms.

What is seafood if not sometimes enjoyed after a day in the sun – and here again is another good way to stay happy and healthy.

It is widely agreed upon in the medical community that a healthy amount of sunlight is a must for any regular diet and in case you didn’t notice, Australia has plenty of it.

Known endearingly as ‘the sunshine vitamin’, the production of Vitamin D – boosted by sunlight – has been proven to help anything from immune systems to teeth and bones.

 

Further to that, studies show a correlation between sun and serotonin, (the hormone necessary for feelings of contentedness and calm) so it is no mistake if a day at the beach leaves you feeling happy and well.

Were you to visit Italy, Greece and Croatia, you would not need such data, as the sun’s effects is written on the faces of every local you meet.

Prone to singing, smiling and chatting forever, the people of the Mediterranean are contentment personified, right down to their lax approach to work.

And who can blame them? They run on Mediterranean time, that is; at whichever pace they feel comfortable with.

To see the contrast, simply order a coffee in the two parts of the world.

In Croatia, I watched as the barista finished a full cigarette before making my coffee – whereas in Australia, I’m thoroughly dissatisfied if my coffee arrives past the minute.

Such a cool take on life can only do good for one’s stress levels, and coupled with the exercise found in swimming, the contentment found in sunlight and the satisfaction found in seafood, it is no wonder the Mediterranean’s are doing better than us in many regards.

So shake off the burdensome English habits and start taking in Australia’s coast for all its wellbeing benefits, and soon enough you might be happy and healthy and smiling like a Greek.

By Jordan Knight