The second week of my Italian insights trip finds me in Rapallo, a town on the Ligurian coast considered to be part of the Italian Riviera. Given that we are not celebrities, there was no swanning around Riviera style but it has given me some time to reflect on the way of life in Italy and whether it enhances personal peak performance.
It is probably best to get the negative aspects out of the way first just so we can concentrate on the positive features. I am instinctively going to hold my breath while saying that there is an excellent chance I have second hand smoked my way through a packet of cigarettes since I have been here. So many people smoke that it would be easier to count those who didn’t in a packed out San Marco Square in Venice ( a LOT of people can jam in there). Italy is currently sitting at fourth in the Top 10 countries with the highest rates of lung cancer and as countries number 2, 3 and 4 differ only by a whisker, they are up there with the leaders. Hungary is at the top of the ladder but I would say that this is not a game many would want to win. It certainly makes one appreciate the anti-smoking laws that Australia has in place, particularly where food is involved.
In other areas, the Italians have got things sewn up. What’s not to like about the daily siesta for example? Research has quite clearly found that adequate sleep and rest is essential to our wellbeing and longevity of life. The dedication to the siesta is absolute and the shops here are literally shut down somewhere between 12 and 1pm and even if part of a customers body happened to be over the threshold of the shopfront, it would be trapped in the roller door that comes down religiously, as they wait for no-one. Retailers don’t open again until 3.30-4.00pm allowing staff to go home and rest or do whatever they fancy. I like.
Exercise is an essential part of your peak daily performance and from what I have seen so far, lots of Italians walk or cycle as the main mode of transport. Even the Italian ladies perch themselves on their biciclette complete with skirt, stockings and heels. And although it seemed a little inconvenient at the time, I know that walking up and down to our mill house in Rapallo like little mules did us the world of good.
And of course, the Italian food. In many respects it seems like food from the god’s or is it for the god’s? Whichever way it goes, the Mediterranean diet has a lot going for it. Red wine, olive oil, tomatoes full of lycopene and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables do the trick. Eating too much bread can be an issue though as every time you sit down at a ristorante, a basket of bread and breadsticks appear magically. Add that to a pasta or pizza meal and we are talking carbo-loading on a daily basis without the 10 hours of exercise that should go with it. Carbohydrates seem to have an additive effect too, the more I eat, the more I eat. Although bread is delicious here, I am yet to sight any that is not white and is therefore low in fibre. However, carbohydrates do supply energy and your brain really doesn’t function without it, something you may notice at around 3pm when you feel like having a lie down. And no, there is no truth in the fairytale that these foods shouldn’t be eaten after 3 or 5 or 8pm, or whatever time is plucked from the sky. Just make sure that you watch portion sizes and choose high fibre low glycemic carbohydrates.
Lets not forget the role of happiness in enhancing performance. This can be found everywhere here in the form of gelato. There is no doubt it is my responsibilty and my job to road test flavours and there are so many that I do need to try a new one each time. The good news is that gelato contains slightly less fat (4-8%) than regular ice-cream (around 10%) but it does have a little more sugar. Some of the fruit flavours like fragola (strawberry) and limone (lemon) are fat-free which further adds to my happiness.
And lastly, forget Italian leather and handbags as a girls best friend. Everyone and I mean everyone, has a dog here. They don’t sit at home and pine for their owners either, these pampered dogs go everywhere. They travel by train in special doggy bags, get some wind through their fur sitting in baskets at the front of bikes, walk the streets, dine at the best restaurants and even become a handbag accessory. So what does this have to do with performance you ask? Research has shown that pet owners benefit physically and psychologically from their furry friends. Benefits shown include decreased rate of depression, lowered blood lipid and cholesterol levels, less social isolation and increased fitness.
Lets see what Venice has to offer.