Athens : Living like a monk may have more than spiritual benefits, with a recent study into one of the world’s most isolated monastic communities in Greece revealing that such dietary and healthy living habits resulted in lower cancer rates.
The dietary and lifestyle habits of monks on the all-male community in Mount Athos have shown that the regular consumption of olive oil, daily portions of fish, seasonal fruit and vegetables are among the main contributors towards keeping prostate cancer below international averages, data presented by urologist Haralambos Aidonopoulos showed.
“It is not just the Mediterranean diet that helps but generally a diet consisting of old, traditional standards,” Aidonopoulos told DPA.
Aidonopoulos said he had examined hundreds of monks living on Mount Athos since 1994 and found that the incidence of prostate cancer was four times lower than the international average.
The study found that in the last 13 years, there had been 11 reported cases of prostate cancer among the more than 1,500 monks living in the 20 different monasteries in the segregated community in northwest Greece from which women are banned.
Other factors in the same study shown to keep prostate cancer at bay were the stress-free existence of the monks away from women, proper sleep patterns and the lack of air pollution.
The lifestyle habits and traditions of the various monasteries on the peninsula, which the Prince of Wales visits regularly and which are only accessible by boat, have not changed in 1,000 years.
Meals on Mount Athos are simple and do not contain meat, but fish is a regular fare on holidays and feast days such as Christmas and Easter.
The staple foods are bread, olives, vegetables, rice, pasta, soya dishes and fruit. In fact, the monks grow much of what they consume themselves.
Monks usually indulge in a glass of red wine, which is made locally from mountain grapes, with their dinner but on fast days – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – they abstain from wine, olive oil and dairy products altogether.
Many of the monastic communities on Mount Athos eat twice a day, and have bread and tea for breakfast and a supper of lentils, salad and fruit, except during the rigorous fasting periods of the Orthodox Church, when some will eat only at midday.
The average day begins with an hour of prayers before dawn and meal times are conducted in silence while one of the monks usually reads a passage from the Bible. The monks normally have to eat at great speed because once the reading is over the meal is officially completed.
The rest of the day is spent doing chores such as cleaning, tending to crops and cooking followed by evening prayers.