The Secrets of Good Health in the Italian Language

Jan 20, 2017


Un invito alla salute

An Invitation to Health

Through much of my career as a journalist and author, I've written about health (la salute). (Here's the latest edition of my college health textbook, An Invitation to Health.) Along the way I've learned much about staying healthy. I also discovered that Italians know–and practice–many of the secrets of good health, including: 

*The Mediterranean diet. La dieta mediterranea emphasizes nutritious foods such as fish (pesce), fresh vegetables (verdure fresche), fruit (frutta) and olive oil (olio d'oliva).

*Moderate alcohol use. Italians mainly drink alcoholic beverages (bevande alcoliche) with meals. Most popular is red wine (vino rosso), which has proven health benefits (benefici per la salute).

*An active lifestyle. Exercise (l'esercizio) is built into the daily routine (routine quotidiana) of many Italians, who  often walk to work, shops and schools and take an evening stroll (passeggiata).

*Family ties. Most Italians eat dinners together at the same time (insieme allo stesso orario). This in itself may instill a sense of well-being and comfort (una sensazione di benessere e di comfort).

La salute prima di tutto! (Health is first of all!) Italians say. When someone sneezes, they call out “Salute!” What more could you wish someone than to be in buona or ottima salute (good or excellent health) or pieno di salute (full of health)?

When you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything. (Quando c’è la salute, c’è tutto.) Nothing is more valuable than a healthy mind in a healthy body (mente sana in corpo sano, from the Latin mens sana in corpore sano). But while English speakers strive to be healthy as a horse, Italians aim to be healthy as a fish (sano come un pesce).

Being in bad shape (essere in cattiva forma) inspires a host of colorful idioms. If you have un brutta cera (literally a bad wax), you may stare poco bene (be just a little well) or non sentirsi molto in forma (not feel in very good shape). Those who ammalarsi gravemente (get gravely ill) may avere un piede nella fossa (have one foot in the grave), essere spacciato (be done for), essere sul letto di morte (be on one’s deathbed) or essere tra la vita e la morte (be between life and death).

If you find yourself in such dire straits, you must guardare la morte in faccia (look death in the face) and reggere l’anima coi denti (hold on to your soul with your teeth). With luck and good care, you soon will rimettersi in salute (put yourself back into health).

Words and Expressions

Mantenersi in buona salute — To remain in good health

Guarisci presto! -– Get well soon!

Prevenire è meglio che curare — Prevention is better than cure

Una mela al giorno leva il medico di torno — An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

Siamo quello che mangiamo –- We are what we eat

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and  LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language. 

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