Ikaria, The Island Of The Ancients

“It matters not how long we live, but how.” —Philip James Bailey, Festus

In A Nutshell

On the small Greek island of Ikaria, people are known to live astonishingly long lives. Ikarian men are four times more likely to make it to 90 than Americans and do so in remarkably good health. This is attributed to a healthy, all-natural diet, a laid-back lifestyle, and a strong sense of community among other factors.

The Whole Bushel

A small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, Ikaria has been occupied since Neolithic times. It has enjoyed a reputation for health dating back hundreds of years and is considered one of the world’s five “Blue Zones,” areas where people live extremely long lives. According to a study done by the University of Athens, Ikarians reached the age of 90 at 2.5 times the rate of Americans. Ikarian men are four times more likely to reach 90 than American men. They are also much healthier than senior citizens from other parts of the world, far less likely to suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s even into their nineties. They are also much more likely to elude other serious diseases, with a 20 percent lower incidence of cancer and half the heart disease of Americans.

The key to the remarkable longevity of Ikarians lies in their isolation. Strong winds and the lack of a natural harbor keep traffic in and out of Ikaria to a minimum. The people have failed to join the rat race; they stay up into the wee hours and rise late in the morning, taking frequent naps throughout the day. They are not faced with matters of existential dread that plague people crammed into cities, working three jobs. They are rarely driven by money and work small jobs here and there to get by.

Much time is spent tending gardens; Ikarians are largely self sufficient, and eat fresh, quality vegetables free of pesticides, prepared with cholesterol lowering olive oil. Meat is consumed in small quantities, typically around the holidays. The herb tea they drink is loaded with antioxidants and acts as a diuretic, which lowers blood pressure. Honey is administered as a daily medicine. Ikarians as a whole consume very little refined sugar or flour (their bread is traditionally made from stone-ground wheat).

In addition to diet, the social structure of the island may contribute to a long and fruitful life. In much of the world, people live very introverted lives. If they know their neighbors at all, they might exchange a wave before work in the morning. Things are very different in Ikaria—when the sun goes down, people tend to grab a jug of wine and go visiting, nourishing lifelong friendships that can give life a sense of purpose and belonging. Traveling to neighbors’ homes also necessitates walking through the mountainous terrain, providing exercise.

When asked exactly what it is that allows Ikarians to live so long, a 101-year-old woman replied “We just forget to die.”

Show Me The Proof

Featured image photo credit: C messier
BBC News: Does Ikaria in Greece hold secret to longevity?
NY Times: The Island Where People Forget To Die