Residents of the Greek island of Ikaria have a surprisingly long lifespan. Far longer than the average, and longer even than that of their neighboring islands where most of the factors (weather, diet) would be virtually the same. Researcher Dan Buettner and others have spent years trying to analyze why.
Does this island hold the secrets to longevity?
What are they doing right on "The Enchanted Island of Centenarians?"
As with many small island cultures, there is much commonality between residents. Most people wake up when they feel like it, usually late in the morning. They take a nap in the late afternoon, then stay out late - often socializing, playing dominoes or poker at the pub.
Meals are spare and primarily vegetarian. A typical day's meals would go:
Breakfast: Bread and honey with goat's milk, wine, sage tea, or coffee.
Lunch: Beans (usually lentils or garbanzos), potatoes, and whatever greens are in season.
Dinner: Bread and goat's milk.
Once or twice a year, a family may slaughter a pig and eat portions of preserved meat over the next few months. Their diets are low in cholesterol, have little meat, are mostly locally raised and produced, virtually unprocessed, high in fiber, and include a fair amount of alcohol.
Socializing is a huge aspect of life on Ikaria, and more so for the elderly than the young. Very few nights are spent alone at home. Friends, neighbors, and family drop by on a daily basis to gossip, play cards, and share meals. This is very counter to the American way of life for most elderly, which can be extremely lonely and isolating.
Ikarians of every age also get a lot of exercise. The island is steep, and just by virtue of living your life - going to the market, visiting friends - Ikarians get far more exercise than most Americans. Ikarian pastimes also tend to involve physical activity, such as dancing, gardening and raising livestock.
As an overall picture, what the Ikarians have on their side is "community behavior." The Ikarian community behaves healthfully, and while individuals certainly may vary from that ideal, as a whole they are doing quite well for themselves. Contrast that with the American "community behavior," which involves eating junk food and sitting at home watching 5-6 hours of TV alone every night.
In America if you want to live healthy, you have to fight against the trend. Billions of dollars are spent by the television and junk food industry trying to convince you to do otherwise. But on Ikaria, it's easy to live a healthy life. And unsurprisingly, a healthy life is a long life, and a happy one. It's a tough lesson to learn, but hopefully we can take it to heart.