Longevity, lessons from Ikaria
Ikaria, a.k.a, the enchanted island of centenarians, has had a reputation as a health destination for over 25 centuries. In the 17th century, the bishop of Ikaria, commented, 'the most commendable thing on this island, is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons of 100 years of age'.
Along with their fresh air and water, here are some insights into their long lives:
- people stay up late eg up until midnight, regularly
- they wake late (or naturally) and take naps
- no-one wears a watch. Ikarians simply don't care about the time.
- they don't care about money, 'it's not a 'me' place. It's an 'us' place'
- they regularly enjoy 'mountain tea', made from wild herbs endemic to the island and often enjoyed at the end of the day
- local honey is treated as a panacea. used for everything from treating wounds to curing hangovers.
- meals are simple & not large, using locally grown foods (goat milk, wine, coffee, honey, bread, greens, beans & whatever seasonal vegies their gardens produce and olive oil).
- 80 % of Ikarian men aged between 65 - 100 claimed to have sex regularly.
- they are self sufficient when it comes to food
It is not only what the Ikarians are eating, but what they're not eating eg sugar and white flour. Their bread is traditionally made with stone-ground wheat. And it's how they eat - even if it's a lunch break, they relax and enjoy their meals. 'food is always enjoyed in combination with conversation'. These traits are common in many European countries, but some stand out.
Noticeably, aside from food, it is their lifestyle ie their social structure that is so important. In Ikaria, as in most blue zones (pockets around the globe with high numbers of centenarians), older people don't retire. In fact work (their purpose) gets centenarians out of bed or the chair.
As Dr Robert Butler, Director, National Institute of Aging in America notes, 'being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy',
More generally, there's no word in Greek for privacy... 'when everyone knows everyone else's business, there is a feeling of connection and security'. There is less crime, not because of good policing, but because of the risk of shaming family, friends and community. If kids misbehave, neighbours have no problem disciplining them. I like that!
Ikarians don't know why they live so long. Neither do the researchers. But they are living longer, and there are probably many reasons, including:
- They are well rested
- they have access to a nutrient rich & medicinal diet - naturally
- they exercise as part of their day, every day
- they will always feel like they belong and
- never stress about being late (or about anything much at all)
- meals and drinks are usually always enjoyed in the company of family and friends
- the whole island works in this way - they're in it together, they have their 'tribe'.
As the author says, perhaps it's this island 'ecosystem' that makes longevity possible. And, as soon as culture, belonging, purpose or religion are taken out of the picture, the foundation for longevity literally collapses. This 'ecosystem' gives nourishment for the mind and soul. Fundamental for longevity and happiness.
Great, so how can we achieve that in our busy suburban or country lives? Some ideas:
- get involved more with our communities eg know our neighbours, have them over, establish vegie gardens and share the produce
- be generous with our time
- slow down... say 'No thanks' more often if we need to, ask for help, (no-one really is superwomen or men), 'smell the roses', try not wearing a watch. Stress offsets inflammatory responses in the body.
- rest when we need to
- enjoy meals and conversation with family and or friends, get everyone together, if it's too hard, start with at least once a week, eg a meal over the weekend.
- enjoy local and seasonal foods and herbs in moderation eg eat to feel 80% full
- any type of movement is good, especially if it forms part of our day
- isolation is unhealthy, establish energising social connections
- celebrate our older, wiser community members whenever we can
- find your 'tribe' ie a bunch of like minded people / mates who support your values and make you feel like you belong
- enjoy the sunshine, it makes us happy!
The overwhelming common trait for longevity, is having a life of purpose. When we slow down, we create space in our minds and this allows us to see more clearly what makes us truly happy and to be more 'on purpose'. To be human beings, rather than human doings.
Then perhaps it's more about getting our minds in order first? & knowing why we jump out of bed (or our chair) in the morning.
An Ikarian story: The article shares a lovely story of an Ikarian war veteran, Stamatis Moraitis. Stamatis arrived in the USA in 1943, when in 1976 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. His doctors gave him nine months to live. He was in his mid 60's. After much consideration, he decided to return to Ikaria, where he'd be buried with his ancestors, and his funeral expenses were less. He decided not to have medical intervention to manage his illness. Moraitis didn't die, his health continued to improve and he is still alive today at the ripe age of 97.
When the author asked him how he thought he recovered from lung cancer, his answer, 'it just went away'... 'I actually went back to America about 25 years after moving to Ikaria to see if the doctors could explain it to me'. 'what happened'? I asked. He replied, 'my doctors were all dead'.
The article is adapted from new material being published from the 'Blue Zones', research conducted in specific areas (zones) of longevity in centenarians around the globe.
'Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel' ~ Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 1
Note: It's worth noting that the Ikarians, as with my Great Grandmother, are (& were) exposed to very little environmental toxins (preservatives, household cleaners, pesticides, radiation etc) - as the majority of us are today.
(first published November, 2012)