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F - 216 : Living Long and Happy on Ikaria

The over 80 years old Dr Xenakis arranges Senior Sailing Regattas today

Working in my forest is always a pleasure. This week am trimming oak trees and cut competing pines around them. Love oaks with big crowns. They need space. France’s south is truffle country and the soil full of spores. With a bit of luck, there will be truffles in a few years’ time. Growing oaks takes time. Many here are more than 150 years old.

One of the Oak Trees I trimmed two Years ago

This brings me to the topic of longevity – a subject I wanted to cover since taking notes on Ikaria, the island we will visit in week 3. Situated just to the west of Samos, the beautiful Aegean island has high mountains full of pines, olive trees and unidentifiable shrubs, lots of small and secluded rocky beaches and was – in the absence of a big tourist crowd – able to preserve much of its traditional way of life. It may well be the key to the island’s biggest secret.

View of Armenistis on Ikaria's northern Side

People on Ikaria get almost as old as my oak trees. One in three reaches the age of 90, compared to 1 in 20 in the United States. The World Health Organization classifies Ikaria as one of the globe’s five “Blue Zones” where people reach a very old age. The others are Okinawa, Sardinia, Loma Linda in California and Nicoya in Costa Rica. Not surprisingly, the people’s old age on Ikaria attracts a lot of interest. Several studies were conducted to find the islanders’ secret. They do not only get older, they also live healthier, have fewer heart problems and cancers, are not obese, stay in good physical shape and suffer less from dementia and other brain related illnesses.

One of Ikaria's Elderly Couple with a Photo from the Time they got marrie

The way of life on the island is simple. There is not too much money and people live from what they can grow and fish. Almost everybody has a little garden, quite many also a little vineyard. Men still go fishing every day even though the catch has decreased over the last twenty years. Each small village has its own bar or inn where people regularly gather. In the absence of good roads and cars even elder people walk every day a few kilometres. The social life is inclusive with its many all-day festivals where everyone, young and old, participate. Let’s hope there is one when we reach the island on 28th of August!

Ikaria is a tough place to live and does not spoil its residents

The various studies I found on the net show that all of Ikaria’s elder people share more or less the same lifestyle:

  1. Everybody enjoys a Mediterranean Diet with plenty of olive oil, fish, beans, local wine, wild greens with high amounts of antioxidants, traditional herbs

  2. There is very little consumption of sugar, white flour and meat

  3. No pesticides or preservatives are used in the preparation of food – all is fresh

  4. People sleep long and take regular naps in the afternoon

  5. Their sex life continues well after the age of 65

  6. Everybody does regular physical exercise be it for work or walking or pleasure

  7. There is little stress in people’s life – it is a forgiving, sharing & tolerant culture

  8. The family structure is strong – the old live with the younger generation – nobody lives in retirement homes

Have to admit that this sounds familiar to me. In one way or another I have heard all of this. But it did not occur to me that the combination of all the factors would allow so many to enjoy old age happy and in good health. Seems the stress in New York, London or any other modern city is shortening out life span considerably.

Soufiko, a typical Ikarian Vegetable Stew prepared with Olive Oil, Greek Spices and Herbs

We won’t be able to imitate all aspects of Ikaria’s way of life nor will we be able to move to the island and stay. But there are several things we can do like eating well, sleeping enough, looking after others and contributing to a happy community. In any case, the chefs on the Casa Dell Arte and the Althea will get the bullet points above as guidance for their menu plan. We do not know whether this will make us as old as my oaks. But good food definitely makes us happy.

Gregoris Tsahas who smoked all his life was 100 years old when this photo was taken for the Guardian article in 2012

If you are interested further in the subject, there is a well-researched article in the Guardian from 2012

And an equally good video clip on YouTube recorded by Vice News from the same

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