What We Can Learn About Health From Greece

On my maiden voyage to Europe many, many, MANY, years ago, after celebrating my twentieth birthday in Rome, I set sail for Athens, Greece. While there, although my memory of the details is a bit sketchy, I recall taking a day trip to one of the Greek Islands whose name currently escapes me. What I do recall is the sheer beauty, vivid sunshine, and utterly delicious, yummy food. It was paradise.

Of the approximately 6000 islands off the coast of Greece, only a couple hundred or so, are inhabited. Though one island in particular distinguishes itself by the fact that an astonishing one in three of its lucky residents live to the ripe old age of 90. In addition, and even better then that, they have a 50% lower rate of heart disease than other areas of Greece or the rest of Europe and America. Ikaria, Greece, just off the coast of Turkey in the Aegean sea, is one of the five original Blue Zones.

An amazing story was published in 2012 titled, The Island Where People Forget To Die. The article chronicles Stamatis Moratis, an Ikarian native who made his way to New York and then, misguidedly, to Florida. In 1976  he was diagnosed with cancer. Given a few short months to live, Stamatis decided to return to his homeland to die, where he didin 2013 at age 102*

There probably arent many people with stories as dramatic as this one. But the fact is, all components of the Ikarian lifestyle seem to add up to a longer, healthier life. While most of us will never become residents of Ikaria, there are things that we can implement in your own life that will equate to a healthier existence. Perhaps even stave off the onset of age-related disease.

1. The Ikarian diet is mostly plant-based and consists of locally grown greens, potatoes, beans and goat’s milk. Ikarians do not consume much meat or sugar. Herb tea and small quantities of coffee is also consumed. Their total daily calorie consumption is not very high and nearly everyone grows their own food. Many even produce their own wine.  Translation: Stay away from fast food and processed food. Eat whole foods. Dont over-eat. Stop eating so dang much meat and sugar. Drink some wine.

2. The naturally rugged terrain of Ikaria makes for great hiking and exercise on a daily basis.  What this means to you: Walk wherever and whenever you can. Get off your lazy butt and take the stairs. Look for ways to incorporate movement into every day.

3. There is a strong tradition of solidarity among Ikarians. Families tend to stay together. Ikaria is more an “us” place than a “me” place where people look out for each other, socialize on a daily basis, and participate in the many festivals that are held on a regular basis.  How to make that happen: Lose the Howard Hughes lifestyle and socialize. Invite people in, join groups, be involved.

Your world will never resemble a Blue Zone. But, there are ways to better your chances of living longer and remaining disease-free.

 

 

* His exact age was never proven. He was believed to be between 98-103 at time of death.

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