Recently, my niece sent me a link to a post in the New York Times about a gentleman who had been diagnosed with incurable cancer back in 1979. Instead of undergoing expensive chemo treatments, he decided to return to the island in Greece where he had been born and die among his family there. But, in spite of expectations, the gentleman not only did not die, but the cancer he had went into remission, and he still lives, 33 years later. What could possibly have made this be the outcome?
According to the author, Dan Buettner, longevity on the island of Ikaria, where this gentleman’s family originated, is higher than other parts of Greece and other parts of the world. Buettner has been part of a group that has been looking at different parts of the world to determine what makes the inhabitants of some areas more likely to live longer. These areas have been dubbed the “Blue Zones” and the island of Ikaria is one such place.
So what was so special about this island? The answer is surprising and not so surprising:
Ikaria, an island of 99 square miles and home to almost 10,000 Greek nationals, lies about 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. Its jagged ridge of scrub-covered mountains rises steeply out of the Aegean Sea.
The air and the sea are factors. But so is diet. The population on Ikarea eat things like olives, garbanzo beans, lentils, potatoes, garden products from their back yard, as well as wild greens. They make their own sourdough bread. They drink wine in moderation, eat meat in moderation,. Honey is a regular part of their diet as is goat’s milk and goat product. And they all drink a tea from the herbs on the island which includes wild mint, Artemisia, and rosemary. Plus coffee. Very little sugar, no processed foods.
But probably the most interesting factor is how they spend their days. Clocks and watches are just not a part of their lifestyle. People get up when they want to. They do their work, whether it is gardening or helping someone build a home. Then the village takes a long nap in the afternoon. In the evening, they stay up late, chatting or doing other relaxed recreational activities with friends. No one on the island is particularly interested in money or the making of it. Their exercise consists of walking up and down the steep roads of the mountain like island.
Accoding to Buettner, there are about a dozen factors that lead to the longevity factor:
Enough rest; unprocessed fresh foods; walking up and down the hills; time plays no role in people’s lives; you live in a community that will look out for you and for who you will look out; because everyone knows everyone’s business, less likely to be a victim of crime; at day’s end, you and your neighbor’s will share a medicinal cup of tea; you will also share a glass or two of wine with those same neighbors; and your spiritual as well as social sense of belonging will be nourished by going to church every Sunday.
I count about a half dozen:
Good food, good friends, enough rest, socialization, spiritual nourishment, and exercise.
Certainly does not mirror the life I lead. Hm. Maybe time to think about moving onto a small island 30 miles to the West of Turkey!