Yesterday was a cold, rainy, gray, dismal, life-sucking Monday. All day long.
Wrapped in lethargy and and a fuzzy blanket, I did manage a brief virtual escape to Ikaria, a Greek island that is also one of the world’s five so-called Blue Zones, where natives regularly live vibrant, active lives well into their 90s. Looking out my window at the steady rainfall, I couldn’t imagine wanting to live that long, but I knew that was just a fleeting thought. Longevity is a very good thing and quite desirable.
My all-too-brief visit to Ikaria was accomplished via an article in AARP magazine*. It piqued my interest and I found an interesting and short report on Ikaria in this edition of NPR’s All Things Considered.
AARP’s article recommends following these healthy habits, which are common to Ikarians and other “Blue Zoners”:
Graze on greens More than 150 varieties of wild greens grow on Ikaria. Some have more than ten times the level of antioxidants in red wine.
Sip herbal teas Steeping wild mint, chamomile, or other herbs in hot water is a lifelong, daily ritual. Many teas lower blood pressure, which decreases the risk of heart disease and dementia.
Throw out your watch Ikarians don’t worry about time. Work gets done when it gets done. This attitude lowers stress, which reduces the risk of everything from arthritis to wrinkles.
Nap daily Ikarian villages are ghost towns during the afternoon siesta, and science shows that a regular 30-minute nap decreases the risk of heart attack.
Walk where you’re going Mountainous terrain and a practice of walking for transport mean that every trip out of the house is a mini workout.
Phone a friend With the island’s rugged terrain, family and village support have been key to survival. Strong social connections are proven to lower depression, mortality, and even weight.
Drink goat’s milk Most Ikarians over 90 have drunk goat’s milk their whole lives. It is rich in a blood-pressure-lowering hormone called tryptophan as well as antibacterial compounds.
Maintain a Mediterranean diet Around the world, people who most faithfully stick to this region’s diet—a regimen high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, olive oil, and fish—outlive people who don’t by about six years. The Ikarian version features more potatoes than grains (because they grew better in the mountains) and more meat than fish (because the sea was a day’s journey away).
Enjoy some Greek honey The local honey contains antibacterial, anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties. (Unfortunately, the health benefits of Ikarian honey do not extend to American honey, as far as we know.)
Open the olive oil Ikaria’s consumption of olive oil is among the world’s highest. Residents drizzle antioxidant-rich extra-virgin oil over food after cooking, which preserves healthful properties in the oil that heat destroys.
Grow your own garden (or find farmers’ markets) Fruits and vegetables eaten soon after picking are higher in compounds that decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Get religion Ikarians observe Greek Orthodox rituals, and regular attendance at religious services (of any kind ) has been linked to longer life spans.
Bake bread The island’s sourdough bread is high in complex carbohydrates and may improve glucose metabolism and stave off diabetes.
I’m pleased to report that I’m already doing several of these, in one form or fashion, and I see a couple that I could probably incorporate into daily life, namely more grazing and tea drinking. I’m also planning to have a few tomato and pepper plants this summer, if that can loosely be considered a “garden.” The religious rituals probably aren’t going to happen, but I am spending more time in meditation and contemplation. That may be as close as I get on that one.
What about you? Which of these habits do you already practice? See any you think you might be able/willing to give a try?
Dan Buettner, author of the AARP article, is collaborating with bunches of people to try to bring these habits to U.S. communities. Check out his website, appropriately called BlueZones.
I’m off to practice one of the most enjoyable “blue” habits: a nap!
*For the record: while I am technically old enough to belong to the AARP, I do not. Call it denial, if you will, but I feel much younger and refuse to join until I feel old enough.