Where Feeling Blue is a Good Thing

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.

15 thoughts on “Where Feeling Blue is a Good Thing

  1. Not too long ago I watched a show on the "Blue Zones"…it was fascinating. What seemed to be a common thread was that people ate local foods and actually had to work to prepare the foods (nothing processed). A lot of attention went into food preparation as well. A relaxed attitude seemed key as well.

  2. My first reaction to goat's milk was "Yech!" but then I remembered that my parents told me that as a colicky baby, I tolerated goat's milk and the colic went away. I was in the Blue Zone even then. Interesting post!

  3. I've never even thought of most of those things Cammie. Great post and I hope you enjoyed your nap!

  4. What a cool post… but once I got to that bread part, I lost my mind being a fresh bread lover!!! Thx for the tour & great thoughts!

  5. Graze on greens – I love vegetables and eat them everyday…hope that counts.

    Sip herbal teas – does decaff green tea fall in there?

    Throw out your watch – I don't own one

    Nap daily – really discouraged at work, on sunny weekend afternoons we are good to go.

    Walk where you are going – needs improvement.

    Phone a friend – I am connected.

    Goat's milk – cheese???

    Mediterranean diet – I eat fruit, vegetables and olive oil every day. Fish oil everyday and real fish 2-3 times per week.

    No garden but there is a farmer's market right up the road and a lot of fruit and vegetable stands in the area in the summer.

    Religion – more spiritual than religious.

    Bake bread – I try to be gluten free and let me tell you, GF bread is not great.

    Thanks for sharing these health tips.

  6. Oh… THAT'S the way to live!

    When I was living in Spain, I found that the lifestyle really suited me (except the latelate big dinners. I didn't like that so much). Resting in the afternoon, waking up early, walking everywhere, not worrying too much about time, eating the Mediterannean diet… I need to do more of that list again.

    I'm jealous of the 150 varieties of greens growing on Ikaria! Sounds fantastic.

  7. " Strong social connections are proven to lower depression, mortality, and even weight." — does blogging count?

    I don't see the tongue patch (Jody's) anywhere on this list.

  8. I so would love to go there!!! :)

    This late Spring/Summer I am planning on growing my own garden. I've tried it before and not been very dutiful about it, but this year my goal is to really tend it well.

  9. I am actually surprisingly "blue". I am even preparing to make my own Feta Cheese using goats' milk!! I have the supplies ordered, so when they arrive, I'll be even blue-r!!

  10. Maybe I should pack up and move, not doing anything useful here. I'm decent at most of those, though more biking than walking. Not that good at the phone, kind of a loner.

    I would think our local honey (farmers market local, not industrial) is healthy, too. I believe it has mild antibiotic properties, infants shouldn't have it, and in theory helps with hay fever, if you believe in homeopathy at least.

  11. You are cracking me up today. AARP – LOL!!! I'm amazed that I started getting invitations to join at 39 or was it 49, oh, well, I'm old enough to not remember anymore.

  12. I didn't know that tryptophan lowered blood pressure. All my gluttonous Thanksgivings were actually part of my continuous battle against hypertension! Ha!

  13. wow great post :)
    I've been there myself on and on diets and I'm just tired. Tired of how bad I would feel when I am on a diet literally starving myself. I really like your blog and I will most certainly follow your blogs and if you don't mind, tip toeing my way with you :)

    Best wishes & read ya tomorrow

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