This tiny island’s long history has been as rocky as its topography. The outcropping in the Aegean Sea has been the target of invasions by Persians, Romans and Turks, forcing its residents inland from the coasts. The result: An isolated culture rich in tradition, family values – and longevity.
Today, Ikarians are almost entirely free of dementia and some of the chronic diseases that plague Americans; one in three make it to their 90s. A combination of factors explain it, including geography, culture, diet, lifestyle and outlook. They enjoy strong red wine, late-night domino games and a relaxed pace of life that ignores clocks. Clean air, warm breezes and rugged terrain draw them outdoors into an active lifestyle.
Read more below about the lessons that Ikaria can teach you about longevity.
Ikarians have woven the recipe for longevity into their culture and lifestyle. Follow these common practices to cultivate your own centenarian lifestyle.
Mimic mountain living
The longest-lived Ikarians tended to be poor people living in the island’s highlands. They exercised mindlessly by just gardening, walking to their neighbors house or doing their own yard work. The lesson to us: Engineer more mindless movement into our lives.
Eat a Mediterranean-style diet
Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes and olive oil. Try cooking with olive oil, which contains cholesterol-lowering mono-unsaturated fats.
Stock up on herbal
People in Ikaria enjoy drinking herbal teas with family and friends, and scientists have found that they pack an antioxidant punch. Wild rosemary, sage and oregano teas also act as a diuretic, which can keep blood pressure in check by ridding the body of excess sodium and water.
Take a cue from Ikarians and take a midafternoon break. People who nap regularly have up to 35 percent lower chances of dying from heart disease. It may be because napping lowers stress hormones or rests the heart.
Ikarians have traditionally been fierce Greek Orthodox Christians. Their religious calendar called for fasting almost half the year. Caloric restriction – a type of fasting that cuts about 30 percent of calories out of the normal diet – is the only proven way to slow the aging process in mammals.
Make family and friends a priority
Ikarians foster social connections, which have been shown to benefit overall health and longevity. So get out there and make some plans.
Choose goat’s milk over cow’s milk
Instead of cow’s milk, Ikarians use grass fed goat’s milk. It provides potassium and the stress-relieving hormone tryptophan. It’s also hypoallergenic and can usually be tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant.