I was reading a story in The New York Times. It’s about a place they call “The Island where people forget to die.”
The place is the island of Ikaria in Greece.
Already in the 17th century it was known as a place of longevity: its bishop wrote at the time, “The most commendable thing on this island is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.”
Researchers who have studied the population of Ikaria to answer that question suggest several answers. The people of Ikaria drink a kind of herbal tea made from dried plants that grow on the island. Also, the people eat a mostly vegetarian diet, consuming the plants they grow in their own gardens, which means they ingest fewer pesticides and get more nutrients. Another reason could be they eat very little refined sugar or white flour.
The local bread is still made with stone-ground wheat. A survey of hundreds of Ikarians shows that people there eat lots of beans and eat fish twice a week. They eat meat only a few times a month, and are known to consume “high levels” of home-made olive oil and several glasses of domestic wine a day. The local honey may also have beneficial properties.
Beyond their diet, people in Ikaria give their life a purpose, whether it’s teaching, cooking or taking care of others.
The article mentions “positive social contagions”, described as health habits that are communicable. The example given is the increased chances of gaining weight if someone in your close entourage gains weight. And everyone in Ikaria takes naps. Few wear watches.
This contagion also drives social behaviour. As the article puts it about the Island there “you’re less likely to be a victim of crime because everyone at once is a busybody and feels as if he’s being watched.”
Whatever the reasons for the longevity, positive lessons can be learned from the simple way the people of Ikaria live.
As the author, Dan Buettner, who in his own words is someone who has “studied populations of the long-lived for nearly a decade” writes, “as soon as you take culture, belonging, purpose or religion out of the picture, the foundation for long healthy lives collapses”.