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On a small mountainous Greek island just a stone throw away from the Turkish coast, lives a small community of people, who when its comes to living healthy into old age, are breaking all sorts of records. On the isle of Ikaria its not uncommon to see people in the 80’s, 90’s and beyond, walking several miles every day up and down steep mountain paths. Nobody wears a watch and as long as they have enough to buy food and wine, nobody seems to care about money.
Their sense of community seems all but lost in most of the westernised world and most evenings, you find elders wandering into neighbours homes and sharing both a freshly prepared meal and several glasses of locally grown wine. Here they don’t send parents into care homes, but remain together in strong family units. Laughter rings out all day long, well except from in the afternoons when most people are found taking a nap.
A top a hillside, you can see the neighbouring island of Samos, full of tourists and million euro properties. Here just a stone throw away from Ikaria, life is conducted at a far quicker pace and its town centre is full of fast food restaurants. The life expectancy here is no different to that of the rest of the developed world.
Back on Ikaria the many elders are outdoor working their gardens or relaxing in the sun. Others are in the bedroom having sex and it is said that 4 out of 5 men, between the age of 65 and 100 are still sexually active with their partners.
The Ikaranian diet is typical of communities across the Mediterranean where living a long healthy life is far more the norm. Fish and in season vegetables, herbs such as sage and rosemary and of loads of olives form part of the staple diet. Meals are also very varied, with locals gathering and harvesting over 150 different varieties of greens , many of which are often tossed uncooked into a Greek salads.
They drink fliskouni, a local tea made of mint leaves and another tea from boiling dandelion leaves. Other teas include oregano, sage and several other herbs. Most Ikaranians don’t stick to just one tea, but frequently changes from one to another.
Those living into their 90s and beyond, all seem to have a sanctuary where they take time out from their daily lives. For some it’s the church for others its meditating or just relaxing in their garden during the afternoon sun. They are all very sociable and are constantly spending evenings with friends and family. The sense of community in Ikaria is very strong.
Up in the hills it’s not just the food that’s fresh, but the air too. There’s neither pollution in the air nor chemicals in the soil. The water is clear and untreated.
Retirement isn’t in the vocabulary of the elder Ikaranians. The vast majority continue working in some capacity, right until death and their sense of feeling needed and having purpose in their lives, gets them out of bed in the morning and hugely contributes to their health and longevity.
Heart attacks, obesity, diabetes, cancer, stress, mental diseases are all far rarer in Ikaria than on the neighbouring island of Samos just 10 miles away.
On a small island to the South of Japan called Okinawa, there lives a very similar community to Ikaria. Its home to some of the oldest people alive and has been recognised as having possibly the highest penetration of centenarians anywhere in the world. Just as in Ikaria, there is a real sense of family, love and community. Their diet is of simple foods, nothing processed, plus lots of garlic and turmeric. Most food is grown in their own gardens and just as in Ikaria, nobody seems to retire. In-fact the word doesn’t even exist in the Okinawan dialect.
Both of these islands, and there are several more I could have detailed, adhere to a far more primal lifestyle than most of us and as a direct result live longer, healthier lives. Unfortunately, for the individuals that uproot and move to the mainland, there life expectancy rapidly diminished to that of their neighbours, thus proving that the state of our health and how long we live, is not preprogramed in our genes, but relates to a combination of our lifestyle, diet and the environment in which we live.