Live Like a Greek Islander

Researchers have been studying why residents of the Greek island of Ikaria live long and healthy lives, with relatively little cancer, cardiovascular disease or dementia. A part-time resident of the island, Diane Kochilas gives her perspective on this achievement in her book Ikaria: Lessons on Food, Life, and Longevity from the Greek Island Where People Forget to Die.

Kochilas shared her thoughts of why these Greek islanders live so long (from Next Avenue, “Secrets From the Island Where People Forget to Die”):

  1. Eat locally, seasonally and sparingly. The octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians I spoke with on Ikaria all described the eating habits of their early years—years of dire poverty, dearth and isolation—not so much in terms of what they ate but of how little they ate, because there simply wasn’t that much food.

    Meat was rare, for some as rare as two to three times a year on the big holidays. Fish was accessible if one fished; gardens were carved into terraces along Ikaria’s steep slopes and watered sparingly. The 100-year-olds ate what they found in nature, from snails to mushrooms to wild greens, as well as what their gardens provided. There was and is still virtually no processed food on the island, except in some restaurants.

  2. Live deliberately and don’t rush. The pace with which people move on Ikaria (including my own family!) never ceases to amaze me: slow, deliberate, unhurried, but with enough time to observe and live in every moment. It’s the pace that enables people to feel their bodies from the inside, as one does in meditation exercises, and to know if something might be ailing. The penchant for taking things slowly has to do with Ikarians’ sense of time, or lack thereof. Resistance, or rather dismissal of the clock as ruler of life, is legendary.
  3. Enjoy sleep. We sleep so much when we are on Ikaria. It’s a godsend. I don’t know if it’s the atmosphere or the clean air, but I can sleep there totally soundly for 10 hours, even with daylight pouring into the room. Ikarians nap. All older Greeks nap.
  4. Let things go. The Greeks say, “Don’t hold the bad in.” There is so much truth and wisdom in that. Ikaria is a place where people tend to be easygoing, forgiving and unstressed. It’s also a place where the local culture allows for a very liberal interpretation of what it means to be uninhibited. Dancing has a lot to do with it. So does the strength of the local wine.
  5. Turn to herbs for most of the minor things that ail you and let your body heal itself. The folk pharmacopoeia is vast on the island.
  6. Walk. Plain and simple. Exercise for priming body and mind alike. Every old person I know on Ikaria still walks a lot.

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