by: Jomel Bajar, PT,DPT,MS
The Island Where People forget to Die is the tagline of IKARIA, Greece. Statistics certainly supports their claim to fame, after all, both Ikarian men and women reach 90 years of life expectancy. They boast 50% less depression, dementia, and cardiovascular diseases compared to other Greek counterparts.
Is it their diet? The Ikarian diet is almost completely compose of unprocessed foods and limited sugar consumption as compared to other nations. They eat plenty of wild caught fish and local, organic fruit, and vegetables. They also limit the amount of meat they eat and make use of plenty of healthy olive oil. A sample of a typical Ikarian breakfast is yogurt made with goat’s milk, a few cups of coffee or herbal tea and some healthy whole grain bread with locally produced organic honey and it is not uncommon to witness the islanders taking a few glasses of wine for breakfast. Apart from eating significantly less sugar and processed food, Ikarians also eat lots of legumes and beans. They consume more fish than beef and pork. In addition, the majority of Ikarians are keen gardeners who produce plenty of their own fresh vegetables and uses herbs such as mint, dandelion, and rosemary to make teas and other drinks. These herbal drinks contain antioxidants and other medicinal properties such as diuretics and anti-inflammatory properties. Their philosophy is to have a little bit of everything, a balance life, and everything should be in moderation. They used what they call 80/20 rule; 80% of the time, they consume plant based that are in season and they know where the food came from. When it comes to the food of the blue-zones, they do eat meat; they are not vegetarians. Ikarians eat meat about the size of a deck of cards, and the main subsistence of their main diet is plant-based. They believe in the importance of growing your own food, they believe that foods that are well-well raised are not hurting the planet and should be good for you. Is it their mindset? Visitors to Ikaria and sociologist that have visited them have a common observation regarding their life perspective. Ikarians are known for their hospitality to visitors and for those people in need. They make visitors feel welcomed, cared-for and make you a part of the Ikarian way of life. They respect the time allotted for their own benefit. They can be busy working and still enjoying it. They are spending time to relax and do nothing without feeling guilty about it.
Is it their lifestyle? Having a big house, a fancy car, how much money earned is not the focus of their existence. Ikarians focus about living in the moment that you are enjoying life. They might be working long hours like other people in other parts of the world; however, they are enjoying whatever they are doing. Their mentality is this; it is their life, and their business, and there is no need to live life bounded by the 'anchos' (stress). Obeying and serving others is one's prime purpose.
Is it exercise? Ikarians are not doing high intensity workouts. Each day they are moving incidentally in their environment though. They are moving naturally so their days are just set up so that they move a lot. They have no regular scheduled time to go to the gym to exercise. What they are doing are things like walking to get their morning coffee or walking to the town square or just tending their vegetable garden. For the past decades, the body standards got extremely high and difficult to achieve by an average men and women. Magazines and movies in 1970 portray action heroes that may be considered chubby today, however, they do not even have 6 packs, broad shoulders nor muscular chest. Nowadays, magazine portray healthy people with cut abs, less than 5% body fat that make people so stressed-out to look like them. Interestingly, people living in the blue zone does not have perfect chiseled abdomen, biceps, nor chest. They are regular looking people who spend time with people and engage in their natural environment. They wake up when the sun comes up, they visit their friends, they often do their job, take care of their garden and take an afternoon nap. Study of 23,000 Greeks showing that those who had an afternoon sleep had a 40% reduction in cardiovascular disease. To sum it up:
Ikarian seems to have a nice peaceful contented life. What I learned about the blue zone is that it is not just one thing that you can do that will make you live longer and healthier. It is a combination of great things working within you and around you. Experts attributes Ikarian longevity mainly to diet and lifestyle, as well as owning rather than being owned by time, in contrary to most stress-ridden people around the world today. What I learned from reading the blue zones from Loma Linda (California, USA) to Okinawa (Japan) and now to Ikaria is that the best thing I can do is embrace the lifestyle of the longevity cultures. That is being involve in the life-movement of the community, being purposefully engage and finding your purpose in the world you live in. No pressure to keep up with the Joneses and simply living your life to your fullest potential. I do not believe that there is a secret to living longer. I think people need to look for ways so that the goal they are trying to achieve requires slowing down. We need to savor our time and enjoy the present. Generally, people in modern society has a hurry sickness. Despite the modern technology to help us save more time, we took more work and we got busier and busier as it is a sort of a symbol of success. People in the blue zone knows how to slow down, eat slow, talk slow, and enjoy BEING versus DOING in the moment. This what brought people in the blue zone the quality of life and longevity they are enjoying. I believe that all of us can attain a long healthy productive life as we age if we wanted to. Sometimes we just got to look in our own backyard and we can notice that everything that we need to live a long life is already we have. You have the people that you love; your friends, your family, and your community that gives you sense of purpose. The special moment shared with them, small things that makes our heart beats, and shallow things that make us feel energized are the things that will help all of us to live longer and healthier. Below are four steps to Ikarian success to health and longevity. Be safe and LiveLong!
1. Get your nutrition right - most of the time, eat seasonal local organic food; if possible homegrown
2. Move every day - less intense but more often, build a movement into your life or incorporate movement to your daily work
3. Find purpose - be humble, be content, love, and play. Find joy in the simple moments in anything that you do
4. Do all of these 3 things surrounded by a great community.
Be Safe, LiveWell and find time for yourself. Live life with passion.
LIVE TO 100