IKARIA, GREECE: The Oldest People On Earth Reveal The Secrets To Living Past 100

Ikaria Greece

Photo: Jeremy Vandel/Flickr

There’s no magic bullet to living beyond the age of 100. But some places are on the right track. National Geographic writer Dan Buettner seeks out “Blue Zones,” a few pockets around the world where a higher number of people live for a remarkably long time.

The remote island of Ikaria in Greece is one hotspot of exceptional human longevity. Here, there are more healthy people over 90 than any other place on the planet.

Buettner and his team spent 15 months studying the centenarians of Ikaria. The trip was documented in a series of videos, in which the researchers identified eight major secrets to reaching a record-setting age.  

First, some geography. Ikaria is an isolated Greek island in the Aegean Sea.

Amid the lush green forests and beautiful waters, you'll find people who live longer than anywhere else on Earth.

Buettner says only about 20 per cent of how long we live is dictated by genes; the rest is lifestyle.

What makes Ikaria special? According to Buettner, the island is mostly insulated from the mechanised conveniences and the fast-food culture of modern society. This has helped them to preserve age-old customs and lifestyle habits that scientists believe explain their exceptional lifespan.

And now the secrets....

1. THE IKARIAN DIET: This is a variation of the Mediterranean diet, which studies have shown to lower the risk of heart disease and potentially increase life expectancy by 6 years. The diet is high in vegetables and beans and low in meat and sugar.

Ikarians also finish everything in Extra Virgin olive oil. The oil contains natural antioxidants associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

2. GOAT MILK: The team found that people on the island who live beyond age 90 drink goat's milk almost every week. Goat's milk is easier to digest than cow's milk. It's also high in tryptophan, which reduces stress hormones and lowers the risk of heart disease.

These islanders herd their own goats every day. It's a five-hour process that includes bringing the animals down from the mountain, feeding them and milking them. The milk is then filtered and prepared into local cheeses.

3. WILD GREENS: Over 150 varieties of wild greens grow on Ikaria. Wild greens are a rich source of antioxidants and a key part of the plant-based diet. Ikarians grow almost everything they eat.

4. HERBAL TEAS: The common herbal teas grown on Ikaria contain compounds that lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart attack and decrease chances of dementia.

5. MOUNTAIN LIVING: Due to the natural rugged terrain, Ikarians get their daily exercise without thinking about it. This woman still zips around town at 93 years old. She lives alone and attributes her longevity to avoiding red meat and surrounding herself with friends.

7. DAILY NAPS: One cherished custom of Ikarians is the mid-day siesta or afternoon nap. Taking a 30-minute nap at least five times per week decreases the chance of heart attack by one-third. It also reduces stress and makes you look and feel younger.

At 3 p.m. this clothing shop owner closes her doors and won't reopen until 9 p.m. She then heads home, makes lunch and looks after her 96-year-old mother. Both of them nap daily.

6. LOW SENSE OF TIME URGENCY: People don't wear watches in Ikaria. Showing up late is also socially accepted. This attitude reduces stress and wrinkles.

8. STRONG SENSE OF COMMUNITY: Family and community support are extremely important. Strong social connections have been show to lower depression, death and body weight.

Because we can't all live on Ikaria...

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