Monday, July 29, 2013

Six Reasons Why These Greek Islanders Have Exceptional Healthy Longevity

You've probably already seen a little story on broadcast or print news about the Greek island of Ikaria, where the people exceed the typical western European life expectancy (which usually isn't that shabby to begin with) by ten years. Sixty percent of the people are still kickin' up their heels into their nineties, and many remain strong, viable, hard working, and without chronic disease well into old age.

Healthy longevity is lots of little and big things put together over many years (as well as some luck along the way). It's not "just genes" or "mostly working out every day and eating well."

Here are six things gleaned from press reports, including this and this, all of which I wrote about in the various chapters I cobbled together for Fitness For Geeks:

(1) They move around a lot and have to stay physically strong to live. Everything is up and down in their mountain village. They're not doing the Ironman; they are just staying physically strong. They undoubtedly burn more calories, and maintain stronger joints and leaner mass than the typical American. They're outside a lot, so they get some natural sunlight.

(2) They live on fish, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, a little meat like pork, small amounts of bread, no processed food. The nutrition, along with the lean mass, helps them avoid the metabolic problems (out of control fasting blood sugar and insulin) that quickly lead to chronic disease. It's a bit like the original Meditteranean or cast away diet.

(3) They average a lot of sleep (eight or more hours per day), and go by the sun. They generally go to bed early and wake up early. They're not parked in front of screens half the night. They take naps every day (like most old people but the younger should consider doing that too!).

(4) They live simply, slowly, and have very little stress and anxiety compared with modern western ways. There is apparently very little depression or dementia among their elderly, compared with skyrocketing rates in America and elsewhere.

(5) They have a high-antioxidant diet; they eat fresh veggies and drink tons of their own herbal tea.

(6) They drink their own red wine, sometimes a tibble at mid-morning. One glass of wine lowers blood pressure and may have a hormetic effect. They apparently don't binge drink, however (well, they probably have a few partiers among them).

These people aren't Supermen. But the reasons experts pay attention to them and others (like the Okinawans) is that the rest of us hoi polloi can come away with some valuable lessons from these long-lived people who make health look easy.

A National Geographical Mag article and photos on Ikaria:

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