Insights from Ikaria: a place where people are healthier than us and live on average 10 years longer
For some time now I have been researching ‘disease prevention.’ Specifically ‘how to prevent cancer’. My goal was to find out why most people die of preventable disease in an age when modern medicine can do remarkable things.
I came across Blue Zones, which are places in the world where people live the longest and remain healthy in old age. Dan Buettner unearthed the healthiest places in the world and called them Blue Zones. Ikaria a Greek island is the newest addition to the other four Blue Zones; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan.
On a study tour to Ikaria with longevity enthusiasts, organised by the 100 Not Out guys, Dr Damian Kristof and Marcus Pearce (from The Wellness Couch), I discovered more insights into longevity not exposed in Dan Buettner’s book The Blue Zones; 9 Lessons for Living Longer, from the people who’ve lived the longest.
Dan’s book is a great read and it exposed why those around you and your community contribute to your health and well-being.
Here are a few of the lessons learnt from those that live the longest:
Keep moving, exercise daily and keep active; walking and climbing hills in Ikaria obviously has a beneficial physical and mental effect. People in Ikaria walk the hills daily and engage in physical labour. It’s not an add on it’s a lifestyle.
Food is important although not the most important ingredient to longevity. Ikarians eat real food, mostly what they grow, not fast food, junk food or packaged food but fresh, unprocessed food full of vital energy. There are no multi-national fast food outlets, only family owned restaurants, café’s, produce stores and family businesses. They support one another in business and in life.
Two of the most remarkable daily habits involved a high dose of olive oil at every meal and home made red wine. 95% of Ikarians grow grapes and make their own wine. According to Thea of Thea’s Inn, our local guide and where we ate daily, Ikarian people never drink alone, they do not drink to get drunk, they drink with company and to have fun. They rarely over consume as it is not condoned by the people to be unruly or behave badly. They don’t need lock out laws because they set the standard they need to be sustainable.
The first insight; the community self regulate. They do not rely on the government or police to enforce laws, they have their own unwritten laws and people in the community step in to sort things out when individuals go off the rails. They self manage, take responsibility and have an understood tolerance level.
Purpose is important in all Blue Zones. Everyone has a purpose to fulfill in Ikaria. It could be the vegetables they produce, the family they take care of, the business they run, the wine they make or the community they support.
Insight number two came when we went to a panigiri, a village festival, held to raise money for the village church. Ikarians are very protective of their people and their community. They really don’t like outsiders a lot and the focus, according to Thea, on the Blue Zone phenomenon is having a negative effect on their belief about longevity, something they usually do not think about. This does not mean they are inhospitable, they are the friendliest and most welcoming people however just focusing on the elderly and longevity does not sit well with them. Protecting their community is extremely important – we were outsiders and a bit of a pain in the neck to some, or so it seemed.
Insight number three; their world is changing, not just because life on Ikaria is broadcast around the world now as one of the longest lived communities but because they have Wi-Fi and use it daily (the exchange of data wirelessly, using radio waves). Cell phone towers are everywhere and everyone is connected. This may prove to be the biggest problem and not the influx of visitors. To gain an understanding of why I believe this to be true check out the BioInitiative Report 2012/conclusions/. A scientific report on the effects of Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) and Radio Frequencies (RF). Bioeffects occur at very low levels of exposure to radio frequencies and have the potential to result in adverse health effects. The older communities and the elderly have never been exposed to this technology before. This is something all communities should be aware of.
Family was identified as extremely important in all Blue Zones and Ikaria is no exception. Money is not the highest priority, their relationships with all generations stood out as being a blessing for all. As Thea explained the young people respect the eldest people and the older generation listen to the young people. Everyone contributes and everyone matters.
Insight four; all generations are happy to live together if necessary, party together, work together, share responsibility and respect what each has to offer. There is no segregation of the elderly into aged care or the too hard to deal with basket. They work it out and look after their own. As Dan says, “invest time and energy in your children, your spouse and your parents. Play with your children, nurture your marriage, and honour your parents.”
The ninth strategy in the Blue Zone book centers on the person you are. Evidently people that live the longest are likable and they have lots of friends or as Dan says “likable old people are more likely to have a social network, frequent visitors and de facto caregivers. They seem to experience less stress and live purposeful lives.” Building strong friendship takes some effort, it seems a little effort goes a long way.
Insight five; Ikarians do not stress, they have a relaxed disposition and accepting outlook. On first sight we were amazed at how inhospitable the terrain of Ikaria was. The landscape is steep, rocky, and not easy to live with. We would not build where they build, we would not farm where they farm, we would not tolerate the lack of services or the lack of money. Ikarian people have learnt to live with less and stress less about what they can’t have and can’t do. The obvious was not obvious when we first travelled from the airport to Thea’s Inn, they do not have any other choice but to live with what they have and manage the best way, on their terms, and in their own way.
A question I asked Thea was “how are they governed and who sets the rules or laws?” The answer is the National Greek government however as the government is what you might call stretched financially and because many difficulties need to be overcome (and not just on the island of Ikaria) the people are left to sort things out for themselves. The government taxes new homes and not the second or third home of Greek people. This fact may be why most young people cannot afford to build new homes therefore most new homes are being built by wealthy people from other countries. This means it is more beneficial for a family to extend their home or build another than to initiate a new build by the youngest generation. They get around the problems by valuing things differently.
Insight six; they make their own rules around the laws that govern them. An example; people park where no parking signs are erected. People make allowances because the streets are tight and narrow that weave through the villages and because parking is limited, they make allowances. Another was the way Thea cares about her employees. They are like family and in Ikaria they look after Thea, and Thea looks after them so everyone wins. It does not help anyone to live better if the National laws are strictly adhered to. In other words complying to the laws is less than beneficial. The only problem Thea eluded to was the amount of paperwork to complete. It seems even on Ikaria, the paperwork must be done.
Insight seven; the amount of No’s, no chemical additives in the water, no industry, no traffic jams or congestion, no bureaucratic red tape, no adherence to strict safety laws, no seat belts, no motor cycle helmets, no laziness and no or little crime. Everyone knows who you are and crime would not pay. People leave their cars unlocked just in case they need to be moved and no one cares if it’s in the way, they’ll just move it. Actually there is no stress because everything gets fixed that needs to get fixed by the people, not the government.
There is very little mental illness or dementia and very low levels of cancer and heart disease or other inflammatory disease in the community, even later in life which is not the norm in our society. It could be the olive oil, red wine, exercise, no pollution, happy people or less stress that helps or maybe they just lead a simple life and have less to worry about. What is really scary about our society is that three in ten people over the age of 85 and almost one in ten over 65 have dementia. People as young as 30 are being diagnosed with dementia in Australia. Something is amiss in our society.
Insight eight: the older generation have never searched for a silver bullet, they do not do gym classes, follow diets, pop pills, take supplements, hang out at the emergency ward or rely on government hand outs because there are no handouts. They do not expect others to be their saviour, they use food as their medicine and love their life, they do not complain. There is no magic bullet on Ikaria, only a life lived well, on purpose, naturally and with those they love. Seems like a good recipe to me. This is prevention of illness and disease in action, they do not need someone to tell them how to live, they just do it their way, on their terms wonderfully well.
Insight nine: time is not important to the Ikarian people, they didn’t make an issue about eating at specific times, they don’t punch a time clock. The lack of time restraint and focus on time being important was the exact opposite of what we are taught, believe and focus on in our culture. If that one thing could be changed we would all be healthier and less stressed. The belief that time is everything and money is time is not the best path to being a well-being. The fact is time is endless, there will always be a tomorrow and there is always time for the things you need to do. What Ikarian people do is spend time doing what they love on a regular basis. Sounds like a pretty good way to look at time, if you make time for the things you love and what is good for you, you will end up with more lifetime.
Thanks to Damian and Marcus for providing a fabulous itinerary, workshop/learning and amazing people on this tour. The insights and understanding of how to create a Blue Zone were not just good, they were exceptional. The people we met and the lessons learnt will always be remembered.
One insight above all else was provided by Shona, one of the wise souls in our group. It’s the people around you that make a difference, and I couldn’t agree more.
Finding the right people to surround yourself with and moving away from people that hold you back or put you down is what I have found to be one of the keys to “life’s great” door.
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Links to find more information and inspiration to live well:
The Wellness Couch You will find The Wellness Guys, 100 Not Out, Exceptional Life Blueprint and much more.
TED Talk: Dan Buettner Dan Buettner on YouTube: How to live to be 100+
http://www.retireonfire.co.nz/ Shona Olykan, Life Coach to retirees.
BioInitiative Report 2012 – conclusions: The BoiInitiative Working Group have produced what they hope will be a benchmark for good science and public health policy planning. It documents bioeffects, adverse health effects and public health conclusions about impacts of non-ionizing radiation, including EMF, ELF and RF-EMF fields.
Wicked Thinking – Book Preview Wicked Thinking …. lessons from abundant minds. A book to challenge your thinking, to see life differently and inspire you to create a great life or a great business.