Explore the secrets of Ikaria, situated in the Greek Islands and home to people with the longest life expectancy in the world.
Stepping off the boat and walking around Agios Kirykos, the main village of Ikaria, you’ll be overwhelmed by picturesque vistas of mountainous and rocky landscapes met by crystal clear water. The smiles of rosy-cheeked local fisherman greet you as they reel in fishing nets with their aged and weathered, yet strong hands. The smell of fresh, chargrilled barbequed vegetables wafts through the narrow streets accompanied by the sounds of locals immersed in laughter as they share glasses of red wine. This is the essence of Ikaria.
The atmosphere of the island is rich in flavour and tradition that has survived hundreds of years and handed down from generation to generation. Situated in the south-east of the Mediterranean in the Greek Islands, Ikaria has been described as “the place where people forget to die”. The location is quite remote in the Aegean Sea and closer to the coast of Turkey than to Athens. The island features in the ‘Blue Zone’ – one of five small regions around the world, notoriously known for areas of higher life expectancy. The other regions included in the Blue Zone are Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda (USA).
The island of Ikaria is believed to hold the key to longevity with a series of simple yet effective lifestyle alterations. In fact, most people on the island generally live 10 years longer than that of most Western cultures. The hidden secret spans across many environmental factors including weather, family values, physical activity, sexual health, social life, optimistic outlook, relaxed working hours and of course the most important thing; diet.
The Ikarian way of a stress-free lifestyle can be attributed to a home-grown nutrient-rich Mediterranean-style diet, mainly plant-based. The diet consists of fresh seafood, organic vegetables (especially wild greens), olive oil, potatoes, herbs, nuts, beans, legumes, honey, goat’s milk, herbal teas and of course, red wine. Ikarians tend to cultivate from the land, with the climate being perfect to grow home vegetable gardens – the island showcases over 150 different types of wild greens alone.
With locally grown, organic vegetables picked fresh and without preservatives abundant all over the island, very little red meat is consumed. Many local fishermen, even those over the age of 80, head out into the crystal clear waters to catch fresh fish daily. The most popular fish consumed is salmon, sardines and trout – all species that are extremely high in sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The fish are prepared and cooked involving the use of fresh olive oil which is rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. Ikarians also drink herbal teas with sage and honey to ward off cold’s and flu’s, as well as small amounts of Greek coffee which is beneficial to protect against diabetes and heart disease. There’s no doubt that the Ikarian diet along with the specific cook and preparation methods, may be the most important factor helping to curb many chronic diseases allowing for a long life.
Statistics say that 1 in 3 Ikarians live past the ripe old age of 90 in comparison to that of US citizens where the figure is 1 in 20. Lifestyle factors are most certainly a contributing factor to the easy-going and stress free life on the island, including the habit of taking afternoon naps. People who are regular nappers are shown to decrease their risk of heart disease by almost 40% which can help to extend lifespan. Another key to longevity, is sexual activity. Ikarians, from the ages of roughly 60-80 are still reported to be engaging in regular sex which is proven to maintain good cardiovascular health.
Statistics show that 85% of the population engage in physical activity, such as working on the land, with the rough, hilly and rocky terrain allowing for higher levels of energy exerted. Another important lifestyle factor is that family values are widely practised throughout the community. Grandparents play a fundamental role and are heavily involved in grand-children’s lives. There are no differences in social acceptance across the generational span, everyone is included, and no-one is left behind, with an important emphasis on connection.
It is proven that being alone can actually exert stress on the body and have a negative impact on overall health. Grandparents are not sent into aged care homes like in other Western cultures; instead, they are supported by family with strong emotional ties until the end stage of life. It’s no wonder there are radically lower rates of heart disease, chronic illness and little to no sign of cognitive impairments like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A sense of purpose for a person on the island is one of the most important factors contributing to an Ikarians life which in turn, decreases the risk of serious mental illness. For us in Australia, something as simple as following and exploring your passions and waking up everyday with a positive attitude and keeping productively busy in your local community can help maintain our own longevity.
The rough terrain of Ikaria has definitely bred tough and resilient people over years. Good food, good company, good wine and a sense of purpose have all contributed to a long and healthy life. Another contributing factor is that Ikaria seems to be untainted by other Western civilizations food culture, outside influence from large corporations is almost non-existent. In our world, pressure, deadlines and expectations throughout one’s life cause, stress, anxiety and depression however, Ikarians run on a different set of time. On Ikaria, if you were meeting your friend during the day, it wouldn’t be set to a strict meeting time. It could be a morning coffee, lunchtime, a glass of wine, or all three – there’s no set time window. One learning we can all take from the Ikarians here is that we need to slow down and take time to be with the people we love. This combined with less red meat, more fish, more vegetables and a bit of good red wine might just be the key to making your life a long and healthy one.
At our restaurant MaZi, our chefs take beautiful Mediterranean flavours and infuse them into delicious modern Australian dishes. Paying homage to traditional Greek cooking, our traditional Greek Salad is a crowd-pleaser, with ingredients such as cos lettuce, cucumber, tomato, red onion, kalamata olives, feta cheese and drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette.
We also have plenty of locally sourced fish on our menu, rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Just ask our team for more details! We look forward to seeing you soon.