Ikaria, the Greek island of longetivity.

 Stamatis Moraitis. Andrea Frazzetta/LUZphoto for The New York Times

Stamatis Moraitis.
Andrea Frazzetta/LUZphoto for The New York Times

It's been four years since the death of Stamatis Moraitis, a Greek expat from the island of Ikaria, but his unusual story will probably never be forgotten. Moraitis was a migrant living in Port Jefferson, NY, together with his wife Elpiniki and their three children. One day in 1976 felt short of breath. After visiting the doctor discovered he had lung cancer. This diagnosis was later confirmed by 9 more doctors. They gave him 6 months to live.
Moraitis decided not to follow any treatment, but rather return to Ikaria and live the rest of his life in peace. Not long enough after the diagnosis, he took his wife and moved in with his elderly parents into a tiny house at the north side of Ikaria. When his childhood friends discovered that he was back, they started to show up to his house every day. They were talking for hours while drinking home made wine. It didn't take him long to go back to the island's routine. After a while he started to feel stronger. Six months went by and Moraitis didn't die. Instead he was feeling better than ever. As the years passed by his health continued to improve. He was feeling stronger and healthier. He managed to live until the age of 100 years. He didn't take any drugs or went through chemotherapy, all he did was move back home to Ikaria. But what was so special about this island?

 The island of Ikaria. Bonelli Arte for Foodk23

The island of Ikaria.
Bonelli Arte for Foodk23

Located in the central-eastern part of Aegean sea, Ikaria took its name from Icarus whose wings melted when he flew near the sun. They say, Ikarians forget to die. Five places in the world have been recognised as having the greatest percentage of people living above the age of 90 years. These places have been defined as the "Blue Zones" and are part of a larger anthropological and demographic project. One of them is the island of Ikaria, Greece. In fact, one out of three Ikarians live until their 90s, while some of them even more and they also tend to die from natural causes. 
In 2009, a group of scientists from University of Athens conducted a study, by evaluating the biological, clinical, lifestyle and behavioural characteristics of the adult population in Ikaria, aiming to discover the secret of longevity. They revealed that modifiable risk factors interacting with environment might be the secret of the long livers.

“It’s the wine. I drink it with my friends.”
— Stamatis Moraitis

 

According to the "Ikaria study", people living on the island tend to be far more active than the average population, even at the age of 90. Their diet is slightly different to the Mediterranean. They consume lots of locally grown fruits and vegetables, often exceeding dietary recommendations. Greens are eaten not only as a salad dish but also as a main course. Wild plants are collected for food almost every day and some of them have 10 times more antioxidants than red wine. They cook everything with olive oil, most of them from their own trees. For Ikarians olive oil is a remedy and they are fully aware of its impact to their life. They also drink "tea" from dried endemic herbs every day. Sage, wild marjoram, fliskouni and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves with some added lemon. A typical Ikarian breakfast would include goat's milk (which is easier to digest and contains serotonin-boosting tryptophan), honey, sourdough bread and coffee. Lunch most of the times would be pulses, cooked with seasonal vegetables from their garden, free from pesticides. Meat is mainly for special occasions and according to the Ikaria study was consumed 5 times per month while fish 2 times per week.

Siesta in apparently healthy individuals is inversely associated with coronary mortality.
Naska et al, 2007 

 

Midday napping was another well suported factor that Ikarians do live so long. Almost all participants of the Ikaria study reported napping regularly. Ikarians enjoy strong red wine and late night talks. They don't care about being late, they have a slow-pace life that ignores clocks. In this small island people don't have money for luxuries, but they always have good food on the table and still have fun with their family and friends. It is not only about what you eat, but it's also about how you eat and food in Ikaria is always accompanied by a great conversation.