I am fascinated with learning about other cultures. I especially like to know about foods they eat and medical practices they use. I recently browsed through a book called Blue Zones by Dan Buettner, a longevity expert, where he discussed pockets in the world where there are higher than average number of people over the age of 100. These areas are called blue zones and there are five. The author visited these places and studied the habits that contribute to people’s longevity.
The average American life expectancy (according to Wikipedia) is 78.2. Not too bad, however, the quality of life as you get older is not the best in America compared to other countries, in my opinion. One of the five blue zones in the world is located in Ikaria, an isolated Greek island (there are more healthy people over 90 here than anywhere else in the world!). While I have not (yet!) been to that particular island, I have been to other areas of Greece and admire their robust love for life. What are some secrets to Greek longevity?
Greek diet is traditionally unprocessed and simple. It is common to eat wild greens with just about every meal – these are loaded with antioxidants. Use of local herbs for teas is also common as are vegetables, fruit, and fish. Certain types of little fish (smelt?) are a staple in most household as they are inexpensive and readily available. Other staples include Greek red wine, olive oil (added after cooking so it doesn’t oxidize), and goat milk/cheese which may have quite a few health benefits. Eating seasonally is not just a choice but a necessity in these less developed towns.
Many daily activities take place outside. Sunshine is an important factor for healthy living since vitamin D deficiency can cause many health problems.
Exercise is an important factor in longevity. I don’t mean treadmills and workout videos, either. People in these blue zones incorporate exercise into their daily routines. Whether it’s farming or goat herding, they lead an active lifestyle with a purpose every day. Walking is more common in Greece (and many parts of the world) compared to the states. Add in some rough terrain and hills and it’s pretty easy to stay fit. Some traditions, such as Greek dancing are a way to stay active that is built into the culture.
That brings us to having a purpose in life. Many of these cultures where a person lives to be a hearty 90-something year old have strong family ties and culture in their life. There is a great sense of community – maybe it’s organized religion, maybe it’s just helping neighbors out with chores.
Low levels of stress are key. Greeks usually make time for relaxation and sleep. Napping in the afternoon is common in Greece and this has been linked to decreased stress. Also, there is less sense of time urgency. It’s not a big deal to be late – people will show up whenever they show up and it’s not a problem.
All of these factors make for happiness and purpose in life… a purpose to get up every day – so they keep doing it.