Longevity Lessons from Ikaria, Greece
The Blue Zones : You may have heard about them before. Dan Buettner wrote a book about them noting these five (5) regions of the world where people live healthily and well into their 100’s. Scientists have studied these areas of the world in an attempt to understand the reasons for such longevity among these centenarians.
A while back, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Chef Marios Kalampogias who was born and raised on the island of Ikaria, Greece. Ikaria is one of the “blue zone” areas. While Chef Marios now temporarily resides in the suburbs of Chicago, he grew up on this rocky island, which for the most part, is very self sufficient and self sustaining.
It is worthy to mention that I had written a previous article about the Blue Zones but upon meeting Marios, sensing his very warm nature and zest for life, my intrigue and desire to understand the lifestyle of the Blue Zone inhabitants was again tickled.
I asked Marios (who had culinary training in both Athens and Chicago) what he believed were the reasons why people on the island of Ikaria lived so long so healthily. Healthy longevity is common. He says it all comes down to environment and lifestyle.
So let’s take delve right in.
The island of Ikaria (also spelled Icaria) is about 100 square miles (250 square km) with approximately 8,500 inhabitants who are spread among about 200 villages. The landscape is partly rocky (excellent for raising goats) but also green with lush grass and forests. Completely surrounded by the cool, brilliant blue waves of the Aegean Sea, islanders often fish for a living or farm in the greener more fertile areas of the island. There is very little pollution. Days are usually sunny and the weather is pretty temperate most of the year. Sounds like a beautiful place to live, right? It is.
While the physical environment certainly sets the stage for a relaxing, carefree life, the lifestyle of the Ikarians shines a beautiful light on the possibilities to live passionately and nearly stress free. This is key for Ikarian longevity.
Marios shared with me the 5 F’s of the stress less lifestyle of the islanders: food, fitness, family (community), freedom and fun.
Most of the whole food on this island is grown there without pesticides. Goats, lamb and chicken are raised on the farms. Fresh fish is caught daily. Many islanders have their own small gardens from which they prepare their own homemade meals. While they do import some goods/specialty items from Athens and other nearby islands, there is comparatively very little prepackaged food.
There are a few cars on the island, but most people in the villages either walk or ride a bike to their jobs or to visit others. Walking and biking are the healthy means of transportation. Plus, the hard work of farming and fishing provides most islanders the cardio and strength workout which you and I would probably go to the gym to do.
Family, both immediate and extended, is very important to people here. The community they create among family and friends is heartfelt and honored. People help each other. This is no understatement. When there is a challenge of sickness or financial loss in one of the villages, people of many villages contribute to help out for the greater cause.
Heck, living on a beautiful island as your homeland affords the islanders great freedom from many of the daily stresses you might be challenged with living in a metropolitan area or busy city in another part of the world. Life is much slower on the island of Ikaria (freedom from the “hamster wheel” of time) and there seems to be less pressure to get things done quickly. They revel in the moments-large and small. There is also a greater sense of freedom from the attachment to money and financial success. Islanders take pride in their hard work and accomplishments but don’t strive for monetary success as an end all goal. There is less “struggle” to perform and greater freedom to flow with life.
Ikarians know how to have fun, enjoy themselves and live life passionately! They enjoy a inviting sense of community, often bringing old and young members of the village together to share information, food, and of course, homemade wine. Summer is an especially entertaining time on the island when islanders celebrate Panigiri– the Celebration of Saints. Panigyria festivities are held nightly with fresh food, music, wine and dancing. No one is left out of the fun and frolic. It’s one long party!
It’s obviously that Ikarians know the secret sauce about life and longevity. And that sauce is not only made of the freshest herbs and local food ingredients but of a great love for living and life. So when life seems to be tugging at you, and you are feeling stressed too often, perhaps you need a vacation to Ikaria for a few weeks– or at least a reprieve and readjustment to begin living like an Ikarian!
For those of you living in or visiting the Chicagoland area, Chef Marios is head chef at Plateia Kitchen – Bar located in Des Plaines, Illinois . He makes nearly everything from scratch (including the outstanding Greek yogurt with drizzled honey & walnuts) just like he learned back home in Ikaria. Make sure to stop by and enjoy authentic homestyle Greek food. You won’t be disappointed! Καλή όρεξη! στην υγεία σου!