Ikaria, The Island of Youth




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There’s something about Ikaria. Yes, it has the same picture-postcard beauty as other Greek islands.

But there’s something else going on here . . . perhaps it’s the food . . . perhaps it’s the wine…

But whether it’s the very old or the very young, there’s an extraordinary vitality here: a way of life where people start dancing when they are children, and don’t stop having a good time even when they reach 100, which on Ikaria is very often.

This island has a secret: what is it about this place that means the inhabitants live longer and better than the rest of us?

Scientists say the people of Ikaria live at least ten year longer, and with radically lower rates of serious illness, like heart disease and dementia.

Right now a team of scientists is trying to find the answer. And what they discover might change the way we all live.

Doctor Kristina Kristohou is a cardiologist who’s been tracking the health of Ikaria’s older residents in a landmark, four-year study.

Dr. Christina Chrysohoou, Cardiologist: “It’s normal. It’s normal even for my age, which means there is no severe sclerotic disease.”

What she and her colleagues are finding is quite simply astounding: they’re seeing patients up to 100 years old whose hearts are in much better shape than medical science can explain.

Dr. Christina Chrysohoou, Cardiologist: “His respiratory age is younger than his chronological age.”
Journalist: “How much younger?”
Dr. Christina Chrysohoou: “About twenty years younger.”

Dr. Chrysohoou: and her fellow scientists are now taking DNA samples, in a bid to discover if there’s a genetic component to this mystery.

Journalist: “There is something special going on here?”
Dr. Christina Chrysohoou: “Yes, something special here. Yes.”

People on Ikaria don’t just live longer: they are much more likely to arrive at old age with all their faculties intact.

Dan Buettner, Author: “Most astoundingly, we found almost no sign of dementia. So these people are not only living a long, healthy life; they’re reaching the end, and they’re very sharp.

And that, at the end of the day, is what you really want.”

Dan Buettner is the best-selling author who first identified so-called “Blue Zones”, those places in the world where people have the highest life expectancy and the greatest chance of reaching 100.

Ikaria is the most shining example yet discovered.

Dan Buettner, Author: “The maximum life expectancy for our species right now is about 92. The Ikarians are reaching that better than any other population in the world.”
Journalist: “It seems to me effortless for the Ikarians far more than the rest of us to reach 100.”
Dan Buettner: “None of 90 or 100-year-olds tried to live to be a hundred — longevity happened to them.”

One-hundred-year-old Grigorias Tasas is out for his daily coffee in the town square, and is still as sharp as a tack.
Grigorias Tasas: “You should come and stay in that village — you will reach the end.”

These days, Grigorias is not exactly a poster boy for good living. But between lighting up a cigi and downing a bowl of ice-cream, he’s happy to share his recipe for long life.

Journalist: “So tell me, what is the secret?”
Grigorias Tasas: “The red wine makes you stronger.”

The Ikarians have lived on this rocky, mountainous island for at least 9,000 years. It’s about as far away from mainland Greece as you can get: just 50 kilometers off the coast of Turkey.

And that remoteness is common to all Blue Zones, from Sardinia in Italy to Okinawa in Japan.

Dan Buettner: “They’re all isolated in some way, untouched by Western Civilization or the American food culture.”
Journalist: “They’re all dependant on each other, of course, because there is no one else to rely on.”
Dan Buettner: “Yes, our incessant reaching for more comfort may not really be the best route for longevity or indeed even happiness — a little bit of hardship tempers human life.”

The rugged terrain of Ikaria has bred tough, resilient people, who walk and climb hills every day because they have to.

Men like Kristoduros Pourus, who at the age of 95, is as agile as his goats; and recommends a hard bed and not too much of the good life as secrets to a long life.

Kristoduros Pourus: “I eat a lot of beans, vegetables, milk, eggs, whatever from nature . . . not too much sex!”
Journalist: “Not too much?”
Kristoduros Pourus: “Not too much.”

Then there’s 99-year old Evengelia Kanava, reeling off the family stories a century ago as if they were yesterday, as if she were still a twenty-year old beauty.

And like every good Ikarian, Evengelia has her own take on the Fountain of Youth.

Evengelia Kanava: “Pepsi. I love Pepsi.”

Everyone has a theory: for some it’s the high levels of naturally occurring radioactive elements such as radium. For others, it’s the herbs that grow wild all over the island, which end up in everything Ikarians eat and drink.

Journalist: “I’ve read about a magical tea. Is there such a thing?”
Thea Porikos: “We have a lot of herbs here. We have many different teas here. And they have been analyzed, and they have been shown to contain properties that are much stronger here in Ikaria.”

Thea Porikos was born and raised in America. Like many second-generation Ikarians, she’s come to the island her parents left in search of a quieter, more meaningful way of life.

Thea Porikos: “We call this kompohorto. And it’s used specifically for chest, for asthma, for colds. It’s definitely one of the ingredients for a long life on Ikaria.”

Today, Thea has her own restaurant. And her traditional Ikarian recipes might well be the bible for healthy eating.

Journalists: “Now this is interesting.”
Thea: “These are a variety of wild greens. And olive oil is essential: if you don’t have olive oil in your house, you can’t cook.

If you want to cook, you have to have olive oil, oregano, garlic, lemon; these are the basics.”
Journalist: “So how many do I use in this dish, ten?
Would you eat processed food, at all?”
Thea: “No. When you make a chicken soup, you have chicken, rice, lemon, salt, and pepper — that’s all you need.
Journalist: “And you don’t need to go to the supermarket for that?”
Thea: “No. You kill a chicken.”

Apart from chicken and a bit of goat, most Ikarians eat very little meat of any description: their diet is almost entirely plant-based.

Dan Buettner: “Ikaria has the most extreme version of the Mediterranean diet — but there are few variations; for example, potatoes figure much more prominently in the Ikarian diet.

Interestingly, you’d think fish . . . but where Ikarians live, the centenarians today mostly live inland, which is a day’s journey from the sea.

So it would take two days to get fish, so it was much easier for them to focus on a plant-based diet — which they indeed did.

And then of course, there’s the wine.

Journalist: “This is your own?”
Thea: “Yes.”
Journalist: “This is essential?”
Thea: “Yes; this is a basic necessity.”

Dan Buettner: “We know that drinkers outlive non-drinkers, which isn’t to say if you’re not drinking now, you should necessarily take it up, but . . . we know that people who drink two to three glasses a day are probably drinking the optimal amount.”

These fiestas are held regularly all over the island. And in the interests of accuracy, I have to report that people were drinking slightly more than two or three glasses — though it didn’t seem to be doing them any harm.

And something else too: it just may be the Ikarian’s social life that holds the key to their longevity.

Thea: “We don’t have a table for the younger children, and then a table for the adults: there’s no lines of separation between the generations.

And this is very nice because nobody feels left out.”
Journalist: “Is that the key to what we are talking about, longevity?”
Thea: “I think it’s a very important part, because nobody feels useless. And nobody is left alone.”

Even the scientists admit it may be the answer that has alluded all of their tests.

Dr. Kristina: “They are useful in the community till the very end.”
Journalist: “And no one is left out?”
Dr. Christina Chrysohoou: “This is the secret, not only living up to an advanced age, but also having a good quality of life, which means good mental stress without depression. In order to have those, you need to have a purpose in your life till the very end.”

It seems to be working for the people of Ikaria. So perhaps it can work for the rest of us too.

Journalist: “How’s it changed your life?”
Dan Buettner: “I eat a mostly plant-based diet; family’s a lot more important to me than career was . . .

I look pretty good for a 104, don’t I?”

And if all it takes is good food, good wine and good company . . . what’s not to like?

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Ikaria is a typical, Greek island, no different from hundreds of others. Is this right or wrong? Is Ikaria close to the Greek mainland?

The people there live very long, but they suffer from back aches, senility and arthritis. True or false?

Are the old Ikarians’ respiratory system like that of a younger person?

The Ikarians read health books, go on diets and workout in gyms. Is this correct or incorrect?

Are they exposed to fast food, convenience food and processed foods? What do they eat? Describe their diet. What are some differences or surprises?

Raspberrie, Blueberries. What kind of work or activities do they do?

Do the people only work?

Oranges, Tangerines.
Are the people individualistic, or social and communal? Are the elderly forgotten, lonely and isolated?


I would like to live on Ikaria. Yes or no? Would you like to visit Ikaria?

Do people in your village, town or city live similarly to the Ikarians?

Are there islands, mountains, towns or regions in your country where people live to be very long? What is their secret?

Would you or your friends prefer to live in the city or in the country?

Lambs-quarters. Is there a take home lesson from Ikaria? What can outsiders learn from the Ikarians?

What might happen in the future?


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