Ikaria – The Island that Death Forgot

by M-Gillies
Ikaria is a Greek Island which has been named a Blue Zone because its residents live so long.

Agios Kirikos is the capital of Akaria an island with about 8,000 inhabitants who are among the longest lived people in the world.

Some 10 nautical miles southwest of Samos, there lies an isolated Greek island in the Aegean Sea. It is here, on this particular island, that its name was adopted from the Greek myth of Icarus and his ill-fated escape from Crete using wings made of feathers and wax that his father, master craftsman, Daedalus created. If you’re a resident of the island, the myth is a major part of the local curriculum. To not know the story of how Icarus ignored his father’s instructions forbidding him to fly too closely to the sun would be an affront on the island itself. To not know that when Icarus flew too close to the sun the wax holding his feathered wings began to melt and sent the young man into the sea surrounding the island would be a disregard for the fragility of life.

But there is something more fascinating about the island of Icaria. Amid the green forests of olive groves, the broken canopy of scrubs, the steep valleys, rocky cliffs, and picturesque coves surrounded by crystal blue waters is an island insulated from the trappings of modern society. Those mechanized conveniences and fast-food cultures that dominate mainland society have no bearings on the isolated island. It is because of this that many scientists believe Ikarians’ ability to preserve age-old customs and lifestyle habits have unintentionally given them a glimpse of the fountain of youth.

For the residents of Ikaria, they’ve become a much talked about island. National Geographic, The New York Times and Business Insider have all written about the island. In fact, even famed explorer Dan Buettner led a scientific expedition to investigate the islanders’ longevity as part of his research into the Earth’s notable Blue Zones (places in the world, where residents have high life expectancies).

This couldn’t be truer than for the islanders’ of Ikaria who have shown that they live on average ten years longer than those in the rest of America and Europe. In fact, their life expectancy is so remarkable that it has been shown they further have lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, and remain physically active well into their 90s.

This claim was first purported in 1677 when Archbishop J. Georgirenes described the island and its residents by saying, “It being an ordinary thing to see persons in it, of an 100 years of age, which is a great wonder, considering how hardily they live.”

But if that wasn’t enough to showcase the power the island has, one story told by Buettner in his novel The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest tells of a Greek-American man known as Yiannis Karimalis, who in 1970, was diagnosed with stomach cancer and only given a few months to live.

With such devastating news, Karimalis moved back to the island of Ikaria (his birth island) so he could be buried more inexpensively among his fellow Greeks. However, after 40 years since the day he was told he had stomach cancer, Karimalis has outlived the doctors who told him he didn’t have long to live.

So what is the secret to Ikaria’s longevity? It’s all in the Ikarian diet.

Throughout the island, the diet consists of locally grown and wild greens. It is through these greens of which contain ten times more antioxidants than are found in red wine. But it isn’t just the greens, they also eat potatoes and goat’s milk, drink a lot of herb tea and small quantities of coffee, making their daily calorie consumption relatively lower than that of the diet of mainlanders.

In fact, as Buettner pointed out in his findings, the secret to their longevity stems from a combination of factors, which include:

The Ikarian Diet – The Ikarian diet is a variation of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, which studies have shown lowers the risk of heart disease and potentially increasing life expectancy by 6 years. The diet is high in vegetables and beans and low in meat and sugars. As part of the Ikarian way, everything is also topped with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which in itself contains natural antioxidants associated with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.

Goat Milk – Easy to digest, with less lactose and virtually allergen free, slightly sweet and sometimes salty, and high in tryptophan, which reduces stress hormones and lowers the risk of heart disease, goat milk has been considered by many to be a very good source of calcium and protein, but while it is not necessarily popular in the United States, the islanders who live beyond the age of 90 drink goat’s milk almost every week.

Wild Greens – With over 150 varieties of edible wild greens growing on Ikaria, this staple meal has been noted for its rich source of antioxidants and minerals. But it isn’t just the wild greens; Ikaria also boasts wild mushrooms, which are a source of amino acids, carotene, antioxidants and proteins similar to animal proteins. Much of what grows in Ikaria is consumed, which includes, beans, taro root, nuts (such as walnuts, almonds and chestnuts), stone fruits, apples, pears, grapes, figs and whole grains.

Herbal Teas – For the typical Ikarian, herbal tea is the equivalent of drinking coffee. In fact, for an Ikarian, picking garden herbs and steeping or boiling them in water for an evening/morning beverage is a common, almost ritualistic occurrence on the island. In fact, many of the common herbal teas grown on Ikaria contain compounds that lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart attack and decrease chances of dementia as they help the body flush away natural waste products and toxins.

Mountain Living – Due to the natural rugged terrain, many Ikarians get their daily exercises without even realizing it, as the mountainous regions require the residents to pursue an active lifestyle. It is because of this active living that the people maintain healthy weights and have a lower their risk of heart disease.

Regular Naps – On the island, one of the most important customs of Ikarians is the mid-day nap, in which they take a 30-minute nap at least five times per week. By doing this, the islanders have decreased their chances of heart attacks by one-third. Also by taking frequent naps, the typical Ikarian has further reduced stress, making one look and feel younger by keeping the body primed to work during the best hours.

Low Sense of Time Urgency – It was said that Ikarians don’t wear watches, but if they do, time is not a priority for the typical Ikarian. In fact, showing up late is considered socially acceptable. With this attitude Ikarians have adopted a mentality that there is no reason to rush, which reduces heart-harming stress hormones.

Community Values – The typical Ikarian has strong social connections. They keep their family and extended family very close, and maintain social relationships with those who live in their communities. By having these strong social connections an Ikarian has reduced their risks of depression, and further extended their longevity.

However, while the life expectancy on the small Greek island has been well recorded, it is only but one of regions in the world which have been identified as a Blue Zone (a place where people live measurably longer lives. These other places include Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Loma Linda, California and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

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