Dr. Georgiou describes what we can learn about living healthy lives from the Greek Island of Ikaria, one of five blue zones in the world.
Last year I went on an international research expedition to an island in Ikaria, Greece, which is an island off the coast of Turkey and what we were looking at was what it is about the lifestyle on that island that makes people live longer, and I have to say that these people live longer because there are 90 year olds, 100 year olds, 102-year-old man that I was racing with down the street. So what are the secrets of what makes them live longer?
Number one is that they have a diet that’s full of wild grains and herbal teas and they focus on having the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet is centered around olive oil, grains, and fish. It’s not a vegetarian diet, but vegetables are more the centerpiece of a meal with meat, fish, and other protein being more of a condiment.
The second thing that is present in Ikaria is that because it’s a mountainous area, people of all ages, from the time they are young to the time that they are very old, move naturally. They don’t go to the gym; they are not lifting weights, but they are going up and down the hill, up and down the steps because their homes are built on elevated, rocky slopes and so they have to go up and down the hills and they are moving throughout their entire life. They are moving naturally and they get really good exercise.
The third thing that we saw was their incredible sense of community. You know in our country, the elderly are isolated, many times in the nursing homes, but in this part of the world the entire family is together – the young are with the old; the young learn from the old and that gives the elderly population, the seniors, purpose and it’s a sense of purpose that really drives a sense of youthfulness in people that are 70, 80, 90 years old and you know, we have so much to learn from people who are older and wiser from us. So having them be a part of our families and our communities and making them feel like they have a place is really important.
And the fourth big thing that we saw is that there is an incredible lack of stress and time urgency coming from a place like the United States where people are always checking their watches and always on the Internet and staying constantly connected. The people in Ikaria actually didn’t wear watches. If we saw someone that was wearing a watch in Ikaria we knew that they were from Athens or from another large city because the Ikarians themselves didn’t wear a watch.
It’s not that they are not respectful of time, but it’s going to happen; it will happen some time later, and since everyone accepts that lifestyle there is a lack of stress around being on time to everything.
Finally, the last thing that they do is that they regularly take naps. Throughout Greece there is still a siesta time, but in Ikaria it’s very much part of the lifestyle where they will take a 30-minute, maybe up to a two-hour nap every single afternoon and there was an excellent research study that was published in a major American journal that was done in Greece that show that men, in particular, that take a 30-minute nap at least five times a week have a much lower risk of dying of heart disease because they think that having that rest during the middle of the day actually decreases the stress hormones, which can predispose someone to heart disease.
About Dr. Archelle Georgiou, M.D.:
Dr. Archelle Georgiou combines her deep knowledge of clinical medicine with a breadth of experience in business and health care administration to pursue her passion for simplifying the health care system. As a practicing physician and as a corporate managed care executive, Dr. Georgiou learned and leveraged the value and importance of simple and compelling communication to influence impacting patients’ personal health care behaviors as well as driving health care purchasing decisions and business growth.