The title grabbed my attention – “The Island Where People Forget to Die”. The article appeared in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, and I have been thinking about it all week. Click on the link, if for no other reason, to see the picture of the absolutely radiant, very elderly man with the sharp outfit. It made me smile looking at his uninhibited partially toothed grin.
I spend the bulk of my working life focusing on the way people eat, yet it is clear that longevity and quality of life are determined by more complex combinations of lifestyle factors. The people on the Greek island of Ikaria do not own watches! They do not pay attention to time at all!! Think about that for a moment. How much of our stress is connected to the clock, deadlines, perceived life-or-death goals?
Another thing that struck me as significant about their lifestyle, made all the more evident as I watch the news accounts of people coming together in response to Hurricane Sandy, is the importance of interconnectedness. We simply live better and longer when we have strong social bonds.
And what about activity level? We like to call it “exercise”, but the people on Ikaria just keep active in their daily lives – no need for a gym. In fact, the vast majority of those over 80 are still active.
Yes, they eat well too – a Mediterranean diet, with locally grown food and very little meat. They drink some wine and a little coffee, and don’t eat processed foods. Home-baked sourdough bread is a staple, along with herbal teas from local plants.
This way of eating has an impressive amount of research supporting it, but I think there may be another factor at play. I cannot picture Ikarians poring over the internet obsessing about what they should or shouldn’t eat. I think they just eat as they live – in touch with their bodies. They eat what is fresh, when it is available, in the quantities needed to feel nourished. I believe they enjoy their food and do not over-think eating.
And they smile. Check out that picture again. What a nice look! It’s called happiness.