Want to enjoy health well into your 10th decade? Dr Sara Gottfried reveals what helps one Greek island’s residents defy time
Wake up naturally, without an alarm clock, and don’t put on a watch. Residents of the island Icaria don’t wear watches and have a relaxed attitude about time.
Bathe in curative hot springs. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, considered hot mineral baths curative. And in Europe and Japan, doctors widely accept them as a form of therapy for knee pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, eczema, and other problems. Natural hot springs include various minerals such as sulphur, thought to improve nasal congestion; calcium and sodium bicarbonate, believed to enhance circulation; and salt, presumed to help digestion.
Eat lots of fish, greens, and other fresh vegetables. Even compared with the standard Mediterranean diet, Icarians eat more fish and fresh vegetables, especially wild greens such as dandelion, fennel and horta (a cousin of spinach) – more than 150 varieties of local greens grow wild on the island. They rarely eat meat, usually once a week or less, and liberally drizzle olive oil as a condiment on food at the dinner table. They eat six times more beans than Americans and a quarter of the sugar. Most people have access to a family garden and livestock such as goats. But locals stress that it’s not the food alone; it’s enjoying the food in combination with conversation with loved ones.
Know your neighbours and socialise often with friends and family. Strong social connections improve health and longevity. Icarians are famous for their opendoor lifestyle and broad invitations to visitors to join them for a slow, friendly meal.
Consume raw, unpasteurised goat’s milk. Icarians use it to make yogurt and cheese. It’s known to be hypoallergenic compared with cow’s milk and does not bother most people with lactose intolerance. While goat’s milk is seemingly healthier than cow’s milk for you, it’s the raw part that may matter most for your health. When milk is pasteurised, it kills the probiotic lactobacillus acidophilus which you need to make B vitamins and inoculate the gut with healthy bacteria.
Walk like a goatherd, and garden. The rugged mountain terrain of Icaria requires a miniworkout each time someone leaves home. Sixty percent of Icarians over 90 are physically active, compared with about 20 percent elsewhere. According to visitors, it’s hard to get through the day without hiking at least 20 hills.
Drink wine moderately. Locals explain that their wine is pure, with nothing added – no preservatives. They drink two to four glasses per day. When consumed with plenty of fruits and vegetables, wine nudges the body to absorb more flavonoids, a type of plant derivative shown to benefit your health.
Fast intermittently. Most Icarians are Greek Orthodox Christians, and their religious calendar calls for intermittent fasting about six months of the year. Prior to an Orthodox feast day, they don’t eat for 18 hours. Occasionally restricting food has been shown to slow the ageing process in mammals.
Nap each afternoon. Icarians’ standard practise is to nap after lunch for 30 minutes, at least three times a week but sometimes daily. Did you know that napping lowers your risk of heart disease by 37 percent? I didn’t know that either, but the mechanism seems to be related to lowering stress hormones and resting the heart.
Eschew retirement. Icarians have a relaxed attitude about getting to work in the morning, but their work gives their lives purpose and meaning. They do not believe in retirement and view work as a way of life, not something separate from it. To them, it’s all sacred time.
Drink a thick mountain herbal tea brewed from marjoram, spleenwort, purple sage, rosemary, oregano, chamomile, dandelion leaves, artemisia or a wild mint called fliskouni. Many Icarian herbal teas act as diuretics, which flush waste out of the body and lower blood pressure by removing excess sodium and fluids. Icarians enjoy their mountain tea as a tonic at the close of day. Extracted from Younger by Dr Sara Gottfried (£14.99, Vermillion)Extracted from Younger by Dr Sara Gottfried (£14.99, Vermillion)
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