People who reside in Blue Zone regions are pretty much winning at life. In case you're not familiar, Blue Zones are areas around the globe where folks regularly live to be over 100 years old in good health. Today, we’re particularly looking at longevity practices from Ikaria, Greece, where the older population is mostly free of dementia and other chronic diseases. (The other regions are Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; and Loma Linda, California).
While many factors contribute to Ikarian's long, healthy lives (red wine drinking and slow-pace living, for instance), Dan Buettner, a National Geographic journalist who’s been reporting on these regions for many years, boils it down to six longevity practices Ikarians live by. The cool thing? You don't need to live in Greece to live like an Ikarian (although that would be #goals).
6 longevity practices from Ikaria, Greece, and how to begin implementing them into your own life
1. Mimic mountain living
Ikarian's mountain lifestyle is a big contributor to their longevity. "The residents of the Blue Zones walk up and down hills long into their old age, maintaining muscle mass and dexterity for decades longer than most Americans," says Steven Gundry, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon, medical director at the International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine, and author of The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age. "It's important to work against gravity when exercising. This stresses, and therefore strengthens, more muscles."
Dr. Gundry suggests doing more hiking, walking up and down hills and stairs, and performing squats and push-ups—basically any movement that makes you work against gravity.
2. Eat a Mediterranean-style diet
"One of the most fundamental mechanisms associated with aging of our bodies is inflammation, [which] is enhanced by a variety of factors including lack of sleep, stress, and most importantly, the foods we choose to eat," says David Perlmutter, MD, a board-certified neurologist and author of the upcoming book Drop Acid, about uric acid management for longevity. He adds that a Mediterranean diet has been shown to be a powerful way to control inflammation in the body, hence why it's linked to longevity.
Brush up on the major benefits of the Mediterranean diet below:
3. Consume herbs
Folks who live long, healthy lives in Blue Zone regions also make it a habit to include longevity-promoting herbs in their diets, not just to enhance the flavor of dishes, but for their many health benefits, too. Specifically in Ikaria, Dr. Gundry notes that rosemary is popular, which is high in polyphenols that help feed the good bacteria of your gut microbiome (or as he calls them, gut buddies) and are converted into life-extending compounds that help keep the entire body running optimally.
If you're not a fan of rosemary, no worries. Dr. Gundry adds that oregano, sage, thyme, basil, and lemon verbena are also high in polyphenols. Furthermore, to gain the most benefits, Dr. Perlmutter recommends cooking with herbs at home versus opting for store-prepared or processed foods.
4. Take naps
Naps aren’t just for kids. Adults, too, can greatly benefit from a midday snooze. Dr. Perlmutter notes that naps help improve memory and mood and reduce stress, making them a great longevity-boosting practice. "The downstream effect of unchecked stress is the amplification of inflammation in the body," he says. "And this is absolutely what we need to avoid, at all costs, because inflammation directly ages our bodies and shortens our lifespans."
5. Occasional fasting
Intermittent fasting has also been a longevity staple in Blue Zones. Here's why: "Fasting on occasion is a powerful way to basically push the metabolic reset button," Dr. Permutter says. "Scientific studies over the past several decades have clearly demonstrated how fasting accomplishes important longevity related tasks like improving blood sugar, blood pressure, and inflammation."
6. Make friends and family a priority
Beyond what and how they eat, centenarians in Ikaria also make spending time with their loved ones a primary focus. "Human connection really seems to drive successful aging," Dr. Gundry says, adding that it also motivates people to stay alive and vibrant. "I've seen in scores of patients that 'super seniors' are motivated to be with others, act as a source of knowledge for younger generations, and literally become the pillar of their families or communities." This is why he encourages everyone to put this Blue Zone priority into practice by doing things like joining groups (even virtual ones) or volunteering at local organizations.
Dr. Perlmutter adds to this by saying isolation amplifies stress in the body and increases the production of inflammation-related chemicals, decreasing longevity. On the other hand, participating in community improves our brain's decision-making abilities, allowing us to make better diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices that enhance longevity. In other words, he says, "We thrive in a connected environment."
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