Here’s Why This Small Greek Island Is One of the Healthiest Places in the World
It’s always fascinating to take a peek into how people around the world live differently, whether it’s how they work, sleep, or even date. Cultural habits and patterns also contribute to how healthy people are in various countries, cities, and societies, with some of the most successful tactics making their way into the mainstream (like the Mediterranean diet and Ayurvedic eating plans). We caught up with healthy lifestyle expert, Emmy-winning TV producer, and author of America’s longest-running syndicated fitness column Marilynn Preston, who swears by the lifestyle lessons she learned in Greece. Read on for the details, plus her tips for how you can incorporate some of her observations into your daily grind.
4 Healthy Habits to Adopt from the Island of Ikaria
Preston spends time in a small Greek community two times per year, and she explained to us why Ikaria is one of the healthiest places in the world. The island — one of the world-famous Blue Zones — boasts residents who regularly live well into their 90s. Even more, Preston tells us that Ikarians are energetic and happy right up to the end, with low rates of diabetes, heart disease, and dementia. “It’s much more about their lifestyle than their genes,” Preston asserts. Here are four ways she believes anyone can incorporate some of the Ikarians’ ultra-healthy habits.
1. Slow down. “To live longer, slow down,” encourages Preston. “On Ikaria, watches are as useless as speed bumps!” She tells us that locals live however they like, on their own time and at a comfortable pace — working and unwinding whenever they feel like it. “I learned that on my first visit there, having lunch with friends at a wonderful little taverna in the port of Agios Kirikos. We all ordered Greek salads. Some of us are still waiting,” she jokes. To do the same, Preston suggests trying your best to embrace a concept she calls “slow tourism”: “Remove your wrist watch. Hide your phone. Whoever you go, pay attention to details: the special sweetness of the honey; the pleasure of a fine wine; how it feels to simply relax under a 500-year old oak tree. Let your mantra be the Greek expression ‘siga–siga,’ which means ‘slowly, slowly.’”
2. Eat your greens (and lots of them). Can you believe that more than 150 varieties of wild greens grow on this Greek island? Preston credits their antioxidants as a health benefit, telling us that Ikarians enjoy their greens with a splash of olive oil or in salads and pies. Yummy!
3. Learn to love tea. Coffee may bring health benefits, but Preston says that Ikarians love of tea contributes to their superb health. “Ikarians drink endless cups of tea made from wild mint, chamomile, and other local herbs high in compounds that significantly lower blood pressure and decrease their risk of heart disease and dementia.” Try kicking off your day with a cup, treating yourself to a sweet afternoon pick-me up, or unwinding with a type of tea that’ll promote relaxation before you head to bed.
4. Move more. There’s no need for SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, or Crossfit in Ikaria, because locals reap some of the same benefits by simply going about their regular routines! “Many people on the island of Ikaria live in mountain villages that require vigorous walking,” Preston observes. “They also keep terraced gardens, take care of animals, and get lots of exercise every day — without thinking about it.”
3 Fun and Healthy Activities to Do on the Island of Ikaria
If you’re lucky enough to visit one of Preston’s favorite places, the magical island of Ikaria, she suggests indulging in these activities. You’ll love experiencing local culture and will leave feeling happier and healthier than ever.
1. Attend a feel-good festival. “The village feasts are called panygiria, and Ikaria is world-famous for their unforgettable all-night singing and dancing celebrations of the saints, the Virgin Mary, and the love and gratitude they feel in their lives,” Preston shares. “If you’re lucky to get to one sometime, tread lightly, and act kindly. These aren’t meant to be drunken brawls!” Preston tells us that Ikaria is a traditional Greek island with many non-traditional elements. You can expect to find that women are seen as equals, social relationships mean everything, and some villages operate at night so residents can sleep in the day. “Ikarians really know how to party!” Preston gushes. “Come for the dusk-to-dawn dancing, the singing, and the marvelous island food, including marinated goat, herb-roasted potatoes, just-picked field greens (always!), and the legendary local red wine. It’s 16 percent proof, but you won’t feel like counting after the first glass.” Opa!
2. Explore the great outdoors. “Just this year, CNN named Ikaria the number-one nature island in all of Greece,” Preston notes. “For such a small place (the island is only 99 square miles), the diversity is incredible.” She says you can expect to find beautiful rivers and lakes, mountains and forests, and waterfalls and gorges along miles of unspoiled trails. “You’ll need a detailed map, so look for the hiking guide The Round of Races on Foot as soon as you arrive,” Preston advises, “and wear strong enough shoes to take the ups and downs of the trail.” Prefer a more organized adventure? “Visit discoverikaria.com for a great selection of programs that include hiking, biking, climbing, surfing, and beach-hopping by boat.”
3. Take a cooking class. Ready to experiment with all of the fresh greens? Preston can’t recommend cooking lessons on Ikaria enough: “One of my favorite things to do whenever and wherever I travel is to take a cooking lesson in the local cuisine, and Ikaria is a marvelous place to do that. You’ll get a full-bodied taste of the culture, the people, and the customs while learning to prepare some delicious recipes that fit easily into your suitcase and can be the centerpiece of a great Greek dinner party once you get home.” Our mouths are watering just thinking about it.
(Photos via Getty)