18 Blue Zone Secrets For a Long and Healthy Life
18 Blue Zone Secrets For a Long and Healthy Life

“Success leaves clues” is a saying for a reason. And one of the easiest ways to improve our well-being is to spot the clues we find in others who lead the healthy, happy lives we wish for ourselves. What is their secret? By observing what they do, and understanding how they do it, we can adapt their successful habits to our own lives. This way, we can start making changes that will successfully restore our own bodies and minds.

The people from the blue zones, five areas with the highest life expectancy rates worldwide, seem to have discovered the secret. One of those areas is on the Greek island of Ikaria—known as the Island of Long Life—where people experience the lowest rates of dementia and middle-age mortality. Not only do they live ten years longer than most Americans and Europeans, one in three Ikarians live well into their 90s.

Naturally, everyone wants to know what they are doing differently. Is it the beautiful backdrop of the Aegean Sea and olive groves? Or is there something larger at play?

The answer lies in their traditional way of life, emphasizing good nutrition and an active lifestyle. Mind you, some of their customs, like fasting and drinking goat milk, may not be recommended for those suffering from chronic conditions. So please take into account your specific situation. However, there’s plenty of good advice here for maintaining your health. Here are some specific Ikarian traditions and how they help:

Note: Not all of the health or medical claims made here have been scientifically tested or universally proven; however, the claims are based on evidence gathered by researchers of the Ikarian population.

Ikarian Secrets for a Healthful Diet

1. Drink Herbal Tea 
Made from wild marjoram, sage, mint, rosemary, and dandelion, these comforting drinks double as medicine. When enjoyed regularly, the natural diuretic properties in some of these herbs may help protect the body against high blood pressure, assist in fending off heart disease, aid in alleviating hypertension, and possibly decrease risk of dementia. [1],[2]

2. Enjoy Lots of Olive Oil 
Ikarians enjoy high amounts of this monounsaturated fat, shown to lower cholesterol and control insulin levels. They’ll often drizzle the unheated oil over prepared food before serving to enrich the meal’s flavor. [3]

3. Fast Occasionally 
With a strong tradition of Greek Orthodox practice, the islanders observe four fasting periods each year in addition to their weekly Wednesdays and Fridays. During these times, they abstain from products of red-blooded animals, dairy, and sometimes wine and olive oil. This leaves mainly plant-based foods, with cephalopods like squid and octopus added to the mix. Studies show that such caloric restriction may be associated with slowing the aging process. [4]

4. Try A Little Wine 
Ikarians drink one to two glasses of red wine every day, preferably with food and friends. While alcohol consumption is not recommended for people with chronic illnesses or certain health conditions, and individual responses to alcohol differ, some studies show red wine may help support the heart, primarily through the action of antioxidants such as resveratrol. [5]

5. Focus on Veggies 
Unlike people in most contemporary cultures, Ikarians focus their meals around seasonal, homegrown vegetables, rather than making meat the star. This means loads of nutritional benefits: fiber, antioxidants, essential minerals, and a whole lot more. As such, residents of this island experience less diabetes, dementia, cancer, strokes, and heart attacks than Americans of similar age.

greek salad

6. Eat Larger Lunches and Smaller Dinners 
On the island, dinner tends to take place early in the evening, often consisting of only a light salad or some bread and goat milk. According to a 2013 study conducted at Tel Aviv University, eating a large breakfast, a moderate lunch and a smaller dinner may help with losing weight and lowering risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. [6]

7. Limit Meat Consumption 
Ikarians tend to eat lamb or goat only a few times a month. And, when they do, it’s often high-quality, grass-fed, hormone-free, and locally sourced. While studying 500,000 people, the National Cancer Institute found that those individuals who ate greater amounts of meat than the other participants had a 30 percent higher chance of dying during a span of 10 years. [7]

8. Limit Sugar
Foods high on the glycemic index are extremely low on the priority list here. Meals rarely include added sugar, and most treats enjoyed come in the form of wine or fruit. This could be why the island enjoys lower rates of diabetes than the U.S. [8]

9. Drink Goat’s Milk 
Tracing back to the third millennium B.C., studies show that goat’s milk is easier to digest than cow’s milk, and it also packs quite a nutritional punch. It’s higher in both calcium and in tryptophan, an amino acid that has been associated with a reduction in stress hormones and the risk of heart disease. [9]

10. Avoid Anything Processed or Packaged
Although, sadly, soda, potato chips, and processed foods have started making their way to the island, most residents keep their diets free of refined carbs and artificial flavors. Without all of that in their diets, many Ikarians are able to avoid chronic inflammation and insulin resistance—key drivers in heavy-hitting diseases. [10]

11. Eat More Beans 
Ikarians place great importance on incorporating beans into their diets, with black-eyed peas and garbanzo being two favorites. The vitamin-, mineral-, and antioxidant-filled legumes are great sources of fiber and protein. [11], [12]

12. Forage for Wild Greens 
Foraging for home-grown ingredients continues to be trendy in swank restaurants, but locals on Ikaria have been searching for nettles, thistles, and wild asparagus their whole lives. Adding these to stews and salads ensures they’re getting as much as 10 times more antioxidants than a glass of wine. [13]

13. Add in Dandelion 
That eyesore in the middle of your yard actually is a powerful superfood. In addition to cleansing the kidneys and liver, it may help increase bone strength and promote insulin production. Ikarians often put the leaves in salads or boil them for teas. [14]

Ikarian Secrets for a Healthful Lifestyle

1. Move. A lot.
Ikarians rarely sit still. They’re constantly moving, often walking up to six miles a day, working in their gardens, and doing manual labor. By building movement into their daily lives, they are able to reduce inflammation, improve heart health and stress resilience, and maintain bone and muscular health. [15]

2. Put Family First 
Family is paramount in Ikaria, playing a central role in all areas of life. In addition to committing to a life partner, most of the islanders have parents living at home. The grandparents help raise their grandchildren, which gives the elderly an active social role, resulting in a greater sense of purpose and lower risk of depression. Equally, the kids are shown to have lower disease rates. [16]

3. Get Social 
Ikarians enjoy a strong sense of community, making spending time with friends a daily activity. It’s not uncommon for them to meet in the evenings at the local bar or café for games and conversation. This, as you can imagine, may readily result in lower depression, chronic stress, and even body weight. Studies show that after the age of 65, cognitive decline increases in the absence of social interaction. [17]

4. Stop Checking Your Watch 
There’s a general attitude on Ikaria that nothing happens fast. Most residents don’t even wear watches and enjoy a nonchalant relationship with time. No one is stressing about meetings or dinner dates. People stay up late, wake up late, and take daily naps in between. Having a more laid-back approach to life has been linked with a host of body and mind benefits.

5. Take Naps 
As mentioned above, Ikarians like to nap. At 3p.m., the stores close and everyone turns in. Recent studies show that napping may lower blood pressure and support a healthy heart. [18]

While cultural elements play a large part in how the Ikarians structure their day, we can find ways to adopt many of these habits in our daily lives. Maybe not all of them, and maybe not all at once. Again, you have to be conscious of which choices are best, depending on your health situation. But these are very easy, doable practices that for some people may have significant impact on longevity and emotional outlook.

Go on, you can do it! Make your life its own blue zone.

18 Blue Zone Secrets For a Long and Healthy Life

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About the Medical Director
Dr. Bill Rawls
Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
  • Dr. Bill Rawls


    Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.

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