The New York Times magazine had a fascinating article Sunday on Ikaria, a Greek Island in the Aegean Sea, 30 miles off the western coast of Turkey. Here, amid the oak forests and rolling vineyards, it is not uncommon to see residents live to be 100 years old. The island's reputation as a veritable Ponce de León fantasy land, with its pristine air and water, and heart-happy Mediterranean diet, dates back 25 centuries.
But why is this so? The writer, Dan Buettner, offered this explanation:
Ikaria: Where lots of sex, naps, wine, and good food, promotes a very, very long life
Seeking to learn more about the island's reputation for long-lived residents, I called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria's few physicians, in 2009. On an outdoor patio at his weekend house, he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. "People stay up late here," Leriadis said. "We wake up late and always take naps. I don't even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then." He took a sip of his wine. "Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don't care about the clock here."
Pointing across the Aegean toward the neighboring island of Samos, he said: "Just 15 kilometers over there is a completely different world. There they are much more developed. There are high-rises and resorts and homes worth a million euros. In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don't. For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It's not a 'me' place. It's an 'us' place."
After finishing the piece, and longing to commune with our neighbors around a plate full of the aforementioned Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine, we grew curious. Where, we wondered, do people in Washington State live the longest, and how do they do it?
Turns out it is also an island, albeit nine islands -- Whidbey and Camano and seven smaller ones -- known of course as Island County, home to nearly 80,000 residents, whose biggest city is Oak Harbor.
Here, the average life expectancy of a woman is an 84.1 years; for men, it is 80.9 years. It ain't Ikaria, but it's working on it.
This, we learned from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, whose interactive map allows one to view life expectancies in every county in the U.S. Click here to check it out.
"Actually, Island County has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the country," says the Institute's acting director of communications, William Heisel, who speculates it has largely to do with a very low number of smokers and obese residents, and a generally healthier lifestyle.
Now, back to Ikaria for a moment. Researchers believe napping, which they do a whole lot of there, is one reason for their extraordinary longevity, that and feeling a real sense of being part of a close-knit community. Diet, too, is integral.
As The Times reported:
"....Dr. Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the University of Athens School of Medicine, teamed up with half a dozen scientists to organize the Ikaria Study, which includes a survey of the diet of 673 Ikarians. She found that her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish twice a week and meat five times a month, drank on average two to three cups of coffee a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar -- the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered they were consuming high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day.
Chrysohoou also suspected that Ikarians' sleep and sex habits might have something to do with their long life. She cited a 2008 paper by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health that studied more than 23,000 Greek adults. The researchers followed subjects for an average of six years, measuring their diets, physical activity and how much they napped. They found that occasional napping was associated with a 12 percent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease, but that regular napping -- at least three days weekly -- was associated with a 37 percent reduction. She also pointed out a preliminary study of Ikarian men between 65 and 100 that included the fact that 80 percent of them claimed to have sex regularly, and a quarter of that self-reported group said they were doing so with "good duration" and "achievement."
That's all for now. Time to check air fares.