Healthy Habits

Impressive Ikarian Longevity

couple biking together

Content provided by the Health & Wellness Team at GBS Benefits

One of the original Blue Zones – Ikaria, Greece – has been referred to as “the place where people forget to die.” Ikarians experience lower rates of age-related disease, like Alzheimer’s, than almost anywhere in the world. In fact, dementia among people over eighty-five is nearly nonexistent, making dementia over seventy five percent less common than it is in the United States.

Ikarians have a high population of centenarians, with one in three residents living into their nineties. A combination of factors including geography, culture, diet, lifestyle, and outlook contribute to the tiny island’s impressive longevity.

Purposeful Movement

Ikaria is a rocky and mountainous village. Almost every trip to the store or a friend’s house includes an uphill path. As a result, throughout the day residents are getting regular, low intensity physical activity. They make mindless movement part of their lifestyle. Rather than planning thirty minutes at the gym for exercise, they consistently move and remain active throughout the day by gardening, working in their yards, and walking to different areas of the village.

The lesson: Engineer more mindless movement into your life. Consider planning more purposeful activities into your day, like an evening bike ride to visit a neighbor or walking to a nearby park with your family. Find activities you enjoy that also serve a purpose by providing consistent, low intensity movement.

Take a Break – Relax or Nap

Ikarians frequently take a midafternoon break to relax or nap. Research suggests that people who nap regularly have up to a 35 percent lower chance of dying from heart disease. This may be due to a decrease in stress levels during the break or giving our heart and mind a chance to rest.

The lesson: Incorporate a midafternoon break. Whether that is a nap, or simply time to recenter yourself. If you do take a nap, try to keep it between ten and thirty minutes to avoid feeling groggy and disoriented. Consider reading a non-work-related book, stretching, or listening to music to recharge during the afternoon.

Mediterranean Diet

Perhaps the greatest contribution to Ikarian longevity is their diet. Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Research indicates a strong link between healthy dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, and lower Alzheimer’s risk or slower cognitive decline. The Mediterranean diet referenced in these studies refers to the following:

  • High intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, and cereals
  • High intake of unsaturated fatty acids (mostly in the form of olive oil)
  • Low intake of saturated fatty acids
  • Moderately high intake of fish
  • Low-to-moderate intake of dairy products (mostly cheese or yogurt)
  • Low intake of meat and poultry
  • Regular but moderate amount of ethanol, primarily in the form of wine and generally during meals.

The lesson: It may be time to reevaluate your diet. What adjustments can you make to follow some of these guidelines?



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