The average lifespan varies in different parts of the world. However, in areas called Blue Zones, there are people living who have incredible longevity. Researchers are fascinated by such blue zones because in them may lie the secret to living longer and healthier. Okinawa, Sardinia and Costa Rica are just a few examples of blue zones that have attracted researchers to examine the dietary and lifestyle habits of the long-living inhabitants.
One such blue zone that was recently discovered is the Greek Island of Icaria. Everywhere else, if you reach your nineties, it's considered amazing. But on this island, which boasts the highest percentage of nonagenarians (90+ years in age), there are too many to look at. Residents here have a one in three chance of reaching their nineties.
Not only are these Greek islanders living longer, but they are also living healthier. They have almost no case of old-age dementia, half as many cases of heart disease and one-fifth fewer cases of cancer. What fantastic statistics! In other places, these major killers are wreaking havoc, but on this quiet little island, peace reigns.
So what's the reason behind all this healthiness? Partly it is genetics. Researchers estimate that about twenty percent of one's longevity can be linked to DNA. But the rest of it is one's diet and lifestyle. Looking closely at the residents of Icaria, clear patterns of behavior emerge that can explain their health and longevity.
One is that local Icarians have exercise incorporated into their routines. Locals on the island mostly walk to wherever they have to go, whether it's the church or a friend's house. Also, the majority here have houses with gardens, maintenance of which requires calorie-burning exercise. All in all, the locals are forced to maintain considerably active lifestyles.
Diet is the second important aspect. Although being an island, traditionally the locals were forced into highlands by pirates, and as a result, the local cuisine does not have as much seafood. They do have a diet that's rich in olive oil, and the island grows tons of leafy vegetables. These vegetables are high in antioxidants – as much as ten times the level of antioxidants in a glass of wine. Eating them cleanses the body and helps keep people healthy.
Another distinctive aspect of the diet is the tea they drink. Not just regular tea – a special kind of herbal tea is drunk very commonly, as many as several times a day. When researchers analyzed the chemicals in five of the most commonly drunk herbal teas, they found that it was quite full of diuretics.
Diuretics function by reducing the water in the body. They have a second, substantial effect though – they reduce blood pressure. Researchers theorized that drinking this blood-pressure lowering tea on a long-term basis can have a beneficial effect on the heart.
So with all these factors, it's easy to see why the residents of Icaria have both long and healthy lives. With similar measures, and with the luck of genetics, maybe we can aspire to similarly long lives as well.