Improve your chances of living longer, do what the Ikarians do

Hilary Fannin: The Ikarians who live 10 years longer than other Europeans have it right

Many Ikarian islanders  live well into their 90s and beyond. Photograph: Gianluca Colla/National Geographic/Getty Images

Many Ikarian islanders live well into their 90s and beyond. Photograph: Gianluca Colla/National Geographic/Getty Images

 

I was reading recently about the islanders of Ikaria, one of the lesser-visited Greek islands in the sparkling Aegean, about a 10-hour ferry trip from Athens. 

On average, Ikarians live 10 years longer than their fellow-European and American contemporaries, experiencing less heart disease, depression, cancer, anxiety and dementia along the way.

Many Ikarians live well into their 90s and beyond, happily traversing the Ikarian mountainsides, chasing recalcitrant goats around rocky cliffs, through steep valleys and canopies of scrub, stopping off in olive groves or secluded coves for a home-grown lunch of wild greens, potatoes, fish and robust red wine. (Sorry, could I just interrupt myself here to say that the similarities to my own life are staggering?)

And as if all that hiking over the rugged mountainside wasn’t enough exercise, legions of Ikarian males between the ages of 65 and 100 still have sex of “good duration” and “achievement”, although my flimsy research didn’t specify with whom. 

Ikarians also eschew mobile phones, watches and alarm clocks, and one might assume that Fitbits, weighing scales and exercise trackers don’t often rock up on Ikerian Christmas wish-lists either. 

Mental health

In terms of understanding the islanders’ exceptionally good mental health (aside from the endless sex of good duration and achievement, of course), my guess would be that the population of that craggy, sun-kissed island are not spending their long lives assembling flat-pack furniture, trying to remember the shagging password for their online banking account or looking for parking near the bottle bank.

There are lots of fun things you can do to improve your chances of longevity: cut out gluten and refined carbs, eat organic vegetables and wild fish, floss, fast, meditate, and practice yoga for 90 minutes a day five days a week while remembering to spear your bucking halibut on the way home. 

You can get scientific and monitor your epigenetics, or attempt to replace the caps on your DNA strands by eating up your beetroot leaves and bathing in peach juice and cuckoo spittle. You can dry-brush your bottom, support your synapses and take up snowboarding or Sanskrit to fire up a couple of sleepy neurons. You can drink more water, play floating chess in a mineral bath and desist from picnicking on pork pies under pylons or drinking absinthe from asbestos, or – and this is my preferred method of holding on to one’s crumbling visage and mental alacrity – you can simply sleep more.

Tired mind

Yep, if age is the new rage, mate, napping is the new black. A 10- to 20-minute nap each day will refresh your tired mind and increase your energy and alertness; a 60-minute nap will boost your memory; and a 90-minute nap is recommended to improve emotional energy and creativity for people who didn’t get enough sleep the night before. (Which is just about everyone over 50 who gets out of bed at night to stumble to the bathroom, steps on the cat on the way back to the scratcher and then lies awake half the night worrying about lying awake half the night.) 

There are very few stories of famous women whose lives were enhanced by naps, though there are many of famous men including Einstein, Napoleon, Churchill and Salvador Dali, who napped upright with a metal tray on his lap, holding a key in his hand, the idea being that when the key dropped he would awake to capture his subconscious at play. Then there were Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan and Clinton, all of whom dozed their presidential heads off. (Kennedy preferred to sleep in bed after lunch with Jackie who, it is said, would drop everything to join him. Imagine: every single afternoon for an hour, if not two, before Kennedy would get up, take his second hot bath of the day and resume business mid-afternoon.)    

Anyway, I figure I’m going to have to stay alive and conscious for an extremely long time before I see a repeal of the Eighth Amendment, Ivanka Trump host her own permaculture gathering in a Tipperary yurt or, indeed, the Catholic Church sell off a handful of triptychs and hand-painted cathedrals to pump up its contribution to the redress scheme.

Right. Time to revise resolutions. Time to sleep more and worry less.

It would be nice to imagine dozing off daily in an olive grove or on monogrammed sheets, rather than folding in an inelegant slump, dribbling on to unattractive leisurewear in a shabby kitchen chair. Still, needs must. And who knows, this tatty old world might seem like a brighter place after a stolen kip.

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