how to live to 100: drink wine and walk

Posted on June 19th, 2013

I’ve written about my visit to Ikaria a few times, through a little series that’s evolved on my blog titled “How to live to 100”. Paniyiris and wine, eating no sugar and eating pork are some of the tricks I came across.

Stamatis Moraitis tending his vineyard and olive grove on Ikaria.

Stamatis Moraitis, 102, tending his vineyard and olive grove.

Recently my mate Dan Buettner, a National Geographic adventurer and author of the New York Times bestseller The Blue Zones has been out and about spreading the word on the place, based on our trip there together last year. It’s been interesting to see what other journalists (who’ve since travelled to the island to see things for themselves) have found. Here a bit of a list drawn from Guardian and New York Times articles, from the mouths of the oldies themselves.

Drink wine and walk.

Gregoris Tsahas, 100: Drinks two glasses of red wine a day. And walks four hilly kilometres a day from his house to his local cafe and back.

Rest when you need to and sleep with the window open.

Kostas Sponsas, 100: “If I feel tired, I read. It rests my mind.” He never eats fried food. Always sleeps well and with the window open. Drinks herbal teas and red wine with his food.

Stamatis Moraitis, 102: Wakes up when he feels like it, works the vineyards til mid afternoon, has lunch and takes a nap. In the evenings he walks to the local tavern and plays dominoes well past midnight.

Don’t watch the time.

Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians: “People stay up late here. 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. 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.”

Be with family.

Evangelia Karnava, 97.

Evangelia Karnava, 97.

Evangelia Karnava, 97: “To have your family around you makes you feel stronger and more secure.” She speaks of her three children, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and her great-great-grandchild.

Eleni Mazari: “We keep the old people with us. There is an old people’s home, but the only people there are those who have lost all their family. It would shame us to put an old person in a home. That’s the reason for longevity.”

Ilias Leriadis: It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”

Work in the garden.

Thanasis and Eirini Karimalis, married for more than 75 years: Wake naturally, work in the garden, have a late lunch, take a nap. At sunset they get together with their neighbours.

Nikos Fountoulis, 93: He still has a smallholding in the hills of the island’s interior. Each morning he goes out at 8am to feed his animals and tend his garden.

Vangelis Koutis, 97: “Fresh air, the best climate in the world and the friendliest people I’ve ever met.”

And eat honestly.

As Dan writes: Every one of the Ikarians’ dietary tendencies had been linked to increased life spans: olive oil — especially unheated — reduced bad cholesterol and raised good cholesterol. Goat’s milk contained serotonin-boosting tryptophan and was easily digestible for older people. Some wild greens had 10 times as many antioxidants as red wine. Wine — in moderation — had been shown to be good for you if consumed as part of a Mediterranean diet, because it prompts the body to absorb more flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. And coffee, once said to stunt growth, was now associated with lower rates of diabetes, heart disease and, for some, Parkinson’s. Local sourdough bread might actually reduce a meal’s glycemic load. You could even argue that potatoes contributed heart-healthy potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber to the Ikarian diet. Another health factor at work might be the unprocessed nature of the food they consume: because islanders eat greens from their gardens and fields, they consume fewer pesticides and more nutrients. It’s been estimated that the Ikarian diet, compared with the standard American diet, might yield up to four additional years of life expectancy.

And Gary Taubes, founder of the nonprofit Nutrition Science Initiative and the author of Why We Get Fat comments:  “One explanation why they live so long is they eat a plant-based diet. Or it could be the absence of sugar and white flour.” One survey of the diet of 673 Ikarians found they 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, consumed high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar.

Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians: the locals drink “mountain tea,” made from dried herbs endemic to the island, which is enjoyed as an end-of-the-day cocktail. Wild marjoram, sage (flaskomilia), a type of mint tea (fliskouni), rosemary and a drink made from boiling dandelion leaves and adding a little lemon. “People here think they’re drinking a comforting beverage, but they all double as medicine,” Leriadis said. Honey, too, is treated as a panacea. “They have types of honey here you won’t see anyplace else in the world,” he said. “They use it for everything from treating wounds to curing hangovers, or for treating influenza. Old people here will start their day with a spoonful of honey. They take it like medicine.”

Hoping to live to 100? Do you employ any of these tips in your life already?





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  • Grace

    Thank you Sarah


  • Issy

    I drink mountain tea, it is very soothing and tastes great. It is meant to be high in iron.


  • Adrienne

    My grandpa eats honey and drinks red wine everyday. He’s 83 and shows no signs of ill health, physically or mentally. I think he might live forever.

    He is from Greece and has always eaten a simple, Mediterranean diet. Keeps his mind active – he’s not content to stay set in his ways. He reads, writes and produces art (models, paintings, whatever). He emails overseas friends and socialises with local ones.

    Not a bad effort if you ask me.


  • Maddison

    This is very fascinating, and I love all the tips, I’d love to live that old.


  • Dolly Levi

    My Dad eats a mediterranean diet. He is Portuguese. He could live on Batatas Bacalhau swimming in olive oil with olives, raw onion and raw garlic. He turned 64 this month and still looks like he’s in his forties, with a full head of hair, no wrinkles and clear eyes.
    Futhermore, he hasn’t gained weight in 40 years.
    There is a lot of truth in this article Sarah.


  • Ashley

    My great-grandmother lived to be 100. She was a feisty Norwegian card shark who lived independently until into her 99th year, with family nearby. She was known to everyone as “Grandma New Albin” (the name of town where she lived) and had over a hundred great-grandchildren of her own. Although she didn’t always know our names, she knew who we belonged to :) Her secret for a long life — plenty of sleep and sauerkraut EVERY day!

    I find this especially interested because I’ve been having digestive issues and adrenal fatigue, and what are two of the top pieces of advice I get? Plenty of sleep and fermented foods every day…looks like grandma was right!


  • The Dame Intl

    I already wake up naturally, eat a late lunch, go for long walks or bike rides, read and nap, drink wine and eat cold virgin olive oil on my mostly vegetarian diet. Im 34. Does this mean I will live another 100 years? :)


  • Africanaussie

    What happened to early to bed and early to rise? that is the only concept here that I find strange. I think one of the most important ones is no sugar or white flour.


    Wendy Reply:

    Everybody’s body clocks are different. Working to your natural circadian rhythms rather than ones governed by alarm clocks and modern life will always be better. The key to a good life and health are to be as close to our natural ways as possible. We are but animals after all.


  • Andreas

    Ah what a beautiful place Ikaria is. Thanks for sharing this – have forwarded it to my Greek grandma who’s been telling me these things for years!


  • Lynda – all about mama

    I really enjoyed this post Sarah…it made me feel restful just reading about these people’s way of life..I went to a few different Greek islands about 15 years ago and it really is a whole different way of life – the way life should be: no stress, good food, a real sense of community,and waking up when you feel like it. I’m a huge fan of herbal tea, I have been drinking a thermas of a mix of fresh and dried herbs for about five years every day. Since that time I feel my immune system has been given a huge boost, I rarely get colds and anytime one does come it doesn’t last long at all. Plus you get so used to the beautiful flavours and the relaxing feeling of drinking it that I feel really out of sorts if I miss a day.


  • Jemima

    Wow what a great story and a fantastic culture. Makes me want to move there ASAP!! :)


  • Rees

    I need to move to the Byron hinterland and take on this lifestyle. Great post


  • Caroline

    My Great-Aunt, at 93, lives in Dorset in the UK and does the following:
    – walks everywhere
    – eats a heap of oily fish, cheese and salads
    – still studies, recently completed a degree in French
    – travels regularly
    – writes emails
    – generally devours the written word and continues to learn

    My grandmother lived until she was 92 also, and ate plenty of salmon and drank whisky like a fish. Read The Age from cover to cover every day for 50 years. I’m constantly inspired by them to do continue learning and nourishing my body and mind.

    Go ladies!


    Lauren Rose Reply:

    Caroline what a beautiful story about your grand mother. Bless her!

    Sarah your post has taken words away and left me in serene contemplation. Thank you, and you are your own genre of travel writer – I love reading the way you inject love and human sensitivity through your words. I think instead of ‘traveling’, your writing is doing what I love most and that’s illustrating real earthy stories about those living up the road, in our backyards and simply on the other side of the old ricketty fence.


  • Jessica Nazarali

    Lovely post Sarah thank you


  • Natalie

    I love ‘The Blue Zones’ and read it after seeing you recommended it. Amazing book and everyone must read it! Especially if you find the above interesting..

    I adopt everything I can, but living in the suburbs, working a 9-5 job to be able to afford that living and residing in a totally hill-less area means some are just impossible to do. I think that a super duper important part of living a long, healthful life is avoiding stress – not just learning to be calm and take things as they come, but stress on the body in the way of processed and refined food, intense exercise (I’m a big believer in long walks), excessive consumption of any 1 food group etc.

    I also think different specifics will work for different people as we all have different genes, but there’s certainly no harm in leaving sugar behind, a bit of red wine and some olive oil for anyone…


  • Jess @ Sparrow + Sea

    I’m fascinated by the stay-up-late/get-up-late message! As an eternally square night owl constantly trying to jam herself into a very round early-bird hole, this item makes me re-evaluate my constant efforts to reset my body clock in order to do what’s *best* and recommended by almost every health + wellness resource out there. Everyone seems to preach the ‘early to bed and early to rise’ message. But it just doesn’t flow with me! But hey, if it late nights and sleep-ins work for the Ikarians, perhaps I can just embrace my natural instincts, safe in the knowledge that night owls can indeed embody wellness and longevity too…?!!


    K Reply:

    I’m the same! The best I’ve felt was when I was working and socialising at night and sleeping in – the total opposite to what is recommended, as you say (and another thing that doesn’t work for me with the Paleo lifestyle.)

    I find that I’m more creative and motivated at night and struggle with mornings, but as I have 3 kids now and need to fit in with the routine of school drop-offs etc, this is how it has to be for now. I’m hoping one day when the kids are older (and are also staying up late and sleeping in!) I’ll be able to tailor my sleep patterns to better suit my body-clock.


    Stormageddon Reply:

    I’m better in the mornings, can’t sleep in to save myself, but I dont think true “morning people” are as common as lifestyle literature makes them out to be. I’m certainly considered a weirdo by many.

    I don’t think you should ever take health/ wellness advice over the advice given to you by your own body, though! You do you. Even if it’s weird. There’s nobody with a scorecard that is going to mark you down for it.


    Maya Reply:

    I’m exactly the same – occasionally I have to get into an early rise/ early sleep pattern for work as I do some shift work, but naturally I will always slip back into staying up late and getting up late. I’m the only one in my family wired that way though – they think I’m lazy for sleeping in until 10am, but it’s only they were fast asleep while I was up pottering around past at 1am!


    Wendy Reply:

    I would love to work to my natural circadian rythym rather than modern life’s expectancy.


  • Sally Kirkman

    I love this article! It makes me very happy that drinking wine and walking are the ways to a long and healthy life. Two of my favourite activities.
    I may well retire to Greece as I’ve visited many times and the country has soul. It also has lots of sunshine, something we’re lacking in the UK at the moment. That has also got to be good for you!
    Thank you, Sarah. Great article.


  • K

    My great-grandmother lived until her 90s, and was healthy (and sharp as a tack) until a couple of days before she died.

    I don’t remember a lot about her diet, but I know she mainly ate basic meals eg.meat and veg for dinner. She did eat sugar, biscuits etc but her overall intake of food wasn’t huge, so perhaps her lower calorie intake contributed to her longevity?

    She also had a really positive outlook on life and was always having a laugh and telling jokes. She’d lived through the depression and wars, so I think she appreciated the little things in life and how good life was in Australia after that period.

    The only other things I can think of are:
    – while she wore a little bit of make-up on special occasions, she didn’t wear it every day and she didn’t colour her hair, so maybe a lack of toxins/chemicals etc too?
    – she walked lot. As in, she incorporated walking into her day, but not strenuous exercise (she would have found exercise machines strange).
    – she drank small amount of alcohol (scotch or brandy?) straight (not often though)
    – she was very social and always loved a chat


  • Rose

    I agree. I think a low calorie intake has definitely something to do with it. You can see by some of the replies how varied some of these diets are. Some do have some things in common like olive oil or red wine but it’s not what you’d find in a different part of the world. As you say mainly wholesome diet and fresh, local ingredients and a good outlook does always help too!


  • K

    Also, regarding pork: I don’t eat pork myself, but I found this article interesting:

    “Three slices of bacon a day keep the doctor away.

    At least that’s been the case for 105-year-old Texas woman Pearl Cantrell, who credits her daily dose of sizzling pork for her longevity.

    “Hard work and bacon,’’ Cantrell told about her reasons for living a long life. “I love bacon. I eat it every day. It’s got to be crispy.””

    The article states that her Dad used to kill the pigs, so she’d eat the bacon directly from the source…possibly eliminating the nitrates/preservatives in the packaged stuff?

    It would also be interesting to know what sort of oil she uses to fry it up.


  • Ms Jane

    I love the photo of Stamatis. What a happy face :)


  • Steph

    Like a lot of people commenting here, I also come from a long-lived family, with great-grandparents who all lived into their nineties and grandparents into their nineties and one even over one hundred (my paternal grandmother). I actually wonder though if this is more about the environments they lived in when they were children/young.

    I also realized recently that no woman (no man either, for that matter) in my family has ever had cancer (knock on wood), and it got me to thinking about other commonalities in their experience – they were all born on farms (before my generation), tended to live relatively simple, stress-free lives, gardened for many of their food needs, etc. One commonality that I find interesting because it is relatively unusual in the western culture is that no woman in my family has ever coloured her hair (including me), and none of us really wear any makeup (I wear mascara occasionally, but that’s it). I know there’s no direct evidence of a link between hair colouring and cancer, say, but it’s something that niggles at me as I look around me at the 95% of women in my age group (40s) who are slathered in chemical products and who also have a high incidence rate of a wide variety of health issues. This is all to say that all of the stuff in the article is interesting, but I somehow feel that there are many important variables that are being overlooked here.


  • Jeanine

    Great read. I agree with all of this but also agree that there’s more to it than just diet. I have had severe adrenal fatigue (I could not walk more than a couple of blocks w/o feeling faint) and have learned that our busy lifestyles are really not good for us, nor are all the chemicals that surrounds us or the food we eat for that matter. Yes, we can make a lot of healthier choices (and we should) but living in a city and working at a stressful job and buying food from the supermarket will never be the same as living in Ikaria (sadly). There’s quite a few studies coming out showing that connection with nature matters for our mental well being, that chemicals in food (GMOs, pesticides) are wrecking havoc with our health, and that chemicals in products that surrounds us (Steph: yes, there are studies linking hair dyes to cancer) are also responsible for the epidemic of chronic diseases that we are having. BTW, health practitioners that deal with adrenal fatigue usually recommend sleeping in (the hours between 7 and 9am are particularly good for sufferers), and usually don’t recommend strenuous exercise as our “exercise madness” also contributes to the problem (light exercise, such as walking, is the key). I have always been a night owl, so this suits me perfectly and has helped me greatly to regain my health.


  • lizzie

    Great article. I’m here in the UK visiting my grandma who turns 101 next week. Her memory is beginning to slow but that’s about it and she has had thyroid problems since she was about 50. She is busy with clubs from various religions, daily excercise (she marches if she’s feeling too frail to go out) and crossword puzzles.

    The only thing I’d say though is that she is sad and lonely sometimes because most of her friends and family are gone. She says would love to go tomorrow. I think its worth remembering that living to be old isn’t always a gift.


  • Elle

    I love stories about Ikaria but can’t help but believe their longevity is less about what they eat and more about how they live. Roseto boasted similar longevity rates during its hay day despite residents who smoked like chimneys and drank wine until their teeth turned red! I expect we’ll soon discover that pleasurable experiences with people we love trumps any superfood out there.


  • Amber

    Thank you for this post Sarah. it made me feel good just reading it. I also loved reading about your experiences while you were there. it is def on my bucket list to visit. my grandfather and all of this brothers and sisters lived well into their nineties and 100’s. they all walked or rode push bikes everywhere and ate a simple diet of local produce. makes me yearn for a simpler life.


  • Raw Once More

    I too agree that it’s a wholistic approach to lifestyle, not diet alone. I have a wonderful diet, healthy, nutritious, delicious and a lot of home grow and organic produce. However, since trying to remove a lot of stress from my life, relocating to a coastal area, finding a way for my crippled, painful body to exercise (e-bike ridden by the beach), and generally enjoying my life and socialising more, I’ve been not only happier, but healthier. A lot of variables, but a healthy approach is the common thread to everything I do.
    I’m also a natural night owl,have been since I was born. I don’t fight it anymore. I wake naturally, sometimes as late as 11am, have lunch around 3pm, and do my best, creative work about midnight.again, much healthier and happier since I stopped fighting it. A lot of people say they can’t do what’s best for them, and often it’s difficult or impossible to make some changes, but others are possible.when people say to me, “that’s great, but I could never do what you do”, I simply ask,”why not?”. Change is never easy, but so often it’s worth the challenge.


  • Sarah Bishop

    This is amazing Sarah!
    What a wonderful reminder of remembering and valuing the more simple yet vital things in life … xx


  • Carla

    Love the article x

    Does anyone know where I can purchase mountain tea from online?


  • Sarah McKay

    Hi Sarah… great post. I’ve been reading a lot in the anti-aging field recently and LOVE The Blue Zone book. I blog about brain health and most of these principles can be applied to brain health. Your readers might be interested in one of my ways to keep the brain and mind well … my Walking Book Club … combines 3 essentials of brain health – physical activity, mental stimulation and social connectedness. A true ‘Blue Zone’ activity :)


  • Cybele @ BlahBlah Magazine

    When can I move there? My great aunt is 106 and living in her own home. When they took her license away when she turned 100 she bought a bicycle. Interestingly, she does a lot of similar things: wakes when she’s ready, walks, gardens, eats produce from her garden, drinks lots of tea and plays a mean game of chess x


  • Angie

    Wonderful post Sarah. Thank you


  • Diane

    I’d love to read a follow up post on this Sarah – tips for the modern day person on how to live more like Ikaria residents! I’ve been wondering for some time now how to exit the rat race, get off the treadmill…. and live a comfortable life.


    Katie Reply:

    I agree Dianne, would love something like this too.


    Ara Reply:

    Hi Diane!
    I am a huge blue zones fan. I have been reading Buettner’s books for months now and have most recently fallen in love with Ikaria (like most people on this site!). I am starting a series on my website with tips on living like the citizens of Ikaria within the parameters of a typical westernized lifestyle.
    I work a 9-5, very stressful, life-consuming job and I need to learn to seperate. There are so many wonderful lessons to learn from the Ikarians. I will be tracking my efforts, recipes and daily routines for the next week or so. Definitely check it out! Hopefully it gives some good tips for modern day folks on living happier, healthier, more stress free lifestyles! Enjoy :)


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  • Kath

    You can get mountain tea from any Mediterranean grocery store or at the markets – it comes in big dried bunches. Also on Ebay, direct from Greece. And I don’t mind supporting Greek online sellers at the moment given the state of their economy!


  • Vasiliki

    In some ways, your visit to Ikaria has provided a health re-awakening to return to basics but in doing so … I take pity on the poor island of Ikaria which will have increased tourism by curious people and in some ways lose its purity and identity because it will end up conforming, like other islands, to cater for the whims of the Western person seeking the “experience”. I feel so much sadness when I see how much tourism has destroyed our Greek islands …


  • Amber

    Great article Sarah. Seems to me that it’s a low-stress, sociable life that is the big key!


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