Ikaria is more than just a scenic island, it’s also a place to grow old. In fact, a lot of the residents have life expectancy longer than those in other countries. Many Ikarians not only live past the ninety-year mark but even go further than a hundred. It joins the ranks of Okinawa island, which was dubbed as another “blue zone,” for having inhabitants who have lived past the expected age of death.
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Most of the old folks can credit their longevity to the fact the Ikaria is basically a natural paradise. Clean air, organic food, and stress-free environment play a big role in keeping a person healthy—and luckily, Ikaria has all that. Ikarians are also less susceptible when it comes to contracting heart diseases, so everything about this island is absolutely perfect for anyone who want to remain physically active for a long time.
The island was named directly after a young man in Greek mythology who plunged into the sea after flying too close to the sun. He was then resurrected and made into the island now known as Ikaria. It’s easy to see why the myth is so close to reality as the area is one of the most beautiful ones in Greece. Even if it does bear a resemblance to other islands in the area, it boasts its unique ability to hold a population that lives longer than the one in mainland.
Ikaria used to be under the rule of the Ottoman empire but broke away from its hold around early 1800s during the Greek War of Independence. Ikaria officially became a free state by 1912 but was greatly affected by wars throughout its history, including the Second World War.
Life in Ikaria vastly improved by 1960, when the island was assisted by the Greek government in order to promote tourism. Everything from accessibility to food was a great difference from the scarcity that people endured before. Nowadays, tourists can expect to see a classic Mediterranean way of living. This includes maintaining gardens and even hunting for food in the wild, such as edible weeds that make up salad and pies, to complete their vegetable-rich diet. The Ikarians appear to be largely unaffected by western civilization.
In a research conducted by author Dan Buettner, he compares the life expectancy in Ikaria to that of a first-world nation like America. In an alarmingly wide difference, Americans live up to 79 on average. Ikarians, on the other hand, don’t just live past that age, but they also die of natural causes.
According to an Ikarian local and real estate agent Eleni Mazari, culture is more of a factor than just following a healthy lifestyle. She says, “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 of their family. It would shame us to put an old person in a home. That’s the reason for longevity.”
A remarkable story of a person living a long and fruitful life is that of 72-year-old Gregoris Tsahas, an Ikarian native who smokes a pack of cigarettes every day, overlooking the pristine waters of the island. His story was reported by The Guardian, where he shared that even if he was told that smoking was bad, Tsahas had not known what a serious illness was. His daily routine includes consuming two glasses of wine. Despite all this, Tsahas still takes kilometer-long walks from his house to his favorite cafe each day, a feat not many people his age can do.
But speaking of the pain that these near centenarians have endured during the war is Kostas Sponsas. After losing a leg during the time he served in Albania, Kostas managed to survive with the help of his fellow Ikarians who encourage him to be strong and courageous. It seems like that strength had transcended over the years, as Kostas has now reached the 100-year mark.
As to whether or not Ikaria can retain its secret elixir of long life as tourism expands remains unseen, but for now the residents are more than proud to call it home.