The Island Where People Forget to Die

Armenistís ikaríaA fascinating account by Dan Buettner of the amazing longevity of the residents of Ikaria, a Greek Island, in the New York Times:

…For a decade, with support from the National Geographic Society, I’ve been organizing a study of the places where people live longest. The project grew out of studies by my partners, Dr. Gianni Pes of the University of Sassari in Italy and Dr. Michel Poulain, a Belgian demographer. In 2000, they identified a region of Sardinia’s Nuoro province as the place with the highest concentration of male centenarians in the world. As they zeroed in on a cluster of villages high in Nuoro’s mountains, they drew a boundary in blue ink on a map and began referring to the area inside as the “blue zone.” Starting in 2002, we identified three other populations around the world where people live measurably longer lives than everyone else. The world’s longest-lived women are found on the island of Okinawa. On Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, we discovered a population of 100,000 mestizos with a lower-than-normal rate of middle-age mortality. And in Loma Linda, Calif., we identified a population of Seventh-day Adventists in which most of the adherents’ life expectancy exceeded the American average by about a decade.

In 2003, I started a consulting firm to see if it was possible to take what we were learning in the field and apply it to American communities. We also continued to do research and look for other pockets of longevity, and in 2008, following a lead from a Greek researcher, we began investigating Ikaria. Poulain’s plan there was to track down survivors born between 1900 and 1920 and determine when and where individuals died. The approach was complicated by the fact that people often moved around. That meant that not only were birth and death records required, but also information on immigration and emigration.

The data collection had to be rigorous. Earlier claims about long-lived people in places like Ecuador’s Vilcabamba Valley, Pakistan’s Hunza Valley or the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia had all been debunked after researchers discovered that many residents didn’t actually know their ages. For villagers born without birth certificates, it was easy to lose track. One year they were 80; a few months later they were 82. Pretty soon they claimed to be 100. And when a town discovers that a reputation for centenarians draws tourists, who’s going to question it? Even in Ikaria, the truth has been sometimes difficult to nail down…

[continues in the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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3 Comments on "The Island Where People Forget to Die"

  1. Take particular note of the fact that the Ikarians aren’t slaves to the clock.

    They wake when they want to, stay up as late as they want to, and take plenty of naps through the week.

    Gardening, socializing with friends, eating fresh food—sounds like a way of life that does not suck.

  2. BuzzCoastin | Oct 26, 2012 at 8:46 am |

    in a similar vein
    20 years ago
    I knew a guy diagnosed with cancer who move from Hawaii to Atlantic City to die
    and he’s still alive today
    so the miracle cure is probably not location driven
    but it sure didn’t hurt to move to a slow paced island paradise
    and I’d take that place over AC any day

  3. What a thoughtful and interesting article. It is so enlightening to read about all
    the small pieces that fall together to promote longevity on that Greek island.
    It is not just about exercising and eating well, or staying socially engaged
    and taking a nap every day; it is about the combination of these things and the
    overall lifestyle that results from it. It actually also ties in with the psychology
    approach of looking at aging in a bio-psycho-socio-spiritual framework. All
    those aspects and the interplay between them are mentioned in the article as
    crucial, and more importantly, they should not be separated out from one
    another! The people from Ikaria make it seem a quite weird and silly notion to
    work on optimizing isolated parts of our lives (like enrolling in a gym, adding
    exercising lessons at 7am to an already very stressful week) and expect miracles
    to happen.

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