Maybe it’s the crystal blue waters and rocky shores against a mountainous backdrop, idyllic to any discerning traveler’s eye, or that the old simply forget to die, but Ikaria, Greece is like few places on this planet. With octogenarians who can boast being married for sixty-five years, and most of the community walking at least a few kilometers a day, there are a few immediately apparent hints as to why people outlive those in our own countries. Other secrets of the locals are harder to unearth.
After all, Ikaria may look post-card perfect, but it isn’t much different than many other Greek isles, or for that matter, much of the Mediterranean. Ikaria is about 30 miles from the Turkish coast, but people here live at least a decade longer, on average, then anyone in Turkey, Monaco, Italy, Spain, France, or mainland Greece, let alone the U.S. or other industrialized nations. The many 100-plus residents aren’t just existing into their old-age, they thrive. Many of them are still physically active, mentally astute, and an active part of the community.
Ikaria is rare indeed. It joins just a handful of other countries called Blue Zones where people consistently live much longer than their American and European neighbors. These include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia’s Nuoro Province, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California (where there is a high concentration of Seventh Day Adventists), and Ikaria, Greece.
Ikaria has the largest number of ninety-year-olds on the planet – so how do they do it? It turns out they share a few commonalities with other cultures, even though the Blue Zones are spread across the planet. The things that Ikarians do to stay young and vital might be surprising, too, since they don’t take a million medications, have extensive surgeries, or even nix every bad habit. One of Ikaria’s ninety year olds that was interviewed by National Geographic was even a smoker.
Ikarians eat lots of potatoes and beans. They also eat what looks like a weed called horta. Horta hasn’t been scientifically evaluated for life-sustaining properties but the locals swear by it. They also eat a ton of other greens including black mustard, dandelion, wild sorrel, chicory, fennel, chard, kale, mallow, black nightshade, lamb’s quarters, wild leeks, hoary mustard, charlock, Smooth Sow-thistle and even the fresh leaves of the caper plant. Wild edible plants are used often in cooking, too.
Ikarians Believe in Drinking Red Wine, Taking Naps, and Having Sex
While this sounds more like a recipe for a hedonist than a centenarian, those old fogies are likely on to something.
Wine has high levels of polyphenols and antioxidants. It can also help to lower cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. If you drink a glass of wine with an Ikarian meal, it about triples the flavonoid absorption. Usually, they don’t have more than a few.
Taking naps – well there’s loads of studies showing this singular habit can do everything from alleviate our sleep deficits, to boost our brains, including improvements in creative problem solving, verbal memory, perceptual learning, object learning, and statistical learning. Naps also improve our ability to learn, manage our blood pressure, and lower incidence of stroke, or heart attack by 37 percent.
What does having sex do for you besides relieve stress and make you feel amazing? How about this – people who have sex a couple of times a week tend to have higher amounts of the antibody immunoglobulin A (IgA) than those who have sex less than once a week. It’s also a form of exercise that’s good for the heart than running on a treadmill. It decreases negative menopause symptoms in women, and increases oxytocin to reduce pain. This also calms the nervous system, and reduces cortisol which can wreak havoc on the body over time.
Exercise Isn’t the Same in Ikaria
The people who live into their nineties in Ikaria definitely exercise. They walk everywhere. They work in their gardens. They use hand tools. They kneed bread by hand. Their physical activity is unconscious, but it’s done every day and integrated into their lives so seamlessly, they’d probably laugh to see what we do at the gym.
Ikarians are also fun-loving, jolly people who connect with each other instead of stare at a cell phone or computer screen all day. Hosts of scientific literature suggest that our connection to others, alone, can give us a reason to live.
“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion,” says Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral science at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.”
Ikarians are also self-sufficient people who live a traditional way of life. As one travel site describes the island,
“Ikaria seems to laugh in the face of modern life — the greedy rush through time, the loss of identity through globalization and homogenous life styles, consumerism, materialism and an official, or unofficial police state that observes and dictates the rules of living where there is meant to be freedom.”
If we want to live longer, and fuller lives like the men and women of Ikaria, Greece, we’ve got a lot of changing to do – but the take away? It’s totally doable.
Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.
Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.
Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.
Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.
Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.
“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”
However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.
In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”
“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”
Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say
With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.
According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.
The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.
While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.
Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.
“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.
“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.
Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced
However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.
Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact
Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.
And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.
Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.
Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.
Death Toll, by Percent of Population
In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.
Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.
The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.
Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.
History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning
While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.
In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.
What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?
Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics
Republished from ZH with permission.