Stamatis Moraitis was living in the United States, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he had only nine months to live. He considered taking his doctor’s advice – aggressive chemotherapy that might prolong his life, but wouldn’t cure him. But upon reflection, he decided to decline it, choosing instead to return to Ikaria, the Greek island where he grew up, where he could be buried with his ancestors in a graveyard overlooking the Aegean Sea.
He and his wife moved into a small house on a vineyard with his elderly parents, where he expected he would die soon. While he prepared to die, he started going to his old church. He reconnected with friends over a bottle or two of wine. He even planted vegetables in a garden, not expecting he’d be around to harvest them. He basked in sunshine, savored the salty air, and relished in his love for this wife.
Six months passed, and not only did Stamatis not die, he was actually feeling better than ever. He started working in the vineyard during the day, making himself useful, and in the evenings, he’d play dominos with friends.
45 years later, Stamatis is now 98 years old. At one point, 25 years after his diagnosis, Stamatis went back to the United States to ask his doctors what had happened. Apparently, his doctors were all dead.
Stamatis’s story is just one of many like the case studies of spontaneous remission I share in my New York Times bestselling book Mind Over Medicine. But are cases like this just flukes? Or are there proactive steps we can take to recover from illness and live to be 100?
The New York Times article "The Island Where People Forget To Die" describes the Ikarians, a population of Greeks like Stamatis who frequently live to be over a hundred years old. What can we learn from the people of Ikaria about how to live long, happy, productive lives?
Here are some of the longevity-inducing factors researchers ferreted out from studying this population of centenarians:
1. Sleep in and take naps.
A 2008 study conducted by the University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health studied more than 23,000 Greeks and found that occasional napping was associated with a 12% reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease. But regular napping — at least three days weekly — was associated with a 37% reduction. Zzzz’s, anyone?
2. Stop worrying about being late.
Arrive whenever you get there – and let others do the same. Worrying about when you arrive triggers “fight or flight” stress responses that can reduce your life expectancy.
3. Grow a garden, nurture it, and eat from it.
Eat plants, avoid animal products, consume lots of olive oil, avoid processed foods, and drink wine in the company of good friends. Need inspiration and recipes? Read Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Kitchen.
4. Never give up your sense of purpose.
Finding and fulfilling your calling throughout your lifetime can extend your life. In fact, studies have linked early retirement to reduced life expectancy. In Okinawa, another community where many people live to be older than 100, people embrace the notion of ikigai — “the reason for which you wake up in the morning. ”
It gets centenarians out of bed and off the sofa so they can make a difference in the community. The Nicoyans in Costa Rica use the term plan de vida to describe a lifelong sense of purpose. Dr. Robert Butler, the first director of the National Institute on Aging, says that being able to define your life meaning adds to your life expectancy.
5. Get it on.
A study of Ikarian men between 65 and 100 found that 80% of them claimed to have sex regularly, and a quarter of that self-reported group said they were doing so with “good duration” and “achievement.” Go dudes! For more proof that sex isn’t just fun, it’s good for your health, read this.
6. Take a placebo at least once per day.
Ikarians take a spoonful of honey every morning. They believe it is their “medicine” and use it for both prevention and treatment of illness and injury. They also regularly consume a homemade tea made of a special blend of herbs they believe extends their lives.
While there may be some health benefit the Ikarians enjoy from the honey and herbs themselves, chances are good that the stress-relieving, relaxation-inducing effects of the positive belief they associate with the honey and tea are more potent medicine than the honey and tea themselves. For more proof that placebos really can heal your body, read this.
7. Walk up 20 hills a day.
To get around the island, Ikarians walk. And it’s hilly where they live. Exercise isn’t something they do at the gym. It’s an enjoyable, built in part of their lifestyle.
8. Cultivate a sense of belonging.
As I wrote in this blog post, finding your tribe, alleviating loneliness, and feeling like part of a community can cut your risk of heart disease in half and extend your life up to 10 years. Be part of a community where you fit in. Ikarians live in multigenerational homes and avoid spending too much time alone. And researchers have proven that being part of a nurturing community is more important to good health than quitting smoking or starting to exercise.
9. Go to the church, temple, or mosque.
Studies show that gathering as part of a spiritual community can extend your life up to 14 years.
10. Surround yourself with people who follow steps 1-9.
The more you surround yourself with people engaged in whole health-inducing behaviors, the more it becomes part of your culture. If, however, you surround yourself with beer-guzzling, obese couch potato loners, it’s easier to become one yourself. When you surround yourself with healthy, inspiring people, you’re way more likely to live to be 100.
Heal Yourself Now
For more tips on how to live to be 100, download the free Self-Healing Kit or read Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.
What works for you? Share your tips for what helps you live a long, healthy life.