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Heart Healthy Living – Island Style

Back in 2009 a study was completed on the people who lived on Ikaria Island off the coast of Greece. It was known that people lived longer there than on the mainland, and researchers wanted to find out why. There are some lessons in this study, especially with respect to cardiovascular health, that we can all take to heart.

There are places around the world where people are known to live longer and stay active past the age of 100 years. These areas are known as blue zones. And include places like Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy and Loma Linda, California. Researchers decided to look at Icaria in Greece to evaluate why people lived so long, and what common characteristics were found in those people. 89 males and 98 females over the age of 80 were studied; a full 13 percent of the island’s population was over the age of 80. This is much higher than the average numbers in the European population.

The majority of these older patients reported daily physical activity, midday naps, frequent socializing. Avoiding smoking and healthy eating habits. Let’s break these down into things we can put into practice in our daily lives.

  1. Let’s start with physical activity. Nearly 60 percent of those over the age of 90 were found to be physically active with over half of those describing moderate exercise intensity. The island is very hilly, so people walk most places. In addition, people tend to work outdoors a lot.
  2. Naps, boy that sounds good right about now! A midday siesta of 20-30 minutes is typical on the island. It helps the body recuperate and provides clearer thinking during the afternoon’s activities. In addition, a midday nap has been shown to reduce depression scores and risk of death by heart disease.
  3. Socializing, participating in daily interaction with others, has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease. It is especially important for those living alone or those with memory issues. Join a bridge club, head to the farmers market, say hello to someone walking on the beach, or have coffee and a croissant with someone you don’t see regularly.
  4. Smoking is pretty self-explanatory and a difficult habit to quit. Make an appointment with your physician to discuss strategies.
  5. The healthy eating habits of the population basically follow the Mediterranean diet. A diet high in lean proteins like fish and tree nuts, chicken and lean pork work too. Olive oil for cooking and a diet high in fresh vegetables and fruit. 1-2 cups of coffee a day and a glass or two of wine have also been shown to be beneficial.

In conclusion, we are quite fortunate here in Boca Grande to have all of the elements of longevity at our fingertips. Now let’s put them into practice and live a long and heart healthy life!

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