Forgetting to Die

I’ve had this NYT article open in a browser tab for days and just couldn’t close it.

The Island Where People Forget to Die

28Ikaria3 articleLarge v2
97 yr-old Stamatis Moraitis tending his vineyard and olive grove on Ikaria, Greece

It’s by Dan Buettner, the The Blue Zones guy. In spite of his clear bias for plant based and vegetarian-esqe diets, I think the importance of his work is in finding those populations or zones for whom longevity is clearly multi-factoral.

Nope, it’s probably not all about a paleo diet and Crossfit WODs.

I think I’ll leave it at that, for once. You really ought to just read the article and see how many likely factors for a nice long life you can uncover…other than a pretty reasonable diet of whole food, and in spite of the fact that it includes some “evil” things.

I’ve been to Greece a number of times, hit the countryside and have spent time on a small island. This all makes perfect sense to me.

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  1. Sonagi on October 30, 2012 at 10:20

    “Nope, it’s probably not all about a Paleo diet and Crossfit WODs.”

    Love it!

    • sync on October 30, 2012 at 22:04

      Maybe true, but how much longer would he live if he DID do paleo + crossfit ™, huh? Another 20 or 30 years perhaps?

      • Sonagi on October 31, 2012 at 16:13

        Oh, please, lifestyle choices can certainly influence the extent to which one lives up to one’s genetic potential, but to cross the threshold into centenarian and super centenarian status, one needs genes associated with longevity. Jack LaLanne remained fit throughout his entire adult life, and he didn’t reach 100.

  2. Ed on October 30, 2012 at 11:09

    Here’s another longevity factor: Dead men don’t wear plaid

  3. EF on October 30, 2012 at 11:13

    I think it all starts here…

    “In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don’t.”

    Look, I love capitalism and all but we have taken it to an unhealthy level in almost every aspect of our lives.

    • Sean on October 30, 2012 at 12:45

      You are confusing capitalism with materialism.

      Capitalism is just another term for the free market, a term that Karl Marx made up to be denigrating, the worship of capital. Materialism as a form of peacocking is a pretty basic HG trait, I think. Perhaps the problem is that it has become a replacement for other things in modern society, such as having friends and hobbies or even a strong family structure.

      It might also be that we aren’t really well adapted to a society where wealth can be acquired and passed on, something really began in the neolithic.

      • EF on October 30, 2012 at 13:09

        Let me put a finer point on it.

        I think there is an unhealthy obsession with obtaining money at all costs in America. This obsession permeates most aspects of our lives. At work, it creates pressure to perform at the highest levels at all times which creates stress. It disrupts our natural food supply so that shelf lives can be lengthened so profits can be maximized (leading to less nutritious food). Most Americans are driven by the dollar. Materialism is just bragging to the neighbors about how much you have. That Greek population is driven by something other than the dollar, life.

        Look — there is a reason the US is (or was) the greatest country and leader of the free world. But to get there has a flip side.

      • Joseph on October 30, 2012 at 14:46

        There is a marked human tendency to focus on results more than process, a tendency not limited to one continent or nation. It does seem problematic, from an historical perspective.

      • rob on October 31, 2012 at 05:34

        I disagree that the US is or ever was the greatest country and leader of the free world, you can’t really rank nations as if they were college football teams.

        But I wholeheartedly agree there is a preoccupation with money at any cost. I am always left dumbfounded when Americans cast aspersions on nations like France and Germany where quality of life is a bigger factor than it is here. The nerve of those lazy bastards to take several weeks of vacation every year!

        I have never seen the merit of working your ass off for most of your life and then dropping dead five weeks after you retire. If that is what it takes to win the game, I’m not playing.

      • Sean on October 31, 2012 at 09:02

        I was just in Greece for vacation and I agree that they tend to be more laid back and seem happier. This also can mean that things can get rather fucked up, missed connections, out of ingredients, etc.

        But people in northern Europe work as hard as Americans I would say, other than the fact that they do tend to have more vacation time, 3-4 weeks in the summer. Last time I saw a table of data, I believe the Czechs worked more hours than Americans. I know that the northern Italians my wife deals with in her tile business work quite hard also.

        The big difference is productivity. For a variety of reasons, Americans have produced more than any other country per hour worked. I think some of this has to do with network advantages, a large country with a single language and currency. And part of it has to do with innovations introduced by a small percentage of highly intelligent people. It has historically been easier to innovate in the US, although I think this has been lessening quite a bit in the last decade and the economy will continue to get more sclerotic and work against innovation.

        As far as materialism goes, I would say the Czechs are MUCH more materialistic than Americans. This can be blamed on the suppression of wealth during communism but I honestly think it goes deeper. Because things are so much more expensive in general here, and because people tend to live more compact lifestyles, this seems to translate into people buying much nicer stuff here, at least here in Prague. People in the US seem to buy a lot of crap, throw it away then buy a lot more crap. People here save up and get something really nice. I’ve known people who spent years living at home in their 20s in order to build a house or reconstruct a flat. A friend of my wife spent like ten years saving up her money to buy a car that she paid for in cash.

        In a lot of countries people work hard whilst not being very well-off and I think this is the direction the US is headed unless there’s some sort of drastic change of course, which seems pretty unlikely.

      • rob on October 31, 2012 at 10:54

        Re saving up and getting something nice, I wonder if the disparity is due to access to credit. I notice so many people who have more stuff than I do but are living paycheck to paycheck. Your wife’s friend saved for ten years to buy a car but now she owns a car, while so many people “purchase” a car with hardly anything down and five years of payments and then switch cars every three years, so they never actually own anything.

        When you actually PAY for an item I think you tend to be a little more concerned with the quality of what you are buying.

      • Sean on October 31, 2012 at 12:31

        Yeah I think access to easy credit erodes one’s time deferment. And it probably exaggerates the failings of those who didn’t learn much time deferment in the first place. In other words, buying crap becomes just another addiction.

        [The car thing was, for my wife’s friend, kind of a waste, because she didn’t really need a car, except maybe for vacationing or weekend excursions. But then I grew up in New Mexico and started driving (and repairing) hand-me-down cars when I was 15. For her, owning a car was something wild and romantic. For me they are a money pit that should be avoided or minimized (unless it’s a classic sports car and you have a garage and knowledge and motivation to keep that baby in fighting condition). ]

        Yeah, when you have to save up for stuff and spend months or even years doing so, you are going to put a hell of a lot more thought into what you end up buying, go the extra mile and get something high quality, and appreciate the hell out it when you finally get it.

  4. EF on October 30, 2012 at 11:43

    This one slipped by the NYT editors…

    “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly…. We simply don’t care about the clock here.”

    Yeah, everyone except the illustrative elderly man featured in the picture.

    • Matt on October 30, 2012 at 12:58

      That’s not a watch, it’s a heart rate monitor. He measures how ice baths affect his heart rate variability, I’m assuming. He must, how else could he still be alive?

    • Sean on October 30, 2012 at 12:29

      Nice catch.

    • Richard Nikoley on October 30, 2012 at 12:37

      Good catch, EF. Never let the reality get in the way of a good story, I guess. Laf.

  5. Sean on October 30, 2012 at 12:13

    Meh, Buettner is a fucking cheesy motivational speaker that’s loved by the MSM because he basically pushes CW. I don’t think it takes some sort of genius to track down these long-lived populations, I think Buettner’s genius lies in self-publicity. Like Michael Pollan, it’s more about touchy-feely sweeping generalizations rather than hard facts and science. Are people healthier and happier with a tightly knit social network? Yeah, no shit. If I want to hear Oprah-esque platitudes about health I’ll go watch Dr Oz or something.

    And no, I didn’t RTFA.

    • Josh on October 30, 2012 at 19:13

      U mad bro?

      • paleoSockPuppetCunt on October 31, 2012 at 02:54

        He ain’t mad yet. You’ll know about it when he is. Even Sir Nikoley retreats when Sean unleashes his foul mouth in a fit of rage.

  6. Cow on October 30, 2012 at 12:31

    His health seem to take upswing once he start boozing his ass off. Yes, there is hope for me.

  7. The High Fat Hep C Diet on October 30, 2012 at 13:42

    They all claim to be sexually hyperactive. Well, the men do.
    I would have thought that such claims were a cultural requirement in Greece and may bear no relation to the actual frequency of intercourse.

  8. CCM on October 30, 2012 at 14:05

    I marvel at their “low dairy” goat milk diet. Seems like Buettner got it in his head “food pyramid” guidelines, and we’ll just fit the diet to our preconceptions.

  9. steve on October 30, 2012 at 14:41

    ” It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”

    No bowling alone. No diversity. I thought ethnic “vibrancy” was the end all, be all. Guess not…

  10. Alex on October 30, 2012 at 16:13

    Anecdotal, and maybe not even worth that much, since I’m all of 24 myself; but everything I’ve seen about the topic of longevity points to rather simple and actionable lessons: Keep good company, and chill the fuck out. If life is good, you hang on to it longer.

  11. Dane Miller on October 30, 2012 at 17:05

    Hang out, eat well, enjoy the company of others…also, be 75 with massive forearms like the one dude in the images. Its the real life version of the planet Baku from Star Trek (lame comparison but same lesson).

  12. Josh on October 30, 2012 at 19:10

    Isn’t the diet described pretty contradictory to Paleo? The one couple being profiled ate bread for dinner every night, that seems like much more then the tolerated “evils” within the paleo community. Also, meat only twice a month?

    • Richard Nikoley on October 30, 2012 at 20:57

      Paleo is a valid framework. Clearly not the only valid framework.

      Death to all who profess only one religion!!!

      • Josh on October 31, 2012 at 00:29

        Though you’ve always promoted free-thinking, this seems a different attitude then what I read on your blog in the past and is much more becoming.

        On another note, a quote from this article made me think of a blog you posted a week or two ago: “For people to adopt a healthful lifestyle, I have become convinced, they need to live in an ecosystem, so to speak, that makes it possible.” This belief, I found to be somewhat juxtaposed to your blog re: mobility-scooter people. The shaming in that post really didn’t sit well with me. Though individuals are ultimately accountable for their own actions, people, ahem – “animals” are products of their environment.

      • paleoSockPuppetCunt on October 31, 2012 at 03:04

        The paleo framework allows you to make decisions about food and exercise choices in an economical and fairly robust fashion. If we had infinite time to research everything we ate and did, we wouldn’t have any use for a paleo, or any other, framework. Paleo summarizes a lot of choices in a very portable and understandable way.

      • Richard Nikoley on October 31, 2012 at 06:11

        Agreed PSPC. This is why while I feel I’ve “gone beyond Paleo” in a sense, it will always remain foundational for me.

      • Cow on October 31, 2012 at 09:21

        Richard is maybe complete the paleo circle:
        1. Unconscious Competance – animal enjoy health instinctively, no analysis
        2. Unconscious Incompetance -human move away from natural lifestyle, not knowing consequences
        3. Conscious Incompetance – is discovered this make them sick fat asses, but still they hit drive thru
        4. Conscious Competance – journey to learn, change and regain health
        5. Unconscious Competance – journey intergrated, able to live base on own instinct again and stop thinking so fucking much about it

      • Richard Nikoley on October 31, 2012 at 09:27

        Very, very nice, Cow. I just might steal that. But you’re just a Cow, so whatcha gonna do?

      • Cow on October 31, 2012 at 12:31

        Go ahead and plunder me, Richard. Bring ropes, bourbon and feather duster. Please respects my safe word …but, you know, not right away.

      • sync on October 31, 2012 at 13:23

        “Bring ropes, bourbon and feather duster”

        …and don’t forget the BBQ!

    • Sean on October 31, 2012 at 09:47

      This is where Kurt Harris would point out he had a grandfather who lived to 95 smoking two packs a day or something. Doesn’t mean smoking is healthy.

      If one is going to eat bread every day, I think the traditionally prepared peasant loafs not only taste better but are healthier than the stuff one usually gets in a supermarket. As far as long term effects go, I would guess that processed sugar is the most destructive NAD.

  13. sync on October 30, 2012 at 21:36

    My wife is only in her mid sixties and looks about as old as he does at 97! Maybe I should send the old girl over to Greece for a bit of a freshen up.

  14. Ulfric M Douglas on October 31, 2012 at 07:31

    The article makes them out to be almost vegetarian. One part states they eat meat five times a month. I call bogus reporting. You don’t keep pigs and then eat pork just five times a month!
    Another part says they eat very little (evil) saturated fats such as found in Dairy, yet they are supposed to eat plenty of Yoghurts, goat’s milk and cheese.

    • Richard Nikoley on October 31, 2012 at 07:54

      Yep, agreed. I just thought there was too much of other general lifestyle info to ignore. We’re adults here. We can handle it.

      • John on October 31, 2012 at 22:21

        The article also stressed they drink ONLY in moderation, while a latter part suggests they have 2-4 glasses of wine a day, and really, they just drink as much as they feel like. So if moderation is simply getting as drunk as you feel like, then I’m totally down with that.

  15. Bert on October 31, 2012 at 08:19

    Great article. Despite the vegetarian slant. It made me realize I should drink more wine.

    • Todd on October 31, 2012 at 13:43

      …And fornicate more.

      The problem with the US society is that we can’t just sleep all day and get up when we feel like it. If I didn’t have to worry about a tight schedule, I would probably be more relaxed, and live longer, too. This article is great, no doubt about it, but it isn’t completely realistic across the board. It’s definitely a framework like paleo that I wouldn’t mind trying to adhere to.

  16. marie on November 1, 2012 at 10:43

    Complete, utter nonsense on the diet description. This is a Greek island, a main source of Abundant protein is Fish and seafood (by which they also get of course natural fish oils).
    This island in particular, for crying out loud, has an ancient name, “Ictheoessa”, that reflects it’s exceptional abundance of rich fishing grounds.
    Then also, there’s the goats, both their meat and their milk/cheese/yogurt. They hang off the rugged mountain sides…as they do in all greek mountain ranges. Its’ quite a sight. No visitor could Possibly have missed the fish served as the main course on weekdays or those goats….
    Traditionally across the whole country, the whole bread dipped in milk that is described is for the very old with weak stomachs or the infirm/ill – and when you’re Very sick, you get only yogurt and chamomile, even today. I promise you the people of Ikaria did not spend their first 70 or 80 years eating mainly veggies, milk and bread.
    As for the other lifestyle factors, sure, no issue there.
    Genetics though must be the key, I can’t help thinking, and why is it not studied?
    It’s no accident that most blue zones are on mountains or islands.
    My husband’s remote village group comprises three small villages in which nonagenarians abound. The closest town is Now 1hr away and that town’s folk prize brides and grooms from those villages ….for their longevity and hardiness potential! “You are blessed, your kids will have a strong life”, they tell you when you marry ‘one of them’. They know the few families by name.
    Local, traditional wisdom…based on experience of course, where the kids of such unions usually live Relatively ‘strong’ lives too even though they live in town.
    Relatively is key too, because combination of ‘best genes’ and best conditions would reasonably be expected to give best outcomes.
    Instead we hear of some ‘healthy’ ethnic groups that when they immigrate somewhere else live shorter, less healthy lives. No one teases out the families that had traditionally exceptional long lives and compares how they do to the rest in the new conditions. It’s not a hard study, but I haven’t seen one. Has anyone?

    • Richard Nikoley on November 1, 2012 at 10:55

      Jesus Christ, already, marie. I do a post on Greek longevity, Greek wanton sex even into the disgusting realm, Greek islands and all that, and it takes you days to respond? :)

      I posted this for one reason: been there a few times. Can’t wait to go back.

      …Hey, I ought to do a blog thingy where people pitch in to send me there for, say, 2 weeks next summer and I’ll report on everything. EVERYTHING.

      I love your last few paragraphs. One must wonder how the “steering” or even outright force of arranged marriages (essentially, selective breeding based on genetic traits and not love and emotional bonding) has contributed to human longevity, most particularly in isolated areas like islands. Now that is one enormous area for thought and study.

      But, that’s why we have FTA: for the smart people.

      • marie on November 1, 2012 at 15:39

        So nice to feel ‘missed’ :). Drying out here pretty well, almost back to normal today except for regions still without power but nothing at all like the devastation on the coasts. We’re lucky.
        Yah, isolated areas like islands and mountains will illustrate vividly anything ‘special’ about the genetic composition of the originating population. If that population happened to be, say, on the long-lived/robust End of a wide human distribution, then you see lots of long-lived people. Selective breeding can drive that further, good point!
        The town’s folk story just shows local wisdom where, through long experience, they can see the genetic effect, they don’t attribute the exceptionally long-life and robust health to miraculous living conditions.
        Though it’s reasonable to assume living conditions help anyone reach their full genetic potential, whatever that potential may be.

      • Richard Nikoley on November 1, 2012 at 15:57

        “We’re lucky.”

        Cool. God must’v given enough newborn babies AIDS in Africa, and got on the scene just in the nick of time to keep the Earth in balance.

      • marie on November 1, 2012 at 16:49

        Oh oh, then we’re blessed…and the African babies damned.

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