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5 Things The Greeks Can Teach Us About Aging Well

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There's a lot we can learn from the Greeks, no doubt. Some of the greatest (and wisest) minds who ever lived were Greek... Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to name a few. We can thank them for things like democracy, the Olympics, and heck, even the Pythagorean Theorem. Oh, and don't forget gyros.

And the land itself, well with sunny islands, clear blue Mediterranean water, and some of the world's most delicious food, it's good being Greek. But the Greeks aren't just living well, they're also living long.

Ikaria, a small Greek island, has been dubbed a "blue zone," one of the few places in the world where people lead healthy, active lives past the age of 100. The percentage of people living beyond 90 in Ikaria is much higher than the average for all of Europe.

In fact, a study found that people on this island are living to 90 almost three times as often as Americans, and are far less likely to develop Alzheimer's or depression. And researchers think it might just be more than coincidence.

Their low-stress lifestyles, level of physical activity, and a few other habits unique to their culture could be the secret.

Here are five things the Greeks can teach us about aging well:

1. They know how to take a break from the stresses of daily life.
nap greek
As with many countries with hot climates, people in Greece stop midday to take a quick, but restorative nap. In some areas, you'll even find shops and businesses closed during this time so employees can take a break. Harvard researcher Dimitrios Trichopoulos says while naps may seem to break the flow of your day, they actually double it, giving you the energy and second-wind to be productive the second half of your day. It's something we could especially benefit from in the hectic pace of life stateside.

"In the way life is organized here, you start with stress commuting and you finish with stress, which is again the commuting. So to have in the middle of the day a time when you can relax, it can only be good, or at least not bad," he told NPR.

In his research, Trichopoulos found that Greek men who napped just half an hour a day were much less likely to have heart attacks, most likely because of the stress-busting effect of an afternoon siesta. Opa!

2. They drink to their health.
greek coffee
Even the Greeks' morning Joe is superior to ours. Boiled Greek coffee is a staple in Ikaria and it's good for more than just shaking off your morning grogginess. Researchers found that Greek coffee is loaded with polyphenols and antioxidants which protect your body from aging and a variety of chronic diseases. Drinkers of this liquid gold were found to have improved endothelial function -- which protects your blood vessels -- compared to those who drank other types of coffee.

And their night cap of choice? A mountain tea, made from native herbs like delicious sage, mint, and rosemary. Local physicians say it's as good as medicine.

3. They've been blessed by Aphrodite.
greek aphrodite statue
Don't be fooled into thinking sex is for the young. A good romp is just as fun and beneficial as you get older, and the Ikarians are onto it. In a study of Ikarian men between ages 65 and 100, four out of five claimed they were still having sex regularly. What's more is a quarter of those men said the sex was pretty darn good, with them being able to last a considerable amount of time. With the immunity boosting, stress-busting, and anti-aging benefits of sex, it's no wonder they're living so long.

4. Their diet is heart-healthy.
greek diet
Greek cuisine might make you think of fatty gyros and spanakopita, all finished off with a super-syrupy piece of baklava. But they're actually eating a lot cleaner than that. Think the freshest olive oil, a rainbow of vegetables, tons of lentils and beans, while taking it easy on the meat. For breakfast, you won't find locals chowing down on McMuffins. Instead they'll opt for something like some high-protein Greek yogurt with a touch of honey. Lunch and dinner will be loaded with fresh vegetables, fruits, and plenty of legumes.

Their natural "diet" is basically what the new-age "Mediterranean Diet" is. The Mediterranean diet has been linked with benefits ranging from a lower risk of heart disease and cancer, to even lessening the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's.

5. Family is everything.
elderly greece
If "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is your only exposure to Greek culture... you're not too far off, at least when it comes to family. A welcoming sense of community and family ties are a major part of life in Greece. Joint families are quite common compared to other Western countries.

Our own Arianna Huffington recalls her tight-knit upbringing. "I was very close with my family -- my mother lived with me while I was married and helped me raise my kids. She was like a second mom," Huffington said in an interview with Into the Gloss.

In Ikaria, a typical evening routine includes visiting neighbors. It's almost hard to be alone, which is so important as we age. "We keep the old people with us. There is an old people's home, but the only people there are those who have lost all their family. It would shame us to put an old person in a home. That's the reason for longevity," Ikarian real estate agent Eleni Mazari told The Guardian.

Studies have not only shown that older people tend to eat worse when they're alone, but loneliness in later life can lead to poor health and earlier death.

Earlier on HuffPost50:

The World's Top 10 Retirement Havens For 2013, Part 2
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Around the Web

The island of long life | Travel | The Guardian

BBC News - Does Ikaria in Greece hold secret to longevity?

BBC News - The Greek island of old age

Blue Zones -- Greece -- National Geographic

A Greek island's secrets to long life, in 11 bullet points