A human story to me is more powerful than many words, data and statistics – We hear statistics and presentations every day – alas, the needle on behaviour change moves very little BUT show me someone who has lived experience, who I can connect with, who will inspire and challenge me – then you have my interest.
The government pour out data for us on health statistics and with good intentions, they tell us what we should do – and for the most part, we all know what we should do! I have sat at many events that discuss and debate why people are not eating better, taking better care of themselves and eating a balanced diet. That parts easy. So another initiative is started which after all the money has been spent has a few successes but pretty much has had very little impact. We are still a bunch of fatties who are making ourselves ill with processed, convenience foods!
In my previous post, I spoke about the health benefits of Greek food and the Mediterranean diet and as I was researching how diet is linked to life expectancy I came across the story of Stamatis Moraitis (pictured above) His story is so inspiring it needs to be shared over and over. Stamatis was a war veteran who went to the US for medical treatment for an arm wound, he ended up staying in America and starting a family, working hard and getting on with life. In 1976, Stamatis was having problems breathing and was given the devastating news that he had lung cancer and 6-9 months to live. Ten American doctors collaborated and gave him the diagnosis (he refused the chemotherapy and treatment offered by the US doctors). With typical Greek stoicism he decided he would go back to Ikaria, the Greek island of his birth to see out his final days.
Stamatis decided in his final days he would tend his parent’s vineyards and his garden until that final day came. He set about drinking his homemade wine – about 2-3 glasses a day (well, what did he have to lose?) and spent his days planting and weeding, importantly he also reconnected with his faith (a common trait in those who live long, healthy lives). Six months came and went…………….and Stamatis was feeling strong and well. Nine months came and went and Stamatis was still working on the land and drinking his wine, eating simple foods that he had grown. Twenty-five years later, Stamatis travelled back to the US to find the doctors who had given him the diagnosis to try and find out what had happened. …………….All ten were dead!
Forty-five years after that diagnosis, Stamatis and his wife were still pottering around Ikaria, still drinking wine and eating their homegrown food and harvesting their olives (by hand). So, what did Stamatis put his dramatic death dodging survival down to? A combination of healthy food, homemade wine, the company of his childhood friends and the clean air and hard terrain of Ikaria. Ikaria has very few clocks and a lot of the older inhabitants wake naturally and stay up late, they do, however, nap in the afternoons. They don’t wear watches and spend a lot of time in the company of others, drinking mountain herb teas and drinking home-brewed wines. And Stamatis is not unusual in Ikaria.
Ikaria has been included in research by Dan Buettner an American who has studied areas of the world whose inhabitants are living longer than other countries and the Greek island of Ikaria has been included as one of the 5 Blue zones in the world where people are living considerably longer – well into their 90’s. The Ikarian dialect does not have a word for ‘privacy’ or ‘retirement’! You basically keep working until you drop – but the work although hard is done at a leisurely pace and in rhythm with the land. To be clear, this is not a place where people are slimmer but where they are living long and healthy lives. The population in Ikaria are also staying sharp-witted until the end, unlike their US and European counterparts who are succumbing to Alzheimer’s and Dementia from middle age in some cases.
The Ikarian diet is mainly plant-based (a regular factor in the other 4 Blue zones), low dairy (apart from goats milk), bean and pulse heavy and liberally drizzled with local honey and olive oil. The local wine is a major feature in all social and familiar activities – women and men stroll up to their neighbours with carafes of wine to share. Local indigenous herbs and wild greens are consumed daily. What’s missing in their diets are; refined sugar, refined white flour, processed foods and fizzy drinks – you can make your own connections…………
We deserve to live this life we have been given with our minds and bodies intact, to still be active and mobile even in much later life. It is time we kicked back at the rubbish we are offered as ‘food’ and create a movement to eat simple, untouched, organic food. Whoever you are reading this, you are worth more than your position, your salary and the material possessions you have. Invest in yourself and your body now, so that like Stamatis you can reap the benefits later and enjoy the years you have on this earth.