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The Island Where People Live Longer

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The Island Where People Live Longer

Your Health

The Island Where People Live Longer

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DAVID GREENE, host:

You know, making it to 90 years old is pretty impressive in much of the world. But on a tiny Greek island in the North Aegean Sea called Icaria, nonagenarians barely merit a second glance. Icaria could be the newest of the world's so-called Blue Zones. They're places where the people have unusually long life spans.

Dan Buettner has crossed the globe many times over the years in search of these Blue Zones, and he recently teamed up with the AARP and National Geographic to study Icaria. He is joining us now from Athens, Greece.

Mr. Buettner, how are you?

Mr. DAN BUETTNER (Author): Phenomenal. Good to hear from you.

GREENE: So how exactly did you pinpoint this little island?

Mr. BUETTNER: Well, I work with a team of demographers in Europe who basically look at census data throughout the globe. And we brought a team there and we found out that this has the highest percentage of 90-year-olds of any place else in the world. About one out of three people hit 90 here. They have 20 percent lower rates of cancer, 50 percent lower rate of heart disease, and almost no dementia.

GREENE: And just kind of learning about your work now, I mean I'm imagining people doing like 15 jumping jacks at age 90 in the morning�

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: �drinking a lot of fruit shakes. I mean is that what's going on or not really?

Mr. BUETTNER: No. You know, about 20 percent of how long we live is dictated by our genes. The other 80 percent is lifestyle. They live in these mountain villages that nudge them into everyday physical activity. They have gardens. If they go to the church or they go to their friend's house, it always occasions a small walk. But that adds up burning much more calories than going to a gym for 20 minutes a day.

They also have a diet that's very interesting. It's very high in olive oil. It's very high in fruits and vegetables. It's very high in this type of green. About 150 greens grow wild there and these greens have somewhere around 10 times the level of antioxidants of red wine. And also, interestingly, they don't eat fish very much. Pirates had pushed this culture up into the highlands of Icaria. They couldn't depend on the sea as much as you might think.

GREENE: The fish industry is probably going to be very angry that we just said that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BUETTNER: It'll be very good for the bean industry though.

GREENE: Exactly. So anything different or surprising here compared to your other work?

Mr. BUETTNER: Yes. What you see among these people is they're drinking herbal teas every single day, morning and night. We had five of these herbal teas sent to Athens and analyzed for their chemical composition, and we found out that most of them were diuretics. It turns out that diuretics actually lower blood pressure. So when you're chronically lowering blood pressure every day with these herbal teas, that does help explain why there's lower rates of heart disease. And that's something we haven't seen in Okinawa or Costa Rica or Sardinia or any of the other Blue Zones.

GREENE: Dan Buettner, he's the author of The New York Times bestselling book, �The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who Have Lived the Longest.�

GREENE: Dan, thank you for being with us.

Mr. BUETTNER: Live large.

GREENE: You too, man.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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