TIME Aging

Watch: The Island That Holds the Secret to Long Life

Here's how the people of Ikaria, Greece reach old age

Today is the 115th birthday of Jeralean Talley, the oldest living American.

While reaching that age would be considered a feat by many, it’s not so far-fetched to the people of Ikaria, Greece. In 2009, it was named a longevity hotspot for being home to people who reach the age of 90 at a rate two and a half times greater than in the U.S.

“Ikaria’s a very unique island. The people are not what you would find in other places. They have a different lifestyle, a different way of looking at life,” said Thea Parikos, an American-born Ikarian who returned to the island as an adult.

Situated in the Aegean Sea, Ikaria is a mountainous island with a population of 10,000. Winding dirt paths descend toward cerulean water and the faint bleating of meandering goats in the distance can often be heard. The island’s arresting beauty and temperate climate create an enticing atmosphere of rest, but elderly Ikarians thrive on keeping themselves busy.

The remarkable longevity of Ikarians is attributed to multiple factors. A heavily plant-based diet, habitual physical activity such as tending to a garden, social bonds, and a stoic approach to stressful situations have been cited as reasons why Ikaria is home to such a high number of centenarians.

“Everybody’s trying to find the secrets of longevity,” said Xanthi Tigani, who is writing her Ph.D. thesis on Greek longevity at the University of Athens Medical School. “There’s no one thing that can make you grow to be 100 years old or older.”

Nothing can make us stop trying to figure it out, though. And the Ikarians may provide some clues.

Dan Q. Tham is a production assistant for the CNN Documentary Unit.

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