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Friday, January 25, 2013

The Greek island of old age

6 January 2013

The Greek island of old age

By Andrew Bomford BBC News, Ikaria, Greece

The inhabitants of a small Greek island live on average 10 years longer than the rest of western Europe. So what's the secret to long life in Ikaria?

It could be the fresh air and the friendly, easy-going, open-door lifestyle. It could be fresh vegetables and goat's milk.

It could be the mountainous terrain. Everywhere on Ikaria is up, or down, so getting around keeps you fit.

It could even be the natural radiation in the granite rocks. But Stamatis Moraitis thinks he knows what it is.

"It's the wine," he says, over a mid-morning glass at his kitchen table. "It's pure, nothing added. The wine they make commercially has preservatives. That's no good. But this wine we make ourselves is pure."

Stamatis celebrated his 98th birthday on New Year's Day. He says he's older, but his documents put his date of birth as 1 January 1915. Outside his whitewashed house are his beloved olive trees, his fruit trees, and his vines. He makes about 700 litres of wine a year, he says.

"Do you drink it all yourself?" I ask. "No!" He's shocked at the suggestion. "I drink it with my friends."

The wine, and convivial days spent with friends and family, helped make Stamatis a poster-boy for the healing effects of Ikaria. Forty-five years ago, living in the US, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given nine months to live.

"At the time it was very expensive to have a funeral there," he remembers. "So I said to my wife 'I'm going home to Ikaria to be buried with my parents.'"

By now he has a twinkle in his eye, and is in full flow. It's a story he has dined out on many times, and he clearly doesn't tire of telling it.

"I found my friends in the village where I was born, and we started drinking. I thought, at least I'll die happy."

"Every day we got together, we drank wine, and I waited. Time passed by and I felt stronger. Nine months came - I felt good. Eleven months came - I felt better. And now, 45 years later, I'm still here!"

"A few years ago I went back to the US and tried to find my doctors. But I couldn't find them. They were all dead." (...)

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