Perhaps it’s too predictable: Experts find the world’s longest-living people in a remote mountain village on a tiny island in an exotic sea. They party hard, work into their hundreds, and still have sex into their 90s. But then the twist: Their secret isn’t red wine or yogurt or young lovers. The key ingredient to living and loving longer, it seems, is growing right in their gardens.
For the past eight years, I’ve led expeditions to regions I call Blue Zones, places around the world where people are living measurably longer. Contrary to popular opinion, genes dictate as little as 2 percent of our life expectancy, so studying the lifestyles in these spots offers clues as to what we can do to live better, longer. Since 2008, with funding from National Geographic and AARP, my team has been investigating the Greek island of Ikaría, some 35 miles off the coast of Turkey, where more than a third of the residents reach age 90. The locals here suffer 20 percent less cancer than Americans, half the rate of heart disease, and, most surprisingly, none of the dementia. On a recon trip with world-renowned longevity experts Michel Poulain and Gianni Pes, we started to tease out the reasons why.