Tassos and Eleni Brindisi have lived in the same house for eighty years. It was built by Eleni’s father as her dowry. Most of the furniture was built by Tassos; even their electrical goods seem to be ancient, but still working. Like their marriage. This couple laugh a lot and go everywhere together, as if they fear being left alone.
Their tiny piece of land is fully cultivated, a dozen or so olive trees, 200 vines and a small vegetable garden full of tomatoes, herbs, egg plants and beans. They spend most of their days now in the garden, lovingly picking snails off the grapes and weeding the herb garden.
Low income and longevity seem connected
Tassos is 98 and Eleni is 96. Not so remarkable as far as old age goes. But when you find out their land is a 40 minute walk from their home and they do all their own digging, planting, pruning, olive and grape picking you begin to wonder. But that isn’t all. Eleni bottles her own olives, picks and preserves wild capers, dries her figs for the winter and cooks every meal they eat. Tassos takes the olives to be pressed, makes his own wine and sells surplus eggs. Tassos claims they spend less per month than their granddaughter spends in a day.
The famous Blue Zones
It has been known for some time that certain places in the world have recorded exceptionally long lives, the Greek Island Ikaria is one of them. Dan Buettner described these special places in a book called The Blue Zones: Okinawa in Japan, Sardinia, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California and Ikaria. Buettner is a fellow with National Geographic magazine and became interested in longevity while researching Okinawa’s aged population.
Not all claims to longevity stand up to scientific scrutiny as well as Ikaria. An Athens University Study conducted by Dr Christina Chrysohou looked into birth certificates as well as a detailed examination of the lives of centenarians on the island. The results bear out Tassos and Eleni’s explanation for their long life. And it seems there is nothing particularly exceptional about their long life. They both have cousins and relatives over 100 years. They also claim that the family members who moved to the city died young (around 65 – 75 years).
There is no doubt in Tassos mind why, he claims they “ate too much meat, got divorced and used their car too often”. The Ikaria Study says as much in more detail.
The secrets of healthy aging and long life
- A stable lifestyle, regular meals, regular and positive family contact
- Daily age appropriate exercise
- A diet rich in beans, fresh vegetables and dark green local weeds.
- Very little sugar or meat
- Wild herb teas, like sage, chamomile and fresh mint
- Goats milk rather than cows
- Their own red wine daily, a glass or two
- An afternoon nap or rest daily
- Simple, small meals
- Always having tasks to do, like planting or picking
Buettner found that another thing also united the elderly living in the Blue Zones. He claims they do not have any special secret to long life. They just live their lives, the lives they were born into. And all of the aspects of longevity that Tassos and Eleni live daily are transferable to any place or time.
Eating smaller meals, with more vegetables, getting plenty of excercise, choosing certain foods and avoiding others – the facts about healthy living are well known.
So is that all it takes to add an extra decade to our lives? Could we live as long in London, Sydney or Chicago? Or is there something special about Greek islands like Syros and Ikaria? Tassos says he wakes up to see the sea outside his bedroom window (a window he never shuts no matter what the weather). And there is no question that a beautiful Greek island like Syros with fresh sea breezes and turquoise water would make life feel worth living.
Eleni has the last word. “It’s being happy with your family that makes the difference. Tassos is my best friend. I wouldn’t want to live if he wasn’t here. It’s as simple as that.” Perhaps simple living is the real secret of happiness. And if you are happy, your mind and spirit are strong. Long life seems to follow.