Sisters study healthy habits abroad

In June, five Zeta Lambda sisters and I traveled to Ikaria, Greece, in the Aegean Sea, one of the five Blue Zone areas of the world where people live longer and healthier lives than the average human. The name Ikaria comes from the Greek name Icarus, the son of Daedalus in Greek mythology.

(From left) Antigona Cana, Hannah Newman, Brianna Garces, Emily Tubbs, Emma Littman, Emily Russo

The objective of this study abroad trip was to learn how people live in this area and the ways we can change our habits to improve our health and state of well-being. Each day we lived in a different aspect of Ikarian life and took in all that this unique and exquisite place had to offer our knowledge and perception of happiness and health. My sisters and I visited multiple wineries and restaurants where we experienced the process of wine production, the Ikarian diet and cooking techniques and their use of physical activity and natural resources. These all have given some Ikarians a lifespan of over 110 years.

We hiked up the side of the mountain to see what beautiful things grow from the ground like basil, sage and oregano. We learned the art of herb picking and how herbs are used as healing sensations. These plants have become medicine to Ikarians to aid in acne, digestion and decreasing labor pain, and are easily accessible. We picked our own plants by the root and made tea with them shortly after our walk. It was extraordinary to see how the island residents look to nature right outside their doors for cures and supplements for their aches and discomforts.

Zetas on their way to nutrition class

We were able to take a dip into Ikarian culture by attending a class to learn the traditional dances performed at what is known as the Panagiria. This tradition celebrates name days instead of birthdays and other religious holidays. Everyone in Ikaria has a name based on a saint. On that saint's birthday, the entire village and many other parts of the island all celebrate that saint at the same time. “Going to Panagiria was a truly eye-opening experience. It allowed us to feel completely immersed into the Ikarian lifestyle,” said Emily Tubbs.”

Selfie taken prior to the Panagiria celebration

During our lesson on nutrition, we learned what the daily life of an Ikarian looks like. Although it is centered around gardening, we took away these tips to implement into American life:

  • Eat light foods in the morning like dried fruits, nuts and cheeses,
  • Steer away from drinking water during and after eating due to its impact on the stomach’s pH,
  • Refrain from snacking,
  • Take naps, and
  • Save at least two hours a day to socialize and tap into nature.

In our cooking lesson in a Mediterranean kitchen, we learned about the plant-based diet that revolves around the versatile use of olive oil. Cooking tips included cooking food at low temperatures; no frying, grilling or use of microwave ovens; using olive oil raw; and using herbs. The favorite meals we made as a group included chickpeas in the oven with herbs and beetroots with tahini.

A dish of chickpeas in the oven with herbs

Another once-in-a-lifetime experience was a beekeeping seminar where we saw first-hand how bees make honey. We engaged in the process ourselves by tasting the honey right off the honeycomb. “I was super nervous going into it because I’m scared of bees,” said Emily Russo. “But it was so much fun and gave me a much better understanding of bees and helped to relieve my fear of them.”

On our last night on the island, we had dinner at a restaurant owned by an Ikarian-American. She told us that a quarter of the residents of Ikaria live below the poverty line. No one is left on the street. The island works as a unit. Everyone takes in others, making the nearly 9,000 Ikarians on the island one blood line and a longer, healthier lifespan for all.

Prior to our visit to Ikaria, we spent five days in Athens where we explored the rich history and upbeat lifestyle of the city that left us with an urge to return in the future.

The view from a nature preserve hike

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