Looking for a habit that will help you reach a ripe old age with little effort? Make sure you get a short siesta every afternoon. According to researchers at the University of Athens, an afternoon nap is the secret to the fabulously high age reached by the oldest inhabitants of the island of Ikaria.
Epidemiologists refer to them as Blue Zones: places on earth where people strikingly often live to be strikingly old. The Blue Zones include Sardinia in Italy, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in the US, the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica – and the Greek island of Ikaria.
The researchers looked at the lifestyle of 1420 Ikarians. Of these, 187 were older than 80. The researchers used questionnaires to find out about the lifestyle of the 80+ group. The researchers assumed that this lifestyle would therefore be one that would help people to live to a ripe age.
The results confirm to a large extent what we already knew. Many of the Ikarian octogenarians used to smoke, but had given up. The majority were still moderately physically active, and there were even a few who still did heavy physical work. What’s more, the octogenarians had a healthy diet. They ate noticeably high quantities of olive oil, fruit, vegetables, beans and fish, ate few sweet things and only ate red meat a couple of times a week.
The over-eighties were still socially active. Only a small minority no longer managed to get out and about.
The most striking discovery we have shaded above. Nearly all of the men over eighty and two-thirds of the women had a daily nap. Of the respondents over 90, 100 percent had a short nap each afternoon.
The octogenarians were contented: they had noticeably low scores on the depression questionnaires. The researchers think this may be linked to the siesta. The nappers had lower scores for depression than the non-nappers.
Health scientists recorded the beneficial health effects of the afternoon nap already in 2007. In that year other Greek epidemiologists published a study for which they had followed 24,000 people for a period of 6 years. That research showed that an afternoon nap protected men against heart attacks. The researchers in the current study suspect that a siesta reduces stress and cortisol levels.