How to live longer by planning to do less

  • The big mistake I make with my own health (and how to rectify it)
  • Why these Greek islanders live for much longer than others around the world
  • ….and how to copy their secrets!

I made a weird New Year’s Resolution.

You might like it.

It’s to “do less”.

That’s it! That’s all it is…

I have decided to make sure that I make time and space for myself to be lazy and properly relax.

I know that might sound odd.

Surely that’s too easy?

Well, the thing is, I’ve got a busy mind and I’m constantly working, writing, researching or thinking about stuff to the point where my brain hurts.

Or I’m out buying food, walking the dog, cooking and cleaning (yes, indeed, I am the ultimate modern man!).

Even when I’ve got nothing to do, I kind of faff and procrastinate at high speed, bumbling around in the garage or kitchen usually.

So I’ve decided to slow things down a bit.

For instance, the other afternoon, I stopped work early and made a very SLOW cooked meal – a stew that took a good three hours to prepare.

Then I sat down with Lara and watched a TV programme.

But, typical me, it ended up being a kind of work thing anyway, because the show was called How to Live to 100.

Did you see it?

It was presented by former Channel 4 TV news anchor, Jon Snow, who went into semi-retirement last year.

He admits that he has struggled to cope with doing LESS in life – and he even misses the stress of doing a nightly live TV news bulletin.

So he has gone in search of the secrets of a long, happy, older age – by visiting some places on earth where people live to a ripe old age and enjoy good physical and mental health well into their 90s.

It turns out that doing less might just be the biggest health secret of all.

In fact it might just help you live longer.

How Ikarians live longer

One of the places he visited was the Greek Island of Ikaria, in the Aegean Sea.

This picturesque isle is mountainous, with human settlements around its coast, surrounded by sparkling azure blue waters, dotted with pretty white boats.

It has become one of the world’s ‘blue zones’. These describe places where the population enjoy extreme longevity. There are others to be found in Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya, (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda, (California, USA).

In Ikaria, one in three of the population reaches their 90s.

Not only that but the elderly maintain highly active lives until that time, with extremely low rates of depression, dementia and cancer.

But why?

In the programme, our venerable Mr Snow – 74 years old – visits the island, where the people really do look fantastic for their age.

Even he admits himself, his fast lifestyle of reporting, travel and high-stress live performances has taken its toll and become something of an addiction for him.

It’s hard to let it go, he says.

But in Ikaria, life is naturally slow, away from urban hustle and bustle.

They grow their own vegetables, which they often eat almost immediately after they are plucked or dug  up – and the diet is classic Mediterranean. Lots of fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, garlic, lemons and olives.

As you know from reading these newsletters, this kind of diet is regularly shown by numerous studies to be one of the healthiest in the world.

For these people, less is more:

Less exposure to e-numbers, pesticides and additives

Fewer miles for fruit and veg to travel

Less sugar, trans fats and salt hidden in their food without them realising

Less temptation to snack on sweets, crisps and biscuits

They even use less medicine.

In one part of the show, a woman tells Jon Snow that her aged mother never ever took medicine in her entire life, but would use garlic and local herbs as a natural cure.

(For more on that kind of thing, you might want to read my book The Honey Garlic and Vinegar Miracle, which is packed with tips on using it as a remedy.)

So the diet, it seems, is one big reason why these Greek islanders live longer.

And yes, there is undoubtedly a genetic inheritance, too, which favours longer life in the people of that island.

But as I watched the documentary, it struck me what the biggest reason might have been.

They live the ‘good life’

These Greek islanders have a lifestyle that is inherently rustic, minimalist, full of good nutrition, home grown food and herbal medicines made from local plants.

It’s the classic ‘good life’, really.

And it seems that their rural idyll also reduces STRESS, which is one of the biggest mental and physical health threats of our modern era.

In Ikaria, they operate on very broad timetables – if you want to meet someone you might say “in the morning”, “in the afternoon” or “in the evening”, rather than a specific time.

I envy that quality because I am always clockwatching, measuring out my time in parcels and trying to get things done to a tight schedule.

It  does make me stressed, even when I am enjoying the work, and no doubt that impacts on my health.

So while I eat a lot of fresh, whole fruit and veg, and regularly use herbal remedies, I think that’s the crucial piece that’s missing from my life.

I need to find a way to move to my own natural rhythms a bit more and stop being a slave to clocks, deadline and that internal nagging voice to “go faster”.

Perhaps we all do! It might even make us all live longer…

Anyway, the documentary is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.