Thursday, October 25, 2012
The Chill Pill: The One Drug You Should Be Taking
I review studies almost everyday. Most are on food, exercise, or supplements and how they might better your life. But there’s one topic, far less popular, that’s a constant theme running through many of these, which leads to better results 100% of the time: chilling out.
Today’s post highlights an article from Dan Buettner and NY Times on some of the longest living populations in the world. The main character left the US for his native home on an island in Greece to die when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer nearly four decades ago. The laid back agrarian lifestyle not only cured his cancer but allowed him to out live all of his doctors.
Six months came and went. Moraitis didn’t die. Instead, he reaped his garden and, feeling emboldened, cleaned up the family vineyard as well. Easing himself into the island routine, he woke up when he felt like it, worked in the vineyards until midafternoon, made himself lunch and then took a long nap. In the evenings, he often walked to the local tavern, where he played dominoes past midnight. The years passed. His health continued to improve. He added a couple of rooms to his parents’ home so his children could visit. He built up the vineyard until it produced 400 gallons of wine a year. Today, three and a half decades later, he’s 97 years old — according to an official document he disputes; he says he’s 102 — and cancer-free. He never went through chemotherapy, took drugs or sought therapy of any sort. All he did was move home to Ikaria.
It’s an amazing story that’s less unique that you might think. I can’t recall how many instances I’ve noticed the common theme of improvement in a study is linked more to a lifestyle change than whatever was being studied, especially when that change led to less stress.
Of course we can’t all move to an island. We can, however, chill out. It’s entirely within our scope, no matter what we do and where we live. Remember the Seinfeld (the show about nothing, aka everything) when George becomes the “opposite of every man you’ve ever met” and his casual dismissal of a car cutting him off turns on the woman he’s with? That was more than self-deprecating humor. It was a lesson.
We’ve become a nation of control freaks in the world that can’t be controlled. It’s a no win scenario. We look for distractions to ignore it but these things, like sports, TV, political nonsense et al, make it worse as they too are uncontrollable. We need to focus inward, on our day-to-day lives and what makes them rich, which is not money but our relationship with others around us. "It's not the end of the world," is a cliche we too often ignore. What are we in such a hurry to do, anyway?
In Samos, they care about money. Here, we don’t. For the many religious and cultural holidays, people pool their money and buy food and wine. If there is money left over, they give it to the poor. It’s not a ‘me’ place. It’s an ‘us’ place.”
You don’t need to move to an island to do this. All you need to do is find a way to relax. Exercise and diet, both major elements in the story, are the best place to start because they force your body into a more relaxed and healthy-functioning state. The rest is completely within your control and you can start right now, by reading the article, which sufficed as my daily dose of chill. Now maybe I'll unplug my clocks.
Seeking to learn more about the island’s reputation for long-lived residents, I called on Dr. Ilias Leriadis, one of Ikaria’s few physicians, in 2009. On an outdoor patio at his weekend house, he set a table with Kalamata olives, hummus, heavy Ikarian bread and wine. “People stay up late here,” Leriadis said. “We wake up late and always take naps. I don’t even open my office until 11 a.m. because no one comes before then.” He took a sip of his wine. “Have you noticed that no one wears a watch here? No clock is working correctly. When you invite someone to lunch, they might come at 10 a.m. or 6 p.m. We simply don’t care about the clock here.
stamatis moraitis tending his vineyard and olive grove on ikaria. andrea Frazzetta/LUZphoto for The New York Times