Live Longer with the Greek Lifestyle: Take Naps

Today, my post will not focus as much on the Mediterranean diet but on certain aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Recently the New York Times published an article about the Greek island of Ikaria and how people there live a long life. I was happy to see an article like this highlighting the habits of these Greek islanders and particularly their diet.

Upon reading it, I noticed that the habits and diet described in the article are the habits of most Greeks, 30-50 years ago, not only of the Ikarians. The Ikarian diet is described as a “variation of the Mediterranean diet”; it is in fact the Greek diet, 30-50 years ago. The secret of these islanders (more so the older ones) is that they continue to have this diet and lifestyle today, whereas unfortunately, many other Greeks especially those that live in cities and large towns, do not.

I remember experiencing this lifestyle (and I’m not that old) particularly when I spent time with my grandparents. My grandfather lived till he was 103, my great-grandfather 106, and my other grandparents lived long as well, reaching the age of 90. So in the next few posts I’d like to share some of these habits as I remember them. Some are not related directly to nutrition but nevertheless are part of the Greek lifestyle.

Quiet Time

In the article about the Ikarians it mentions the nap or siesta. In a Greek study that investigated the lifestyle of the Ikarians, they noted that all participants that were over 90 took daily naps. In Greece we have the word “mesimeri” which means midday describing the time between 2 -5 pm, but it also has another meaning: quiet time.

I remember when I would come to Greece as a child the word mesimeri basically meant it was time to be quiet and take a nap. Until 30 years ago most people worked until 2 or 3 pm and the nap was part of the daily routine. Today there are still traces of this healthy habit even in big cities. Stores close for mesimeri and re-open in the afternoon. In smaller towns and villages the streets are empty, it’s like a ghost town. And yes you still have to be quiet. There is even a law defining this period of quiet time: it is between 3-5 pm varying a bit depending on the season. During these official quiet hours you are not allowed to have loud music or make noise. Roadwork, construction or other kinds of work also stop at that time.

I have fond memories of this quiet time, although as a kid, I remember not wanting to be quiet at all and looked forward to the afternoon when everybody woke up and we could be our usual loud selves. Once 5:30 came around, the whole town/village would come to life. Slowly people would open their shutters and start making their afternoon coffee, sitting on their balconies and not being quiet.

What can you do?

No I won’t tell you to take daily naps. But I will tell you about another study conducted by Greek researchers. They basically examined the napping habits of over 23,000 Greeks aged 20 to 86 years old and the relationship with death from heart disease. The results showed that individuals who took a nap regularly (3 times a week for at least 30 minutes) had a 37% less risk of dying from heart disease. The good news is that even if you occasionally take a nap you also have benefits: 12% less risk of dying from heart disease.

So how about trying to take that nap on the weekends when things are not as busy or urgent? You’ll be resting and you’ll be doing your heart some good.

Photo Credit: Jordi Espel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. What about the nap ruining your bedtime sleep? I’m in my mid 70s and find on the rare occasion I do have a nap, I’m up all night—or at least up way past my normal bedtime, then the next morning is difficult. Is it possible some bodies just don’t need naps?

  2. Gail Dunning says:

    When we visited Santorini, we took a long walk among the beautiful blue roofed buildings. A small cat from the town joined us as our tour guide. There he was, pointing out where there might be a bug or a lizard.

    Cats abound, but the dog snoozing in the sun is unexpected. What a beautiful photograph.

    Right now my life is in turmoil, and I am facing my 80th birthday. I have been following the diet, but unfortunately not the lifestyle for about 16 months. I think having been eating well, I am probably better able to cope with my difficulties and the stress involved. That’s pretty important. Roasted cauliflower is my new comfort food after making it in th 30 day challenge.

  3. Lagatta de Montréal says:

    Since I’m semi-retired and work mostly at home (translating, editing and related tasks) I can start very early in the morning. I usually try to get some exercise in the early afternoon (mostly cycling) but I’ll stop feeling guilty if I want a nap.

    I loved that dog dozing in the sun. I often see photos of cats dozing like that, but rarely a good-sized dog.

    Yes, dire situation in the US, but also Brazil…

  4. Wouldn’t it be great if the modern world did allow for the siesta time. It is hard to work during those early afternoon hours, most people do feel pretty sleepy and it is hard to concentrate. It is the time when your body clock is low and you are wanting to rest, it is reflected in the early hours of the morning too, but most people are asleep then. Perhaps making yourself work during this low time is stressful on your heart. Perhaps if we just take it easy during those hours, even if we don’t sleep, might make it easier on our heart.