A man with terminal cancer was told he only had a few months to live. He returned to his homeland of Ikaria, Greece — a Blue Zone — and lived for 3 more decades.

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Stamatis Moraitis.Michael Turek
  • Stamatis Moraitis was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer when he was in his 60s.
  • He moved from the US back home to Ikaria, Greece to die.
  • Instead, Moraitis spent an additional 32 years thriving in his ancestral home, which is a longevity hotspot.

When Stamatis Moraitis was 66 years old, his doctors told him he had just six to nine months left to live.

Moraitis, who’d spent most of his adult life living in suburban New York and Florida, was getting short of breath, unable to finish a day of work like he used to. It’s terminal lung cancer, his American doctors all said.

So, the Greek father of three decided to move back to his homeland, on the isolated Mediterranean island of Ikaria, with his wife Elpiniki. He didn’t want his family to be burdened with the thousands of dollars he knew an American funeral would cost. Let me be buried beside my family, by the sea, and where it’ll only cost my relatives a few hundred dollars, he thought.

But back on Ikaria, the Greek island parked halfway between Athens and Turkey, something remarkable happened. Moraitis didn’t know it at the time, but he was returning to a unique, isolated spot, an island where people routinely live past 100. He had entered a Blue Zone.

Slowly, he started to move. Breathing the fresh air, admiring the clear, blue water. Drinking wine, reconnecting with old friends. He decided to take up gardening, too.

Eventually, he started planting grapevines for a backyard vineyard. He recognized he would not be around to enjoy the wine by the time the plants were ready for harvesting, but at least his wife would have the vines as a tangible way to remember him.

Three decades later, he was still above ground, and cultivating all sorts of fruits and vegetables — including grapes for wine and olives for oil — on his family’s homestead, when author and longevity expert Dan Buettner visited Ikaria to learn about the island’s longevity tricks.

“I asked him: what’s your secret?” Buettner said, in the new Netflix docuseries “Live to 100: secrets of the Blue Zones.” “He just kind of shrugs his shoulders and goes ‘I don’t know! I guess I just forgot to die.'”

Where you live can impact your longevity

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Dan Buettner and Stamatis Moraitis.Netflix

We can’t know for sure exactly what happened to Moraitis, precisely why he lived an additional three decades after his terminal lung cancer diagnosis. It’s possible that Moraitis might have had some unique genetic qualities that so-called SuperAgers often exhibit, which can help protect them from diseases like cancer taking over.

But, Buettner suspects there is also, likely, a major component of our longevity that is not about who we are inside, but rather, what we surround ourselves with — the people, the plants, the air, the lifestyle. One oft-cited study of Danish twins suggests genetics are only responsible for about 20 to 25% of our longevity.

“He didn’t do anything consciously to try to get healthier,” Buettner said. “All he did was change his environment.”

Buettner has even tried to re-engineer an Ikarian-like Blue Zones lifestyle in the US, with decent success. Starting in the small town of Albert Lea, Minnesota in 2009, his Blue Zones Projects work with cities to create more opportunities for people in the US to move and live like centenarians in the world’s five Blue Zones do.

The projects include more opportunities for walking and exercising, improving sidewalks and building out bike lanes, as well as making healthier, plant-based meal options more accessible at grocery stores and restaurants, and providing opportunities for people to connect with their purpose, through volunteering, walking groups, gardening, or mural painting.

“I’m a big believer – if you’re overweight and unhealthy in America, it’s probably not your fault,” Buettner, who has a new book out that is essentially a master class for adopting Blue Zones lifestyle hacks, said. “I think we’re mostly victims of our environment.”

Moraitis lived with purpose until the end

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Dan Buettner met Stamatis Moraitis in his backyard garden.Netflix

For Moraitis, his environment had him climbing up a ladder to pick olives and harvest grapes up until the very end of his life.

“I’m still drinking wine and working,” Moraitis told the BBC in early 2013, just a few weeks before his death, at 98 years old (or was it 102? Moraitis couldn’t ever remember, exactly). “I’m no doctor, but I think the wine helped. I’ve done nothing else, except eat pure food, pure wine, pure herbs.”

His daily chores gave him purpose. If he wanted to cook with olive oil, or drizzle it on his salads, he had to go out and get the olives to press.

“Easy or not, tough! I have to do it,” he said with a laugh.

Read the original article on Insider