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April 22nd, 2009
02:04 PM ET

Does religion help you live longer?

Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear more on the Secrets to a Longer Life from Dan Buettner as he reports from the island of Ikaria. AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

Buettner gets a ride on one of the All-Terrain-Vehicles popular in Ikaria.

Buettner gets a ride on one of the All-Terrain-Vehicles popular in Ikaria.

Dan Buettner
AC360° Contributor

It's 2:00 am and I'm sitting at Thea Parikos' family-run lodge which serves as a sort of community center/bar/Blue Zones Headquarters. There are 17 of us, from five countries, with various expertise — but we all have in common the same goal: finding and reporting the causes of Ikaria's longevity.

At the moment we're all sitting in clusters around our computers, ghoulishly lit by LED screens. Two clusters are editing videos, two others are working on written pieces and one is editing photos. Our science team is refining the survey they are methodically administering to all people aged 90 and over on the island. And we still have another three hours ahead of us.

I spent much of the day tracking down and meeting Konstantinos Plakas, a 95-year-old Greek Orthodox priest whose mode of transportation is patently unorthodox: He zips through his white-washed seaside village on a Cobra 180cc All-Terrain-Vehicle, his long, black vestments billowing behind him. I decided to focus on him today because he embodies the promise of the Ikarian lifestyle.

This first thing you notice about Kostantinos is his eyes. They're alert, focused and dart from side to side when he answers questions - not the wandering eyes you'd expect of a man who's lived through nine-and-a-half tough decades.

He spent his childhood walking 12 miles a day, back and forth from his various bean fields. During a stint in the army in WWII, the Nazi's captured him and he spent two years as a POW (he was one of 2000 prisoners captured; and one of 300 who survived). He later became a father of eight and this year he celebrates a half century of serving as a priest.

His day unfolds with predictable ease. He wakes late (as most Ikarians do), works in his garden, drives to the market to do his daily shopping and then eats a large midday lunch with his family. He'll nap (as most Ikarians do) then walk down to the local cafe to socialize. He may stay most of the night, talking or playing cards. Like most Ikarians, Kostantinos’ bedtime is 2:00 am. He also finds time to pray twice a day and attend his church at least once a week. He says he has asked God for the long life he has received and believes his prayers have been answered.

What explains is longevity and vitality? It's easy to gravitate to the Mediterranean diet; or point to research that shows that people who live in mountainous areas in general outlive their plateau-dwelling counterparts. But I suspect his religion may account for his long-living success as much as anything else.

While researching my book, “Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” I interviewed more than 250 centenarians. All but five believed in some sort of a God. Science cannot measure spirituality so we don't really know the power of faith. But science can measure religiosity.

Duke University has done several good studies that show that people who below to a faith-based communities, and show up to services at least four times per week. live up to 14 years longer that people who never attend religious services. It doesn't matter if you're Muslim, Christian, Jewish or a faithful atheist.

The lesson is that having religion is good for us. It forces scheduled stress reduction, makes it less likely we'll engage in risky behavior and surrounds us with community. Of course, we don't know for sure how religion helps us live longer, it just seems to help. And, I suppose, Konstantinos is a living example.

Editor’s Note: Join Dan Buettner and his team on the Longevity Quest by voting on what their next steps should be: http://www.aarp.org/bluezones. Your daily vote will determine where Buettner and his team go, what they do, and whom they meet. Each night they will report back with written accounts, photographs, and videos.

soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. isabel plakas

    Hey! Thats my grampa! Its so cool to see him be so healthy even though he smokes and drinks!

    April 23, 2009 at 3:45 pm |
  2. russ

    My family is Marseilles, they do live long. I'm American and 40. I'll have to check in with you in 50 years.....

    April 23, 2009 at 1:55 am |
  3. Sarah E

    where are the recipes for the meals shown April 22 2009 on ac's series on living longer? Thank You, Sarah

    April 23, 2009 at 1:36 am |
  4. John Dale

    No – it just seems to drag on for longer.

    April 23, 2009 at 12:48 am |
  5. Eagleheart

    HI – I have been to IKARIA – what I noticed the most and what I feel, you need to mention isL

    1. ALL THE WALKING UP AND DOWN HILLS
    everyone does every day, all the time. There were people in
    their 80's and 90's winging it up t\hese HILLS while I was
    huffing and puffing at age 27 just keeping up with them~!!
    I.E., ENFORCED CARDIO EXERCISE.

    2. THE THERMAL BATHS WITH NATURAL HOT SPRINGS
    ARE SUPPOSED TO BE THE BEST IN THE WORLD – COMING
    FROM VOLCANO WATERS – AN UNDISCOVERED TREASURE
    ON IKARIA.

    3. PLEASE TELL A.C. IT'S PRONOUNCED 'EE – KAH – REE (ACCENTED) – AH'

    April 23, 2009 at 12:10 am |
  6. Duke Doze

    Yes, I believe spirituality is important for our mental and physical health. Man has a body, a mind, and a spirit. So faith in God is healthy and faith in Jesus Christ in particular leads to eternal life. Believe!!!

    April 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm |
  7. Manny Karos

    My grandmother came from the island of Ikaros in the early 1920's when life on the island was very poor. My grandmother married a Greek Orthodox priest son and she died a few years later in Boston during the birth of my father.

    In 1971, I went back to the seaside town of Karvostomou where my grandmother was born and spent a 2 weeks there with relatives then went off to a smaller Island called fourni http://www.fourni.com to visit more relatives of my grandfather who came from this island. In 1978 I married a young lady from Fourni. Still married after 31 years three children and one granddaughter later.

    There are hundreds of small chapel and churches on these beautiful islands. I have made 7 other trips to Fourni and Icaria and generall spent a month when we go. The diet is rich is seafood, fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, fresh lamb and goats and of course
    plenty of wine. They have many festival on these islands celebrating the Saint days. First they have the church service and then the festival goes on until the next day. My greatgrandmother on my mother side lived to be 110 years old and I actually met a man on the island of Fourni about 10 years back when he was 106 years old. He lived to be 108. He name was Hannas. When the news media came there to interview him, he was asked what he attributed his longevity to. He stated it was because of his seven girlfriends:)

    Ok religion is important, so is diet, plenty of Sun and plenty of wine too.
    They also sleep in the afternoon there every day because of the heat. So you get two days for every day there.

    I recommend that you go there . If you go to Fourni contact my brother in law Manoli Flitzantis, he has the best hotel on the island and also owns the hardware store. Fourni is only seven miles long but has about 50 islets for swimming and fishing. Enjoy a long life I will...:)

    April 22, 2009 at 11:27 pm |
  8. Dimitra

    As a Greek- American I'm certainly proud to see the publicity that this small Aegean island of Ikaria is getting on the AC360.

    I believe AC360 is one of the best programs CNN can give us on a daily basis. I'm most appreciative!!

    Sincerely,

    Demi

    April 22, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  9. Meret

    Spirituality will definitely extend your life. Inner peace is invaluable.

    April 22, 2009 at 11:02 pm |
  10. Nancy

    Of course, on the whole, I believe that anything that adds to your faith and happiness makes you live longer. Religion for many people helps them through their day and gives them something to lean on. After all, like the song says, "We all need someone to lean on".

    April 22, 2009 at 10:50 pm |
  11. richie cali, brooklyn, ny

    I guess this journalist doesn't account for all the murders of ppl of all ages due to religion, not to mention all the wars that are rooted in religion that are usually fought by 18-25 yr olds. Which by the way is every war thats ever been fought. I can make an arguement that religion is the worst thing thats ever happen to the human race. Religion has killed more ppl then cancer, drunk driving, murder and natural causes combined. Nothing good can come from religion and being naive enough to believe in whatever ridiculous rules any particular religion emposes on you. Religion is false hope, and dumbs down the human race.

    April 22, 2009 at 7:00 pm |
  12. Bill

    Seems like a typo: don't you think that "four times a week" should be four times a month" for attendance at religious services?

    April 22, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  13. Andrew

    Time is an element in our world that we cannot adapt to or accept. How many times have you said, "man, where has the time gone?" or, "I wish it would be time already!" Some old people wish they would just die already. We never get used to it no matter how long or hard we try. Time never seems to amaze us or depress us. We would all be better off without it.

    Consequently, God is timeless. He knows no time. You will spend an eternity in heaven or in hell. Those who seek a relationship with God become more like Him and therefore the concept of time begins to erode. Time is forgotten. Lives are lived longer in turn.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  14. joe

    as Shakespere said; thinking makes it so !

    April 22, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  15. Tracy

    I love hearing b.s. about how "religion helps you live longer". It's hilarious. You can't "prove" that beliving in sky-faries helps, but you can't disprove it either. Faith in God is believing, absolutely, in something with no proof whatsoever. I'm not sure how that makes you live longer.
    I'm sorry, but what is a "faithful atheist" exactly?

    April 22, 2009 at 6:58 pm |
  16. william Johnson

    This guy has a sweet life, he sleeps late, naps, hangs out with friends and family, gardens, eats good fresh food, plays with an awesome atv, lives in a beautiful place.
    but yeah, he lives long because he goes to church once a week and prays occasionally.
    this article is stupid

    April 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  17. Douglas Roberts

    Religion only helps you live longer if you have the same religion as those around you. If you are a Sunni Muslim living in Iraq in a Shia neighborhood, the Shias will kill you. If you are a Protestant living in Ireland, the Catholics will kill you. If you are a Muslim living in a Christian area of Somalia, the Christians will kill you.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  18. Guido

    This claim is silly. Lets see. Most people on earth have faith. Therefore it stands to reason that you will find more people with faith living longer than those without because there are MORE of them. Simple.

    Devil worshippers live longer. Who knew!

    April 22, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  19. Kitty

    NO.. not on earth. It surely helps for the eternal life after your short journey here.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:56 pm |
  20. JN RN

    I love your book. I am a hospice nurse and see a lot of death and dying. I do see trends as well of those that die young, usually of cancer. It is all very interesting. I hope that you decide to do a book about death; I know that everyone is interested in living longer; it is all the rage it seems-from your book, to Dr. Oz on Oprah, to all the new health crazes like acai juice. But the truth remains that we will all die and most prolonged deaths are not so good in America. In other countries, it is better. A book about this would be very interesting.

    As for the trends I see, this is what I am doing because of it: I am doing less of what makes me unhappy, and more of what makes me happy, I am slowing down and not letting so much bother me, walking more, drinking less diet soda and more water, more fruits and veggies, no processed foods (or at least less), a multi-vitamin daily, an aspirin daily (baby–180mg) (inflammation–BAD), sleeping more (including naps when I am really tired), drinking tea and having more pets. I am also not texting while driving and I wear a seatbelt–accidents are instant death. I have also never smoked and wear little if any dry cleanable clothes (a known carcinogen).

    You also fail to mention in your book, or perhaps I just did not see it, that these people do not eat processed foods, they do not dry clean their clothes, they do not have pesticides/herbicides placed on their yards all the time and I bet thet do not wear their shoes in the house, either. They all probaly eat a anti-inflammatory diet–becasue inflammation is a killer , and they smile and laugh a lot. Sounds lovely.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  21. Donna

    My religious faith makes my life better, happier, and I hope that through it I make others happier. I'm never alone, I always have someone to depend on in my good times and my bad times plus the peace I feel of knowing I am Loved. You can't buy that feeling. It's priceless.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:54 pm |
  22. Kanon

    It's not directly the religion, but the happiness that it can bring.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:53 pm |
  23. Ileana

    possibly there are a million other factors that make up this statement. Music,good genes, a good nutrion .. you get it ?

    April 22, 2009 at 6:51 pm |
  24. David

    Does believing in unicorns and pixey dust help you live longer? I dont think it makes any difference!

    April 22, 2009 at 6:49 pm |
  25. Marcel Okwara

    Living rightly, eating healthy, and loving without hatred can enlongate one's life. Ultimately, our life is in the hands of God.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:47 pm |
  26. Dave

    What do these people do to make money?

    April 22, 2009 at 6:41 pm |
  27. Hans Brecker, Newport RI

    yeah, Radical Muslim spirituality helps you live longer ...about another minute.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:36 pm |
  28. abc ~ anything but california hugh

    "Life is short and then you die." A few years of longer-life doesn't make much difference when it's time to cash in one's chips!

    "Oh Death, where is thy sting? It has none. But life has." –Mark Twain

    April 22, 2009 at 6:23 pm |
  29. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    My grandmother is 89, her sister is 93, their aunt is 96, my other grandmother is 84, my great-great aunts lived into their late eighties or early nineties, and the common denominator for all of them is faith and family. They all rely on a power greater than themselves in good and bad times. They also rely on family and friends to get them through each day. Even when family isn't around, faith is. Last Thursday I sat in a Roman Catholic Mass at the nursing home with my 96-year old great grand aunt holding her hand throughout that service. I cannot even begin to tell you what power there was in that moment. Both sides of my family prove that faith adds years. I pray I have whatever it is that keeps Aunt Rose going. That little Sicilian woman is my hero.

    April 22, 2009 at 6:03 pm |
  30. Laurette

    Most of your interviewed centenarians believed in some sort of God because most people believe in some sort of God. Belief and living longer as an individual could certainly have only to do with cleaner living due to that belief, if anything. I don't "believe", and from what I can see of human nature, religion was born of the need to keep people from killing each other left and right. No religion, no consequences for your actions "later", so I guess that's a good thing, although about as real as Santa. A God gene? Could be...

    April 22, 2009 at 5:39 pm |
  31. Elaine

    Belonging, assurance in purpose, increased physical activity, no social limitations on one's value or expected contribution with age, reduced work hours and increased rest... Who wouldn't live longer and be having more sex!? Where do I sign up???

    April 22, 2009 at 5:30 pm |
  32. Sharolyn Baldwin

    No I don't think religion does. Actually it can and has caused more harm than good. That's kind of a proven, right?
    BUT a true relationship with God can and does help in every way.

    Thanks Anderson for asking...

    April 22, 2009 at 5:10 pm |
  33. B.J. Kopp

    Choose Christianity and you will live for eternity.

    April 22, 2009 at 4:56 pm |
  34. Hannelore Pfeiffer

    religion has nothing to due with getting old , you don't have to fly
    all the way to Greek to give this report on long living I invitet you to come to san juan capistrano senior center you would be surprise to see in our exercis0e session we have over 90 in top shape we have a over the 90 celebration coming up may 21 it is a birthday party for all of the 90and + we have apx. 38 over 90 coming to this celebration

    the most active men we have over 90 we made him the king he is a great dancer in excellence shape. so next time you due a report on long living dont go so far look us up we got them right her Hannelore Pfeiffer

    April 22, 2009 at 4:37 pm |
  35. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I'd rather have faith in my life than hate because the world is so full of hate.

    April 22, 2009 at 4:12 pm |
  36. jason

    No, We all must die, But faith in God can prepare your soul for eternity. Isn't that better than this short time we spend on earth? Staying alive just to stay alive is not the goal, but staying alive to affect someone else's life in eternity is.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:47 pm |
  37. Rose Parvin

    Peace within helps you live longer and if you have a religion and faith that helps you have peace within you will live longer than if you live in constant Societal Chaos & have no center to move to in order to become balance. Faith in religion helps your religion to bring you peace. If we are in conflict with our religion and our self we are in constant Power Struggel with ourself and there will be no peace to bring us not only longer life span but ageless ness and timelessness and grace in our every moment of our lives even in the midst of fire! True religion is your bridge between you and your god within! True religion is religion of god without the dogma and limitation and old & out dated patterns that harm one & blocks the flow to get in; flow of energy and love and life that has access within us with our openness & trust of ourself and our environment. When all else fails one must be able to breathe within and feel connected with the godwithin. That is what I call Rose Religion accepting all and going beyond flying above all that limits us to the destiny we choose to create in connection with our godlikeness with the power of godwithin!
    The Power Balance of god & man is what Jesus Christ created and I have created; a pure and cleanse temple for god & pure energy to walk in while the world is burning on toxic energy dark Power & patterns I shed the light from within for everyone to see the path of truth I call the Rose Way the way of living in the light & be born again!

    April 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm |
  38. Annie

    "Science cannot measure spirituality so we don’t really know the power of faith." The power of faith is measured by the power of prayer. You can only measure it by your individual experiences and witnessed testimonies.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm |
  39. Ingrid

    I think having something to believe in gives you hope which consequently increases the likelihood of you living longer. Where did you find 250 centenarians? I guess it's not so hard. I"m thinking that maybe the five centenarians who claimed to have no belief in a higher being probably did when they were younger. Maybe Ikarians are living longer because they are living a more stressfree lifestyle: they wake late, eat big lunches, take naps, and ride ATVs. I'm in.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  40. Jonathan DeRight

    So what does this really tell us? If you have something that forces you to have scheduled stress reduction, we will live longer? Well that's likely true, but could have nothing to do with faith at all. Maybe if they countered this study against other controls, such as people who exercise at least 4 times per week, or something similar I might be at least intrigued in this finding.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:20 pm |
  41. Rick Shur

    The real cannot logically exist without an unreal. The two, intertwined, constitute God. That is my belief, and it keeps me free of stress because it means I am part of something eternal, where mind governs matter. Einstein believed that universe IS God, and that the universe thinks.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:19 pm |
  42. Heidi Ann Berg

    during the services in church it does seem that time stop's ...hehe

    April 22, 2009 at 3:18 pm |
  43. Suzy

    NO... But keeping your word and being in the moment does...

    April 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  44. alex hill

    What nonsense!

    April 22, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  45. sagewoman

    I think religion can help a person live longer, if the person is not in fear because of rules of the religion. If a person receives a sense of hope, communion, and positive help, then those could give her a greater sense of wellbeing, leading to longer life.

    April 22, 2009 at 3:14 pm |
  46. RoyalSyn

    Not for Joan of Arc....

    April 22, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  47. Myra Boyd

    While I participate in an alternative "religion"(spirituality) I have to agree that some form of belief in a "higher power" helps people to live longer. No matter which form you follow, it helps to bring an inner peace and that in itself brings a calming influence to your soul. You can't help but live at least a more comforting existence! My opinion anyway.

    Myra

    April 22, 2009 at 2:57 pm |
  48. Audrey

    Religion? No. Spirituality, probably. Your best bets are 30min afternoon naps and having a pet.

    April 22, 2009 at 2:53 pm |
  49. Laura

    How ridiculous !
    I thought being married , or drinking red wine was the answer.
    What makes you live longer "answers" could go on forever...............
    Good genes would be my guess .

    April 22, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  50. Isabel

    A faith that tracks the paths and helps in hard times of life is important.

    Being directly involved in collective religious activities brings a social support and new friendships arising from frequent attendance to religious services. Love of neighbor, and above all, be loved, bring a joy that makes the person want to live more and more.

    April 22, 2009 at 2:26 pm |