What is the secret of a happy life? How much does a mindful and healthy lifestyle influence our well-being and longevity? We asked Katerina Michail - she lives in wonderful Greece, which is home to one of the world's five longevity zones.
Who are you and where exactly do you live?
I am Katerina Michail, 66 year old Greek, a retired business woman living in Greece. I share my time between Athens, Skiathos island, Thessaloniki and traveling in Greece and other places in the world mostly to destinations for hiking. I started hiking at the age of 60 and now I am unstoppable!! I even climbed 4 months ago at the very top peak of mount Olympus, Mytikas at 2.917 meters and I feel very good that I dared to do this.
What is your profession?
I was first a travel agent in Skiathos island for 25 years. During that period, we had also an open-air cinema and a concept store selling handmade pottery, art, crafts, jewellery, handmade glass, decorative objects made by Greek artists and small production workshops from all over Greece. Later we started with my 2 daughters a business in Athens distributing skincare, vitamins and clean beauty makeup.
How does it feel to live where you live, is it stressful or relaxed?
It can be both. Athens is definitely stressful if your home is not close to your work place or if your daily routine demands moving in the city by car. Traffic is a very stressful element in the city life. Thessaloniki, where I also spend time is a lot less stressful city than Athens and Skiathos island is a more relaxed place. However, having said that, living with stress is also, as other things in life, a choice. We make choices that we know will raise the level of stress in our lives but we still do it.
How do the people there treat themselves, each other and their environment?
In small places like Skiathos, people are friendly and open not only between them but also to total strangers that they meet on the island. But even in the cities despite the daily stress in their lives, people are interested in each other and take daily time to drink a coffee with a friend or with a colleague. They take time to have a long meal at home or at a taverna, eating delicious food and drinking wine or tsipouro as part of the meal. Greeks usually drink with food and in moderation.
Greeks always loved their country and took care of it. But in the second part of the previous century, after the war, cities and certain areas in the country developed in a fast and furious way which had serious implications on the environment. Luckily people and our governments have realised this mistake of the past and there is a serious effort taking place from all sides trying to reverse the damage, where possible, and setting rules and regulations that protect the environment.
Would you say about yourself that you have a happy and beautiful life?
I do –Alexandros, who is my grandson, is the joy of my life! In addition, I love living in Greece and particularly in Skiathos and Thessaloniki and I highly recommend both places for the quality of life one can enjoy living there.
In your opinion, why is it that people in parts of Greece live longer and stay healthy longer than other people around the world?
I think it’s the climate and the abundance of sunshine that makes us happy and gives us the power to face life with a smile. We are brought up to stay close with our family for lifetime and to share our lives with family and friends therefore we don’t feel alone. Loneliness is the mother of depression which takes away the love for life and one’s self and affects seriously our health.
We mostly eat home freshly cooked food, with a variety of seasonal local vegetables, nuts, fruits and less meat. We eat mostly small fish like sardines and anchovies fresh from the Aegean Sea, and even in our small tavernas most times the food is cooked by the family owning the taverna. It’s a common secret that a Greek salad tastes the way that everyone loves only in Greece. Tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, olives taste differently in this country adored by the sun. Our olive oil is divine and it is the basis of our cooking. Besides the world known Feta cheese we have a big variety of delicious goat and sheep cheese, yogurts and kefir that help maintain a healthy gut. We basically have a well-balanced diet and everything in moderation topped up with siesta time after a midday meal.
Are there any rituals regarding food, motion, meditation, family, community and exercise that you do regularly?
I eat vegetables and fruit that are only in season and choose Greek products because we are blessed to have everything that I like to eat produced locally. I love eggs and cheese, carob and rye rusks. I eat organic meat 2-3 times per month and free range or organic chicken, I love sardines and vegetables stews cooked the Greek way with fresh tomatoes, onions and olive oil. I spend time with my family and friends, with Alexandros who brings so much joy in my life. I walk daily, I often go hiking in the Greek mountains and I do an internet gym class 2-3 times per week. I love hiking in silence, being quietly in the nature it’s a form of meditation for me.
What does your life look like and what would you tell someone who is living a fast-paced, stressful life?
I lived a very stressful life for a long time and I know that stress, besides killing our health, kills a lot of good moments and opportunities in life, like spending quality time with family and friends. I am still a busy person, but having retired from pursuing a career makes a huge difference. One can manage time and consequently stress levels differently when working hours are flexible to suit the life style that makes a person happy instead of living a life that must fit in the set work schedule. Sacrificing one’s life for a career is like not getting the feeling of fulfilment from life without the validation of work success. One must ask him/herself this question and make choices.
Do you have a certain motto you live by?
Share your life with family and friends, smile and be open to people, walk every day, take time for siesta and enjoy every meal like a Greek Sunday lunch that tastes unique not because mama is the best cook in the world but because food that tastes like love is the best food in the world.
What does longevity mean to you?
All the above. Live your life with a smile, positive thinking, count your blessings, be grateful for what you have learned on the way and have courage and power to face changes and new challenges that come with age, adapting rather that feeling left behind...
What is the motto YOU live by?
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