Why do Icelanders live so long?

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

I love the perspective shift that travelling to a foreign land can inspire. One returns with memories, insights, souvenirs, inspiration and …health secrets? Yes folks, little did I know when I set out on my epic solo adventure to the land of fire and ice, that I’d return with a wealth of holistic wellness information to share with you here! 

I came across an impressive stat during my trip: the life expectancy of Icelanders is 83.1 years, which is higher than almost every country in the world, even those much warmer, richer and more educated. At first, this came as a surprise to me given my experience. In my tourist’s version of Iceland, bread and gluten products were extremely abundant, and fruits and vegetables weren’t exactly a staple (given that most of them are imports). Since this doesn’t sound like a prescription for longevity, what could be causing Icelanders to live so long? Their Viking genes? And how do we get in on the long-lived action here in Essex County, Ontario? 

Once I put it out there, the answers seemed reveal themselves in my experiences. I’d like to share my findings with you here.

1. Quality local food 

Eating locally sourced food often ensures freshness. It’s good for us and the environment. Local fish and lamb are staples on just about every menu in Iceland. Icelanders are blessed with the year round availability of fresh North Atlantic fish like haddock, plaice, halibut and herring. These fish, which make up a sizeable amount of the Icelandic diet, are a source of heart healthy, inflammation fighting, nerve strengthening Omega 3 fatty acids –a rockstar in the world of natural health. 

Lamb is another common source of protein in the Icelandic diet, with the vast majority of it being grass fed. This again ensures a high Omega 3 content, with the associated health benefits. Iceland’s cold climate and pristine location ensures that livestock is not exposed to excessive chemicals and pesticides, which would be passed onto the consumer. Most lamb in Iceland is also hormone free, and antibiotic free. Personally, when I eat animal products, I want them to come from happy, healthy animals. This means wild, or at the very least wild-ish animals that are allowed to live as naturally as possible. When it comes to Icelanders’ main protein sources, they definitely qualify! 

Bringing it home

Wild fish and hormone/antibiotic free grass fed livestock are available around here. Personally, I like The Butcher of Kingsville, which does source grass fed livestock from local farms. Since fresh fruit and vegetables are abundant in Essex County, we have a great opportunity to buy local, seasonal produce in this area. Some of my favourite local produce __ include Lee & Maria’s, The Willow Tree Market, and Bradner Farms.

 

2. Pure Nature

Glaciers, mountains, fields of moss, northern lights, geothermal areas, coastal views —Iceland has it all! One of my favourite aspects of Iceland is that it’s not overly developed or industrialized, and it is a very environmentally conscious country. There is just so much untouched nature to take in just about everywhere you go. Not only are Iceland’s amazing views awe inspiring —escaping into nature is actually good for us in that it reduces stress and its impact on the body. No wonder Icelanders are chillin’ 😉 

Iceland is also one of the cleanest places on earth. Icelanders enjoy pristine water (more on that below), untainted air, and low pollution levels overall. Health geek alert: one of the highlights for me was honestly just taking a big breath, and exhaling knowing that it’s some of the cleanest air I’ll ever breathe (also kind of sad)!  It seems that just about daily we hear how environmental pollutants are affecting our health, so it’s only logical that eliminating this issue would provide a better chance at longevity. God bless those Icelanders for respecting their country’s environment.

Bringing it home

We have a great opportunity here in Essex County to enjoy what nature has to offer! The ERCA trail, Point Pelee National Park and Lake Erie are just a few of the many stress-reducing nature outlets available to us.

 

3. Active Lifestyle

Iceland’s abundant nature inspires locals and travellers alike to get out and play! Hiking, rock climbing and kayaking are common recreational activities in Iceland. Of course, staying active is one of the keys to good health, and Icelanders have many opportunities!

Bringing it home

My experience hiking in Iceland was different than local hiking. In Essex County “hiking” is more-or-less “walking”, due to the flat terrain. Looking back, hitting the hills at LaSalle’s Malden Park would have been a great way to prepare for the trip! I think that’s the closest we’ll get around here to Iceland-ish hiking.

While outdoor rock climbing may be rare in our area, Windsor Rock Gym offers indoor rock climbing year round so you can get you climb on anytime 😊 

4. Sea salt 

Icelanders love salt! It’s part of their Viking history as a food preservative, and it’s one of the most popular Icelandic souvenirs (yep, I brought some home). Sea salt differs from refined table salt in that it contains other minerals in addition to sodium, which balance the effects of the sodium on the body. I’m definitely not saying that consuming a lot of salt is contributing to Icelanders longevity, but the type of salt consumed is healtier than refined table salt. 

Bringing it home

Sea salt is on trend and abundant in Essex County! LaSalle’s Chalice Spice offers a variety of sea salts at local retailers throughout Ontario.  

5. Hot Springs 

Iceland is known for its many hot springs and geothermal pools, including the famous Blue Lagoon. Enjoying mineral rich hot springs in the middle of nature, or at the local pool, is a common pastime and social event for Icelanders. This activity comes with, you guessed it, many health benefits.

Mineral rich: Our skin, which is our largest organ, is able to absorb the beneficial minerals from the water. 

Antioxidant: The ionic charge of these mineral sprigs absorbs excess positive charge in our bodies, which contributes to overall health. 

Relaxing: the relaxing effect of the warm water can reduce the effects of stress and the sensation of pain in the body. 

Boosts circulation: increased circulation oxygenates tissues to bring healing.

Bringing it home

Hot springs combine the benefits of pure water, heat, minerals, and nature. Enjoy the benefits at home with this Icelandic Mineral Bath: 

-3 tbsp Naka Silicea (available at Spartan Nutrition)

-1/4 tsp ascorbic acid (neutralizes chlorine)

-1/4 cup Icelandic sea salt 

-1 cup Epsom salt

Combine above ingredients in a warm to hot bath, and relax.

6. The Best Water 

Close your eyes and imagine your tap water coming from a mineral spring, deep in the earth, never having been been tainted with modern pollution. In Iceland, this fantasy is every-day reality! Iceland’s water is by far their most precious resource for so many reasons, it deserves its own article. Here’s why:

Unmatched Purity – As noted above, Icelandic water is just. so. pure. 

Free of chlorine – Icelandic water comes straight from natural springs, so there is no need to chlorinate it, plus, the natural sulphur content keeps germs at bay.

Sulphur Content Sulphur is needed to create glutathaione, a powerful antioxidant and liver detoxifier in the body

SO Alkalizing – Icelandic water is quite alkaline, with a pH of 8.4. Alkaline water contains beneficial minerals which help our body maintain its ideal pH balance of 7.4. A pH balanced body sets the tone for health. In my practice, it’s often the first underlying imbalance that I prefer to address. To contrast, the tap water at my house in Kingsville comes out at 5.5, which is very acidic. Considering that most of us should be drinking 2-3 litres of water daily, that can add up to either a lot of alkalizing, or a lot of acidifying. Trust me, you want to be on the alkaline side!

Bringing it home

Two steps to get Iceland-ish water at home: filter & remineralize! Grossi Plumbing just put an amazing two part filter in our home, with all the bells and whistles. I love it & I highly recommend Grossi for your water filtration needs. Now that the yucky stuff is out, it’s time to put the minerals back in. There are water remineralizing units out there, however I have no experience with them, so I can’t confidently recommend anything to you. I do, however, have experience with remineralizing or alkalizing drops. I always put a few drops of Whole Earth & Sea Deep Ocean Minerals (available a Spartan Nutrition) in my water bottle to help maintain my body’s pH. In addition to alkaline water, getting plenty of local, organic fruits and vegetables (especially the green ones) in your diet is one of the best ways to get your minerals and maintain a healthy pH in your body. 

The above is not an exhaustive list of the reasons why Icelanders live so long, but I believe that there is some sage advice to be gleaned from their simple yet effective way of life. It seems to come down to some basic principles: pH balance, good nutrition, stress reduction, moving ones body, enjoying nature, plus clean air and water. There are no biohacks, extreme remedies, or diet trends on this list –simply the consumption of and engagement in activities that are relevant and local to beautiful and pristine Iceland.

Iceland is an incredible place. It was humbling to be constantly surrounded by such a unique and vast natural landscape that is so different from home. While it may sound like a strange and far away land, the foundations of Icelandic health are certainly available right here in Ontario. Our area’s abundant nature, local foods, and opportunities to be active are a blessing. If we revere and treat our bodies and our land as the Icelanders do, it may add years to our lives as well.

🍎 🔬 Yours in health, 

Carly Del Ciancio
Thrive Live Blood Microscopy

Thank you for reading!

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Carly Del Ciancio is the owner and microscopist at Thrive Live Blood Microscopy. She is passionate about sharing the benefits of natural health, and helping her friends, family and clients THRIVE! Carly offers in-office live blood microscopy services in Kingsville & Essex County, as well as wellness consultations near & far. Find out more about Thrive’s services and variety of available tests here.