On Sunday, "60 Minutes" peeled back the curtain on Mount Athos — a mountain and peninsula in Macedonia, Greece, that is home to 20 Eastern Orthodox monasteries.
The television series became the first news program in more than 30 years to be granted a visit to the monastic state, which has remained virtually unchanged for more than 1,000 years. It is considered one of the most sacred sites in all of Christianity, with priceless relics and chanting, prayer, and rituals dating back to the Byzantine Empire.
Indeed, it's a way of life long forgotten in today's connected world. There are no newspapers, televisions, radios — and certainly no computers. In fact, anything that could prove distracting from prayer, including women, is forbidden.
"The monks here have one goal, and that is how they can get closer to God," Father Serapion explained to "60 Minutes."
While the monks' embrace of the old ways is miraculous, a great deal has also been made of their incredible health. There's little cancer and virtually no heart disease or Alzheimer's.
“What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and nonolive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins,” Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki told the U.K. Times in 2007. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Small simple meals at regular intervals are very important.”
While the eating habits vary slightly from one monastery to the next, there are some consistent themes that offer some explanation for their robust health. According to Aidonopoulos, the monks avoid olive oil, dairy products and wine on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Everything is locally grown, including the grapes used to make the Agioritiko red wine. The staples are fruit and vegetables, pasta, rice and soya dishes, and bread and olives.
During fasting periods, a strict vegan diet is adhered to for weeks at a time.
Besides community prayer for more than eight hours a day, the monks also perform chores that work their bodies and contribute to a healthy level of daily exercise. Meal times are kept short, 10 minutes or less, and only happen twice a day. Such a restriction in caloric intake may also help contribute to increased longevity.
So, want to eat like a monk without living like one? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
1. Decrease your intake of red meat. Keep everything in moderation, and if necessary, consume only lean poultry or fish.
2. Decrease dairy like milk, cheeses and butter. Use olive oil in the place of butter and almond milk as a substitute for cow's milk.
3. Consume more fruits and vegetables, especially dark-colored veggies that are high in antioxidants.
4. Keep your portion sizes small but regular throughout the day.
5. Meditate to de-stress — or find time to take a quiet walk.
6. Exercise regularly — anything that can get your body moving, stretched and active.
Check out part one of this amazing special on Mount Athos below: