BACKGROUND: The aim of the present work was to evaluate various socio-demographic, clinical, lifestyle and psychological characteristics of elderly (> 65 years) and very elderly (> 90 years) individuals without known cardiovascular disease. METHODS: During 2005-7, 1190 elderly (aged > 65) men and women (from Cyprus, Mitilini, Samothraki, Cephalonia, Crete, Lemnos, Corfu and Zakynthos) were randomly enrolled. Socio-demographic, clinical, psychological and lifestyle factors were assessed using standard questionnaires and procedures. RESULTS: From all islands, the proportion of males aged 65-80, 80-90 and > 90 years was 71.8, 24.8 and 3.4%, respectively. The proportion of women, for the same age categories, was 80.4, 17.9 and 1.7%, respectively. Walking and other activities significantly declined with age (P < 0.001); however, nearly one in five participants over the age of 90 years remained physically active. Current smoking significantly declined in males as age increased (P < 0.001). All participants above the age of 90 years reported sleeping at noon. The proportion of participants living alone differs significantly (P < 0.001) across the three age groups. However, considerably more women live alone (men vs. women living alone: aged 65-80 years 12 vs. 37%; 80-90 years 16 vs. 55%; > 90 years 52 vs. 55%). Dietary characteristics of The Mediterranean Islands Study (MEDIS) sample display a favourable adherence to dietary recommendations (Mediterranean diet). CONCLUSION: A favourable adherence to the Mediterranean diet, mid-day naps and smoking cessation with an increase in age was characteristic of our elderly population. Future research should further evaluate whether the aforementioned characteristics are associated with longevity beyond the average life expectancy.