Costa Rica's Blue Zones
Blue zones are regions of the world where people live longer, happier lives. Here, centenarians – people who have reached at least 100 years old – have active lifestyles and report high life satisfaction and happiness levels. Healthy diets, time spent outdoors, and other factors contribute to the equation, creating communities that people love to call home.
Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula joins Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Lima Linda, California, and Icaria, Greece as one of the world's five blue zones. American researcher, Dan Buettner, discovered that people in these areas shared several lifestyle characteristics:
- They don't smoke
- They eat a plant-based diet
- They are active in their communities and social circles
- They are physically active
- They value family above all else
Most scientific research into longevity shows that our life expectancy is a function of genetics (25%) and lifestyle (75%). Buettner's visit to the Nicoya Peninsula came on the heels of research done by Costa Rican demographer, Dr. Luis Rosero-Bixby, who showed that Costa Ricans who reach age 60 have the longest life expectancy in the world. So what makes residents of the Nicoya Peninsula live so long?
- High Calcium Intake: Local water is high in calcium, helping strengthen bones and reduce the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis.
- Healthy Diet: The Costa Rican diet, especially in rural areas, is heavy on the "Mesoamerican Trifecta," the traditional foods of the native Chorotegas. Beans, squash, corn and flour tortillas are the staples of this high-fiber and low-fat diet.
- Staying Active: You won't find a treadmill in every home on the Nicoya Peninsula, but the region's residents keep active. Many are cattle ranchers, and maintain active lifestyles well beyond typical retirement age. Residents report satisfaction with their work lives and everyday chores.
- Eating Light: Nicoya Peninsula residents follow the suggestion of breakfasting like a king, lunching like a prince, and supping like a pauper. Eating more calories when you need them (like before heading out into the fields) and fewer calories when you don't is proven to tack years on to your life.
- Focus on Family: Nicoya centenarians live with their spouses and extended kin. In addition to social interaction, this allows members to help each other complete daily tasks.
- Active Social Lives: The area's long-lifers are active in their communities. Visitors stop by often. Smiles, laughs and stories are shared on a regular basis.
- Dry Climate: Costa Rica's northwest region is home to the country's driest climate. Research shows that people living in this area experience more intense sunshine and high levels of vitamin D. Food does not spoil quickly, and the weather helps contribute to a lower rate of respiratory disease compared to other regions.
- Purposeful Living: Centenarians on the Nicoya Peninsula have high life satisfaction. They report feeling needed, and want to contribute to the happiness and benefit of those around them.