There are plenty of theories for the increase in lifespan, including environmental changes, better and cleaner water sources, and improved medical care.
However, a handful of small communities across the earth far exceed the life expectancy everywhere else. The Nicoya Blue Zone in Costa Rica is one of them.
What Is A Blue Zone?
In the early 2000s, demographers Michel Poulain, Giovanni Mario Pes, and author Dan Buettner coined the term ‘Blue Zone’. They noticed that villagers living on the island of Sardinia were living effortlessly into their 90s and 100s.
Blue Zones describe five recognized areas worldwide where people live longer and better lives. These are:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Sardinia, Italy
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
While aspects of diet, exercise, and community structure are unique to each Blue Zone, they all share elements in common. A sense of purpose.
They also follow routines that decrease stress. They eat unprocessed whole-food diets, embrace friends, family, and faith, and nurture a sense of belonging within their community.
Costa Rica’s Blue Zone: Nicoya
Pura Vida or “the simple lifestyle” is synonymous with Costa Rica. But the small rural beach community of the Nicoya Peninsula seems to have perfected the art of simple living.
Nicoya, located in the Guanacaste province on the northwest coast of Costa Rica, has a 20% lower mortality rate than the rest of the country. It also has the highest concentration of centenarians in the world.
Nicoya’s lifestyle is far removed from the stress of modern life. Nicoya is surrounded by pristine beaches and an abundance of nature and wildlife. The average daily temperature is eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit and life moves slowly.
Modes of transport include oxcarts and saddled horses. Families live off the land and enjoy communal meals in simple homes.
Given the geographical situation of Nicoya, much of the diet is centered on locally grown produce typical of tropical regions.
Rice, corn, and legumes are everyday staples, and common vegetables include yucca, squash, onions, and cabbage. Fruit like mangoes, bananas, and pineapples are plentiful.
What sets the Nicoya diet apart from other Blue Zone diets is its higher intake of animal-based proteins. Beef, pork, and chicken are part of a Nicoya diet, as are other animal products like cheese and eggs.
Nicoya water has the country’s highest calcium and magnesium content, perhaps explaining the lower rates of heart disease, stronger bones, and fewer hip fractures.
The people of Nicoya value hard work and follow a simple life. Physical labor tending crops and livestock is typical from a young age.
Many Nicoyans work the land and walk from one destination to another, which keeps them fit and provides them with regular sun exposure.
Healthy sun exposure is essential for vitamin D production and can help prevent osteoporosis and heart disease.
Supportive relationships and close community ties are other keys to longevity. Poor communities rely on the generosity of friends and family.
Social interaction in Nicoya is often with extended family through commonly shared activities, including weekend get-togethers, fiestas, and sports.
A Sense of Purpose
The Okinawans call it Ikigai, and the Nicoyans call it Plan de Vida – the reason to get up in the morning. Setting clear life goals is one of the elements shared by these long-living societies.
For many Nicoyans, a sense of purpose or ambition is to do their part in their community. This could be taking care of crops or taking a walk to visit family.
A family or community-centric purpose helps maintain healthy and supportive relationships. Community connection prevents isolation and alienation, which contribute to depression.
Niconyans maintain the sense that they are needed and valued by their families and community because they stay active and involved as mentors and caregivers.
To Sum It Up
The Nicoya Blue Zone template for longevity is simple. Eat natural, unprocessed food, participate in plenty of low-impact physical activity, get a daily dose of sun and stay connected with your family, faith, and community.
For many people, a Blue Zone lifestyle may be impossible to replicate. But embracing healthy habits that you can, like cleaning up your diet and increasing exercise, is a good start.