Costa Rica Health – “Who wants to live forever?” famously sang Freddie Mercury.
Not everyone. But living life to its fullest and longest certainly has appeal. In reality, wealth has very little to do with long-term survival. Money can’t buy you love… and it can’t buy you extra birthdays either.
The secrets of longer living probably lie in the world’s Blue Zones, areas singled out for their high-ageing populations. The world’s biggest Blue Zone, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, will host a World Meeting of Blue Zones this week to discuss the qualities determining the remarkable life expectancy of their community.
Along with the world’s other Blue Zones – Icaria (Greece), Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan) and Loma Linda (US) – this humble Costa Rican community is attracting tourists keen to soak up some of their life-giving forces.
Located on a 130-kilometre peninsula, north of the Nicaraguan border in the Guanacaste region, Nicoya is home to 865 nonagenarians and 41 people over the age of 100.
So what is the secret to their success, and can we sample a bit of it, too?
No stress in the local vocabulary
Nicoyans appear to have have longer telomeres, essential elements at the end of chromosomes determining how human cells age.
“Some scientists have argued that telomere length is a proxy for stress,” Gilbert Brenes of the Central American Center For Population told CNN. “And what we’ve found is people in Nicoya are less stressed and have been less stressed throughout their lives.”
Hard drinking water
“Nicoyans specifically have water that percolates through the limestone and it’s very high in calcium and magnesium,” says Dan Buettner, an author and authority on Blue Zones. This extremely high calcium content could be responsible for lower rates of heart disease and stronger bones.
Most Nicoyans tend to eat lighter meals – particularly in the evenings. Their traditional diet is maize and beans.
Located on the Pacific coast, Nicoya enjoys a warm, sunny climate. Sunshine plays an important role in strengthening bones, preventing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of heart disease. Just 15 minutes spent soaking up rays can boost Vitamin D levels.
Good reason to live
The Nicoyans call it “Plan de vida” – a positive outlook that drives daily activities and helps keep the metabolism fully charged. No matter how old they are, people in the community have a purpose and they take it seriously. But not too seriously – laughter is important aspect of pura vida (the pure life), a lifestyle choice celebrated nationally, encouraging everyone to smile.
People are everything
Socialising is central to the Nicoyan way of life. Generations live together in the same household, neighbours visit each other regularly, and people are always ready to listen. Some might argue living in the pockets of in-laws could take years off your life, but it’s the sense of connection that is said to really hold this community together.
By Sarah Marshall, The Sydney Morning Herald