Blue Zone Costa Rica: Living Longer, Living Better
The secret to living a long, happy life may be found in the mountains of Costa Rica. Specifically, the rural landscapes of the Nicoya Peninsula, where people have some of the longest lifespans in the world. That’s why this part of Costa Rica is designated a Blue Zone, the term used for just five areas of the world where people live extraordinarily long and vibrant lives.
Once you get off the beaten path in Costa Rica and away from the paved roads, mammoth tourist resorts and bright lights, you’ll begin to understand why this place is so special. Traveling deeper into the green valleys and higher into the lush hills, you’ll begin feeling the carefree lifestyle and suddenly realize you’re in another world.
It’s a place where monkeys, parrots and iguanas live in tandem with the human population. The wildlife howls and caws at the crack of dawn. It’s a natural alarm clock that rouses the locals to brew their coffee and begin the day’s labors.
It’s like stepping back in time. Saddled horses are hitched to posts outside the small shops and bars. Farmers still use oxcarts more than a century after they became antiquated in most other countries. Pastures are dotted with cows and goats, and families enjoy meals in small, simple homes. It’s far removed from the stresses of modern life. Relax, amigo, you’ve arrived in Blue Zone Costa Rica.
What makes an area a Blue Zone?
“Blue Zones” is a term coined by National Geographic’s David Buettner, who led a team of scientists to discover why people in some areas of the planet live longer and healthier lives than the rest of us.
They narrowed their findings to five regions, all in totally different countries and all with varying factors that led to the locals’ good health. The research led to the best-selling 2008 book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.
What are the world’s Blue Zones?
The five Blue Zones of the world are:
- Sardinia, Italy. Wine and laughter contribute to the longest male lifespan on earth.
- Loma Linda, California. The healthy vegan diet of a community of Seventh-day Adventists here contributes to a lifespan 10 years longer than the average lifespan in the U.S.
- Okinawa, Japan. Japanese dedication to family and friends fosters the longest female lifespan on the planet.
- Ikaria, Greece. One in three people live into their 90s and are almost free of dementia.
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica. Men over the age of 60 are seven times more likely to reach the 100-year mark than the global average.
What part of Costa Rica is a Blue Zone?
Costa Rica’s Blue Zone is located in the central part of the northwestern Nicoya Peninsula. Specifically, it includes the cantons of Hojancha, Nandayure, Carrillo, Santa Cruz and Nicoya. Well-known towns in these cantons include Playas del Coco, Flamingo, Tamarindo, Nosara and Sámara – yet the natives who live extraordinarily long lives typically live in rural and mountain communities and not in these beachfront tourist destinations.
Since its designation as a Blue Zone, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica has drawn the interest of scientists, nutritionists and anthropologists, and anyone else looking to unlock the secrets of vitality from the far-flung areas in countries with the highest longevity rates. Why is Nicoya, Costa Rica, a Blue Zone? Why is Costa Rica’s life expectancy so high? It has a lot to do with three basic principles: diet, lifestyle and sense of purpose.
Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone diet
What do people eat in the Blue Zones? The Costa Rica Blue Zone diet is mainly natural, unprocessed wholesome foods such as squash, rice, beans, and corn. Much of the food is still homegrown and homemade – such as tortillas, gallo pinto, plantains and tropical fruits, with meat thrown in just a few times a week.
Families tend to eat larger meals at lunchtime and lighter meals early in the evening. The food is low in added sugar, and there are few processed snacks. Studies have linked diets that are lower in calories to longer lifespans. You can find some Blue Zone Costa Rica recipes here.
The water may also affect longevity in this region. The water of the Nicoya Peninsula is high in calcium and magnesium, contributing to low osteoporosis rates and low rates of heart disease.
Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone lifestyle
The people of the Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone value hard work. The daily routine often consists of household chores and manual labor – physical exercise that keeps seniors fit and healthy – and out of hospitals and old age homes.
And don’t forget the sun. It’s clear and sunny almost every day during the dry season (December-May) and many people live outdoor lifestyles. They work, eat and relax outside. This is in stark contrast to North American lifestyles where people spend the vast majority of time in their homes, schools and offices. Exposure to the sun in healthy intervals is a natural source of vitamin D, which helps with heart and bone health. Another Costa Rica plus.
Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone sense of purpose
Family, friends and community are the most important aspects of life. Many people walk to visit neighbors and often live with extended family. They listen, laugh and connect. It’s a sense of purpose in life that they call plan de vida, or “reason to live.” It’s what keeps many of the elderly working, active and contributing to the community.
Faith in a higher power is also cited as a factor that leads to long lives. Many Costa Ricans are religious (mainly Catholic), and researchers say that a spiritual life and a connection to the divine are elements that may play a role in longevity.
Blue Zone Costa Rica: final thoughts
Why are Costa Ricans so healthy? It’s this low-stress, natural and healthy environment that makes this such a remarkable and relaxing place to visit. Of course, just visiting the Nicoya Peninsula won’t make you healthier or help you live to 100, but tourists often say they can feel the stress leave their bodies as soon as they arrive. Maybe that’s why the Costa Rica Blue Zone is such a popular location for retreats centered on well-being, yoga, mindfulness and health.
Make this magical area your next destination and explore and discover the long-life secrets of the Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone.