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Blue Zone

Theres a multitude of incredibly simple reasons why Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula has been named the largest “Blue Zone” in the world, where average life expectancy rates are the highest in the Americas. What has researchers so interested is that many of Nicoya’s residents not only live long, but are still healthy and vital into their 90’s and even 100’s. The secret behind this remarkable trend of longevity has been attributed to the rural way of life which promotes daily exercise, the secret ingredients in Nicoya’s water supply, and a natural organic diet that hasn’t changed for 3500 years.

The Nicoya Peninsula is located in Guanacaste, on the North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The area is mostly rolling hills and tree covered hillsides, where sabaneros (cowboys) manage their huge cattle ranches as they have for hundreds of years. Most people here make their livings as small farmers and cattle ranchers, and live a comfortable rural lifestyle. In the last 50 years the tourism industry has grown to support eco-tourism, surfing, and even some upscale luxury retreats. For the locals (Tico’s), basic daily living hasn’t changed all that much. The main difference now would be the availability of modern day amenities that have spring up to support the tourism industry, but new development is largely concentrated on the coast, so these are not immediately available, affordable, or possibly even desired for many Nicoyans and life continues as it always has.

Key factors to the residents longevity are diet and exercise. But the mitigating factors within those two simple concepts are not so obvious. Nicoya’s water supply is extremely “hard” which means that it is very rich in mineral content. Hard water over a lifetime means stronger bones, which allows for your muscles to work better, allowing for greater range of motion and increased physical fitness as one gets older. The Calcium and magnesium rich water supply helps builds bone strength, relaxes and maintains arteries, and benefits body function overall. Hard water is one of the ingredients to living longer, and for non-residents, we can follow the model by taking Calcium, Vitamin D, and Magnesium supplements regularly. Foods like broccoli, kale (and other leafy greens), eggs and dairy are excellent sources for essential minerals.

Food preparation is for residents is a “hands on” activity. for example, a typical lunch typically involves making corn patties from scratch. First, corn is soaked in ash and lime to break it down, then smashed by hand in a “metate,” or Central American stone mortar. The corn paste is then formed into patties and cooked without oil. This daily ritual provides a workout all on its own, with no electric appliances to help with the preparation, in fact, without electricity at all in most cases. The corn to make these patties doesn’t come from the local supermarket. Instead, it is made possible by tending to to the corn plants daily; clearing underbrush with only hand tools. Maintaining a garden is a daily activity made up of squats, swinging machetes, lifting and pulling weeds, which all promotes physical fitness. These daily chores build up strong chest, stomach, leg muscles and quadriceps; essential muscle groups for maintaining mobility and walking well in later years.

The traditional Meso-American diet of fresh fruit, salted corn tortillas, beans and squash, has remained essentially unchanged for about 3500 years, and predominated in the Nicoyan Blue Zone. Meals are typically large in the morning, and get progressively smaller throughout the day. Nicoyans who eat this way crave fewer calories throughout the day, which allows their bodies to more easily transition into sleep after dark. On an evolutionary scale, nightfall triggered the brain to begin manufacturing melatonin, which makes us tired and drowsy. Now, with the advent of computers and television, most Americans go to bed stimulated and it takes much longer to “glide” to sleep as the brains quiets down.

These simple practices are a way of life for Nicoyans, who have remained consistent as a people for such a long time. Contrary to a typical American diet and 9-5 lifestyle, which requires much less exercise, and includes dietary components that are completely foreign from anything that man has ever known. So far, on a evolutionary scale, our convoluted dietary “experiment” already seems to have failed when contrasted to the Nicoyans simple fare. Our more or less sedentary lifestyles with pre-packaged this, and manufactured that, and machines that replace “hands on” tasks, has left our bodies susceptible to the increased effects of aging. Against a backdrop of grassy hills and jungle mountainscapes, Nicoyans are teaching us some valuable lessons about living longer and healthier.

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