Blue Zones are areas where people live longer than the average. The term Blue Zone was coined by Michel Poulain, Dan Buettner and Giovanni Mario Pes when investigating people around the world, centenarians who were known to live longer and happier lives than average populations.
There are five Blue Zones in the world. The Nicoya Peninsula is the largest of them and holds the record for most centenarians in the world.
Nicoya is a rural beach community located in the Guanacaste Province, in the North of Costa Rica. Most inhabitants of this area live up to 90 years of age. There are many contributing factors to longevity in Nicoya, such as family, proper rest, diet, water and an active lifestyle.
There is a lot to be learned from the Nicoyans regarding lifestyle. One might think the previously mentioned factors are practiced separately, but the secret lies in incorporating their culture into each aspect of life. Nicoya’s locals call it “Pura Vida,” meaning pure life. It is truly a wonder to see locals incorporate the “Pura Vida” lifestyle into their diet. Here is how they do it.
The majority of Nicoyans make their living by farming and raising cattle. Most of the food that ends up on their plate is from their own land or a neighbor’s land. Without acknowledging it as healthy or morally correct, Nicoyans simply end up eating locally. It’s cheaper, more convenient and familiar. A family oriented culture comes largely into play here. If a neighbor, friend and especially a family member owns land, the crops and fruits from it will surely be shared with all their loved ones.
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One of the meanings of “Pura Vida” is to take things as they come. This can be seen in the way seasonal produce changes the basic diet. Seasonal fruit is enjoyed while they’re still there, then locals move on to the next seasonal fruit, vegetable or crop. Part of the enjoyment process is to eat a lot of those fruits and vegetables, often grown in their own land, while they’re still available.
Preparing the meal
Food is prepared at home from scratch. It is rare to have processed meats or chemically altered products. This aspect strongly ties into the tight community life in Nicoya. For example, a neighbor might spontaneously show up at your door with a freshly slaughtered chicken to prepare dinner together. The process of preparing a meal usually lasts for many hours. Not because of the complexity of the meal, but because locals will get lost in conversation. Like this, even the preparation process turns into a social event.
The time spent on making the meal is a way of showing love to those who will eat the meal. In the same way, the food will be received with a gracious heart, acknowledging the love that was poured into the meal.
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Enjoying the meal
The “Pura Vida” lifestyle comes into play most visibly in the diet during meal times. When you have any meal of the day, it is time to rest. Food is eaten slowly and in the company of others. It is a ritual of fellowship. There are no distractions and the moment is taken seriously. You must be present.
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Nicoyans make rest a priority and it is usually centered around meal times. During the meal, Nicoyans rest and unwind. After the meal, they take time for a “siesta,” a nap, before heading back to the fields to work.
Although it is not directly connected to a lifestyle, it is suspected that a large influence on this Blue Zone is the quality of water. Nicoyan water holds the highest rate of calcium in Costa Rica. Calcium lowers the risk of heart disease, strengthens bones and prevents hip fractures.
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So what has made Nicoya a Blue Zone? Turns out it is not the diet that will make you live a hundred years. Rather, the lifestyle. The “Pura Vida” lifestyle that the people of the Nicoya Peninsula live out daily. Where a healthy relationship with food, people and rest take priority. Taking it easy seems to be the secret for a long life.