Time and again when we speak to our guests, or tell people about our beautiful home in the Nicoya Peninsula, they will crinkle their brows when we use the term ‘Blue Zone’. If you’re not familiar with the term, it was coined by author Dan Buettner in his New York Times bestselling book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer by the People who have Lived the Longest.
For more than a decade, Buettner and his team worked hard, with the backing of National Geographic, to identify areas around the world which not only had exceptionally high numbers of people who live to over 90 and 100 years of age, but also where people have grown old without encountering health problems typically associated with old age, such as cancer, diabetes, dementia or heart disease. Multiple studies have found that genetics only play a 20-30% role in longevity, which means a number of factors, including environmental influences, lifestyle and diet, and mindset play a key role in determining your life span.
Buettner identified five zones, including the Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone, where a unique set of characteristics contributed to its inhabitants’ longevity. These five zones were circled on the map in blue – hence the nickname!
In this blog, we run through the five Blue Zones and reveal the common lifestyle factors which make these locations the best places to live for a long and happy life.
Where are the world’s Blue Zones located?
The five known Blue Zones identified in Buettner’s book include:
1 – The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Let’s start with our home – the Nicoya Peninsula. This tropical region in the north west of Costa Rica, has the world’s lowest rate of middle-aged mortality, and the second highest amount of men over 100 years of age. Buettner has attributed the longevity of the Nicoya Peninsula population to the physical work that people do long into old age, strong social networks, a sense of life purpose known as ‘pura vida’ which encourages a positive outlook, and the Nicoya Peninsula diet, which is made up of an abundance of so many fresh local ingredients, everything you eat rarely comes from more than 10km away.
2 – Okinawa, Japan
Okinawa is a 150-island archipelago located 400 miles off the west coast of Japan’s mainland. The area boasts a subtropical climate with beaches and coral reefs. The longevity of Okinawa’s residents (particularly the women, who are the oldest in the world) is attributed to a diet rich in soy-based foods and regular practice of Tai Chi – a meditative form of exercise.
3 – Ikaria, Greece
Ikaria is a Greek island, located in the Aegean Sea in the eastern Mediterranean, just eight miles from the coast of Turkey. Residents of the picturesque island are several times more likely to reach 90 than people who live elsewhere. Furthermore, instances of cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes are significantly lower. The island also has the world’s lowest rates of middle-aged mortality and dementia. Buettner ascribes the residents’ longevity to a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, olive oil and red wine (in moderation).
4 – Loma Linda, USA
Loma Linda is a tight-knit community of Seventh-day Adventists – the highest concentration of people from the religion located in one place (around an hour east of Los Angeles). Residents of the community have been shown to live almost 10 years more than the average American. This is down to their strict vegetarian diet and close community ties.
5 – Ogliastra, Italy
The Ogliastra region of the Italian island of Sardinia is home to world’s highest concentration of centenarian men (over 100 years of age). Located to the east, the region is mountainous and made up of farm land. This means that just by conducting their daily business, tending to the land, visiting friends, or running errands, Ogliastra residents get plenty of exercise. The population dine upon a low protein diet, which results in lower rates of diabetes, cancer and death in people under 65. Also, people here are known for enjoying a glass or two of red wine per day.
What qualities do these Blue Zones have in common?
There are a number of factors that keep residents of these regions in tip top condition. The following are five common areas that Buettner believes make the most difference to the length of people’s lives…
1 – Sufficient sleep
Did you know that getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night can reduce your risk of heart disease and death? You do now. Day time naps are also beneficial for you – but when napping, try and limit your snooze to 30 minutes to get the best effects.
2 – Religious or spiritual beliefs
Studies have found that being religious is often associated with lower risk of death, due to reduced rates of depression and wide and supportive social circles.
3 – A positive outlook
In the Nicoya Peninsula, we call it ‘pura vida’, in Okinawa it’s ‘ikigai’ – whatever the term, having a life purpose and positive outlook is associated with lower risk of death due to it lowering stress levels and improving psychological well-being.
4 – Family values
Those living in Blue Zones put family first, and households where older and younger family members live side-by-side tend to be the norm. Unsurprisingly, grandparents who run around after their grandchildren are said to have a lower risk of death. Remember that next time you’re looking for someone to babysit!
5 – A healthy social network
Did you know that how healthy your friends are can impact your health? It makes sense when you think about it, as your friends are the people you spend your spare time with, and what you do in that time can seriously impact your health. For example, many people start smoking because their friends do, plus studies have shown that your chances of obesity increase if you have obese friends. However, in Blue Zones, residents tend to have friends who are healthy, which means exercising, eating well, drinking in moderation and so on, are intrinsic to the friendship group and help facilitate a longer life.
There you have it – our summary of what makes a Blue Zone a Blue Zone. If you have any questions about our lifestyle in the Nicoya Peninsula or you fancy paying us a visit, get in touch and we’ll be happy to run through all the things to do in Costa Rica.