Healthy, long life thriving on Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula
I want to be part of a Blue Zone. What is a “Blue Zone,” you ask? It is a place where people live happily and healthily for a very long time. The term was popularized by author-educator-explorer Dan Buettner in his 2008 book, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from People Who’ve Lived the Longest.” Published by the National Geographic Society, Buettner identified places in the world there is a high concentration of persons over age 100, and there is a substantial disability-free and disease-free life expectancy. Why are they called “Blue Zones”? The name comes from a 2004 demographic study called “Identification of a Geographic Area Characterized by Extreme Longevity in the Sardinia Island: the AKEA study” (Experimental Gerontology by Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, among other authors). The study identified Sardinia’s Barbagia region as an area with a very high concentration of men over age 100. As the authors discovered more clusters of long longevity in the world, they began drawing blue circles around them on maps, referring to the areas as “Blue Zones.” To my delight, Costa Rica has its own Blue Zone – the Nicoya Peninsula! According to Buettner’s studies, the Nicoya Peninsula has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest convergence of male centenarians. Costa Rica indeed does celebrate its elderly citizens; every person who has a 100th birthday is featured on the national news. As of June 2012, our tiny country reported 417 citizens over the age of 100; the country’s official population is more or less 4.5 million. Costa Rican Photographer Mónica Quesada is creating a book and video documenting Ticos who have lived a century. More information at www.indiegogo.com/CRCentenarians. Buettner’s research with National Geographic also turned up longevity hotspots in Okinawa, Japan; the Aegean island of Ikaria, Greece; a Seventh Day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California; and we already know about the mountainous Barbagia region of inner Sardinia, off the western coast of Italy. So what’s the secret? Buettner’s team of researchers and specialists found interesting similarities among the Nicoyan centenarians that are common characteristics in all of the other Blue Zones: .
- Have a “plan de vida,” or reason to live; it also can be called “why I get up in the morning”. Centenarians say they feel needed, with a sense of purpose that often centers on their family.
- Focus on your family and friends. Having a good relationship with their family and maintaining a strong social network contributes greatly to centenarians’ sense of purpose and well-being. People of all ages are socially active and integrated into their communities.
- Have Faith. The Nicoyans’ strong belief in God and their “faith routines” help relieve stress and anxiety. Almost all of the centenarians interviewed around the world for Buettner’s book belonged to a faith-based community of some form.
- Work hard. Nicoyan centenarians maintain a strong work ethic, which keeps them active and healthy while contributing to their sense of purpose. Moderate physical activity is a normal part of daily life – walking, bicycling, gardening, cooking, keeping up the house, taking care of animals, etc.
- Drink hard water. High amounts of calcium and magnesium, essential for bone and muscle strength, abound in Nicoya’s water. By drinking and cooking with this water, people here get their daily intake of calcium throughout their entire lives.
- Healthy diet. Most of the various Blue Zone residents in the world eat a primarily plant-based diet, especially legumes (all kinds of beans, peas and lentils). They also eat rich, colorful fruits – in Nicoya, they eat marañon, the red-orange cashew tree fruit that has more vitamin C than oranges, and noni, a pear-like fruit rich in antioxidants. Nicoyans eat their biggest meal during the day and their smallest meal at night. Japanese centenarians have a rule to eat only until their stomachs are 80% full to avoid being “overstuffed.”
- Get some sun. Nicoyans enjoy healthy doses of daily sun, enriching their bodies with Vitamin D. Getting at least 15 minutes every day can decrease the risk for osteoporosis and heart disease, experts say.
- Get Sleep. Nicoyans sleep an average of 8 hours per day. They more or less go to sleep soon after nightfall and wake with the sun.
- No smoking. Smoking is not common in Blue Zone communities.
Surf Vacation Paradise Found at Costa Rica's Santa Teresa BeachThe buzz is true – Costa Rica is a surfer’s paradise. There are hundreds and hundreds of beach towns, from little villages to bustling cosmopolitan centers, and just as many surf breaks. The country counts more than 700 miles of coastline between both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. With warm tropical water, long rolling waves, and sunshine most of the year, what more could you want? A bit off of Costa Rica’s tourist “super highway” is the quiet and still-undisturbed beach of Santa Teresa. Near the tip of the Pacific’s Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa is not completely off the radar – it won “Best Beach in Central America” for 2012 and “Top 10 in the World” for 2011 in Trip Advisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards. Nonetheless, Santa Teresa retains its charm as a small fishing village and intimate collection of international boutique hotels and vacation homes. Also a 2012 Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice Award winner is Pranamar Oceanfront Villas & Yoga Retreat. Set right on the water at Santa Teresa Beach, the gorgeous specialty hotel features surfing and yoga holidays and all-inclusive yoga vacations in a healthy, environmentally-friendly setting. As a guest, you can stay in luxury two-story villas or elaborate beachfront bungalows in abundant tropical gardens. At Santa Teresa, you’ll be star-struck by the beauty of nature and the jungle that hugs the coastline, pouring down from the mountains to light sand beaches and the clear aquamarine sea. Famous for year-round surf, its hallmarks are pristine beaches, both beach and point breaks, easy-to-ride waves in warm water, and picture-perfect sunsets. So, whether you are a beginner trying surfing for the first time or already have saltwater running through your veins, Pranamar Villas can set you up with the best beach and surfing holiday you can dream. Looking for a tropical beach holiday and maybe to check out what this surfing craze is all about?
Relax! It's Only a Matter of Life or Death.
A quick Google search on “the importance of relaxing” yields 49,100,000 results in 0.30 seconds. Apparently, a lot of people, everywhere, think it really is important. I know what you’re thinking, “I already know this.” The thing is we all do. And yet, most of us don’t heed the wisdom. We work, do, be in action, etc. often until we’re exhausted either physically, mentally or emotionally, or all three. There is always just “one more thing” to do, one more email to answer, one more task to finish. I’m as guilty of it as the next person. Amazingly enough, if you should ever happen to get sick or injured, you find very quickly that “the world goes on without you.” The planet does not stop revolving, civilization as we know it does not end, and countries do not collapse just because we take a day off – as in, don’t go to the office, don’t turn on the computer, don’t use our phone, don’t compulsively clean or fix one more thing at home, etc. A friend sent me this little vignette recently by email: “A young lady confidently walked around the room while explaining stress management to an audience with a raised glass of water in her hand. Everyone knew she was going to ask the ultimate question, ‘Half empty or half full?’ “How heavy is this glass of water?" she inquired instead, with a smile. Answers called out ranged from 200 grams to 1 pound. She replied, "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my right arm. If I hold it for a day, I might have to go to the hospital.” “In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes; and that's the way it is with stress. If we carry our burdens all the time, sooner or later, as the burden becomes increasingly heavy, we won't be able to carry on. As with the glass of water, you have to put it down for a while and rest before holding it again. When we're refreshed, we can carry on.” There is a lot of wisdom in that little story. Much research has been done around the world studying the relationship between stress and health. There are whole institutes dedicated just to stress management. On the up side, stress is the body’s way of protecting you. When working properly, it helps you stay focused, energetic and alert; but beyond a certain point, stress stops being helpful and starts causing major damage to your health, your mood, productivity, relationships, and your quality of life, according to a study by experts Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. They say the most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it sneaks up on you. You get used to it. It becomes familiar or even seems normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, and the cost is high. So, what’s the price? Medical studies show that long-term exposure to stress can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, contribute to infertility, create hypertension, cause digestive disorders, lower the immune system which leaves you more open to infections and viruses, and speed up the aging process.
If you don't do this, the prospect isn't pretty. So, what to do? Taken from many sources, the crucial elements are: get a good night’s sleep, eat healthy (filling your body with junk food doesn’t help the situation), exercise even 15-20 minutes every day (walk!), stretch, take breaks, breathe fresh air (combine with walking!), spend time in nature, laugh, and simply breathe deeply! There are many relaxation techniques out there like yoga, meditation, music, creative arts, and rhythmic and repetitive exercise like walking, running, swimming, kayaking, cycling, etc. where your mind can flow freely. One study even says that laughter, even deliberately induced laughter, provides emotional and mental release in addition to significant physiological benefits and relaxation on all levels. As clichéd as it sounds, vacation was created to give people time off to relax from work.
Sustainable Tourism Changing the Face of World Travel.
Ecotourism is top of the list as to why millions of travelers from around the world come to Costa Rica’s tropical paradise each year to see its wondrous landscapes and exuberant biodiversity. Tourism is the number one industry in the country, and with good reason. Though a tiny Central American nation, Costa Rica is a “wonderland” of volcanoes, beaches, rainforest jungles, picturesque rivers and lakes, and rolling savannas.
Luckily, Costa Rica’s international reputation as “one of the most biologically diverse countries” has not only spurred ecotourism, but also has motivated the country’s government, local communities and private sectors to expand and better control the country’s protected areas, where logging, poaching and some agricultural activities were wreaking havoc on the environment.
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