Have you ever heard of Hojancha on the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica? If you have been looking into the Blue Zones, you have probably heard about it. What is so special about this place that people live longer there?
Do People Really Live Longer in Costa Rica?
Even just as recently as ten years ago, you wouldn’t have found anyone who believed there could be a Blue Zone in Costa Rica. It was just assumed that any such reports were due to faulty records and exaggerated claims. After all, this area was a hotbed for all kinds of tropical diseases and political instability to be polite. Mortality studies didn’t even ask if anyone was older than 80.
But a demographer named Luis Rosero-Bixby who was the director of the Central American Poplation Center in San Jose, using a method not normally used these days, found a higher life expectancy than can be found in most developed countries. Later study and data analysis would isolate this finding to a specific region.
Rosero-Bixby presented his findings to a worldwide meeting on population studies held in France in 2005. Unfortunately, no one seemed to take his findings seriously.
It wasn’t until Dan Buettner met up with Michel Poulain asking about any potential Blue Zones that he remembered the talk and they began looking into it more. Poulain was one of the demographers intimately involved in the studies on the Blue Zone in Sardinia. They worked out a deal for Poulain to verify the data from Rosero-Bixby’s talk and for Buettner to find financing to go and do further studies into this potential Blue Zone.
After months of study the scientists, and the group had grown quite a bit since its initiation, concluded that this area was indeed a validated Blue Zone. Using the figures given in this chapter of the book The Blue Zones, they found 14 centenarians in a population of 47,000 Nicoyan residents. That comes out to one person living to be 100 or more for every 3358 people. Yep, a Blue Zone.
Factors for Living to Be Over 100
Just like in the other Blue Zones covered in Buettner’s book, they found some of the same factors present in Costa Rica. However, there were some differences, too.
First, their belief in an outside force taking care of their lives was present as in the other zones. They believe that God will take care of them and that whatever happens it is in God’s hands. They gave over control of their lives to God. There was mention of a study that showed that people who attended religious services at least one time a month had a reduced risk of dying in the next seven years.
Next, they all had some reason for getting out of bed in the morning. This is their plan de vida. For some, it was their family or providing for their family or others. For others, from descriptions, it seemed to just be taking care of what they had.
Common ancestry or a way of living is a factor. Most of those in this area of Costa Rica were either descended from or lived as the Chorotega Indians had lived for centuries. Most were subsistence farmers growing enough for their families to survive with barely enough more grown to sell so they could buy what they could not grow.
Hard Work Equals Lots of Exercise
Due to those farms or the gardens around most homes to provide their foods, these Costa Ricans worked hard every day even when they were older. Although some may have running water and electricity, they didn’t have much beyond that. They cooked on their version of wood burning stoves. What all this means is that there were lots of chores to do every day.
For instance, when Buettner went to visit and interview Abuela Panchita as she was called for the first time, he arrived at 7:30 in the morning. Panchita had been up at 4 to get a start on her chores. By the time Buettner showed up, she had already taken care of the chickens and gathered a couple eggs, made her breakfast from corn she ground, the eggs and some beans, split wood, cleared some brush with a machete, and was in the process of sweeping the area around her home.
During a second visit, with help from a neighbor she chased up her chickens into the coop and another neighbor helped with sweeping the floors of her home. Given that she had been sweeping the area around her home on the first visit, I doubt she really needed the help inside the home.
But that leads to another possible factor in the longevity. People around there visited with each other. Buettner related another story about a couple who walked five miles in two hours to visit their “neighbor”. Yet one more story showing some bit about family ties was the man who made a special soup for his family every Sunday.
Also, with many of those chores being outside, like the gardens of Okinawa or the shepherds of Sardinia, the Nicoyans got lots of sunshine. Lots of sunshine every day correlates with lots of vitamin D.