Saddle up a horse and ride along the trail through our town of Escamequita in Nicaragua (a ‘blue zone’) and you’ll find handmade houses, food growing in the yard and residents twice as likely as Americans to reach a healthy age 90. Is it something in the water?
From what I can tell, it looks like the water is only part of the equation.
The other day a guest at the ranch asked; “is your name Blue because you live in the Blue Zone?” I gave him a quizzical look – “Well my name is Blue, and this is my zone!” He laughed at me. Apparently that wasn’t what he meant.
He went on to explain that Blue Zones were places in the world where people live longer and healthier than anywhere else on earth. Several of these blue zones exist, and in each of these places people living to 90 or even 100 years is common. However, these people aren’t just living long – these people are living healthily!
One of the five locations identified by writer and explorer Dan Buettner as a Blue Zone, or longevity hot spot, is the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica – an 80-mile peninsula just south of the Nicaraguan border. Here Buettner documented the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and second highest concentration of male centenarians. But as I dug a little deeper it became clear to me that these Blue Zones had no boundaries, and the mantra by which they live in Nicoya is one and the same as that by which my neighbours live.
Case in point. For the last 9 years we have witnessed first hand our own Mamasita Alicia, 77, and Chico, seen above, as they work tirelessly and with conviction at the Ranch. Chico laughs more and works harder than anyone else I know and he’s 76 years old. And declines offers of a shorter work week ~ insisting that he still works 6 days a week. And he’s not the only one around here.
So what’s the secret?
Have a Plan de Vida!
Successful centenarians have a strong sense of purpose. They feel needed and want to contribute to a greater good. Knowing your purpose, having a plan de vida, or reason to live is one of the keys to living a longer life. It’s one of the reasons why there are so many seniors here still working and contributing to the work of daily life.
Keep a Focus on Family. All Generations.
I remember well Don Victor’s 100th birthday party celebration and he only recently passed at the age of 105.
And his wife Carmen, 30 years younger, is still going strong.
Many times this sense of purpose centers around spending time with and providing for family and friends. Nicoyan centenarians tend to live with their families, and children or grandchildren provide support and a sense of purpose and belonging. In the Blue Zones family comes first.
Maintain Social Networks. Find your Tribe.
Strong social networks seem to play an important role in longevity. In Escamequita, and other local communities the elderly get frequent visits from family and neighbors. They know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have. Social media in a Blue Zone means getting together and talking with friends or drinking tea together! It doesn’t mean texting or posting a photo. At Big Sky, we hope to continue this tradition with equestrian events and fun times at the new saloon bar.
Eat a Healthy Diet. Include Beans.
Of course the local diet also plays a part in their longevity. They eat rich, colorful foods local to their area. Plus, almost everyone has a garden brimming with rice, corn, and beans—the staple foods of the region. In fact the traditional diet of fortified maize and beans may be the best nutritional combination for longevity the world has ever known. Beans (and eating less meat in general) are the foundation of most centenarians’ diets. They also eat their biggest meal in the morning before they start their workday and their smallest meal at night – eating fewer calories appears to be one of the surest ways to add years to your life. The recent introduction of sugar and fast foods is changing the local diet quickly. Education around nutrition in our area will be a key factor in maintaining the Blue Zone statistics.
Drink Hard Water.
High amounts of calcium and magnesium, essential for bone and muscle strength, abound in the local water. By drinking and cooking with this water, people here get their daily intake of calcium throughout their entire lives.
Centenarians here seem to have enjoyed physical work all their lives. They find pride and joy in everyday physical chores, and this likely plays a key role in the region’s longevity. For example, after an offer to work less hours with the same pay, our Chico turns up every morning (apart from Sundays) without fail to muck out stables of 18 horses, and when that’s done there is always gardening and grass that needs cutting with his magnificent machete wielding skills!
It is key to make physical action a piece of regular living. The people in blue zones don’t need to artificially incorporate exercise into their lives with machines because for them exercise comes for free, already built into their daily lives – people climb mountains, walk through the hills, work the land, tend to the livestock and are constantly using their bodies as they perform their daily activities. They don’t consider it “working out.” Regularity is the key; doing it naturally makes it “sustainable.” We will have to remember that choosing to walk or ride your horse is a much better option than driving.
In most of Central America a strong belief in God offers a “faith routine” which helps relieve stress and anxiety. Almost all of the centenarians interviewed around the world for Buettner’s book belonged to a faith-based community.
We love our Mamasita Alicia who is forever laughing, working tirelessly and ready for the next party.
Get Some Sensible Sun.
In this part of the world regular intake of sunshine is free ~ which helps the body to produce vitamin D for strong bones and healthy body function. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a host of problems, such as osteoporosis and heart disease, but regular, “smart” sun exposure (about 15 minutes a day on the legs and arms) can help supplement your diet and make sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient.
Sleep Properly. Naps Included.
Around here people consistently get a good night’s sleep – about eight hours each night, thanks in a large part to a sparse amount of electricity in the area. If you have stayed with us here at the ranch then you will know that our hours are pretty similar! After a full day, when your head hits the pillow at 9.00p.m. you’ll be out like a light until the sun rises the next morning.
So is the secret to healthy longevity ~ nothing more than lifestyle? Is it that simple? No magic pill to take? No advanced machinery required? The answer is yes!
Does Blue live in a Blue Zone? Looks like it. Living long and healthy is not a mystery. It is not difficult to understand. It is a choice. And here at Big Sky Ranch we are looking forward to embracing that lifestyle with you!
‘Blue Zones is an anthropological concept that describes the characteristic lifestyles and the environments of the world’s longest-lived people. The term first appeared as an international concept in the November 2005 National Geographic Magazine cover story “The Secrets of a Long Life” by Dan Buettner. Buettner and his group then put in seven years making trips to every location to figure out the enigmas and identified five geographic areas where people live statistically longer:
- Sardinia, Italy
- Okinawa, Japan
- Loma Linda, California
- Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
- Ikaria, Greek island