August 14, 2009

Blue Zones: Health and Longevity. ~via Sue Van Raes.

In our modern world, where we in a constant flux of new technologies, material goods and there’s a pill for every ailment drug manufacturers can make up, it’s easy to forget what it means to be healthy. Studying the lifestyle of some of the world’s healthiest, most vital people, the key to health appears simple: living close to nature is best, even when compared to the most modern, high-tech health.

There are five undeniable parallels among the world’s most long-lived populations, discovered in geographical areas called Blue Zones. These parallels include diet, rigorous daily physical activity, quality time spent with loved ones and community, a fulfilling spiritual life, and a clean environment.

Costa Rican demographer Dr. Luis Rosero-Bixby discovered in 2005 that 60-year-old Costa Ricans have the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world. This discovery led to the conclusion that Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is an international Blue Zone, one of a handful of the world’s small geographic pockets containing the longest-lived populations. The 70-mile-long and 30-mile-wide Nicoya Peninsula has specific distinguishing characteristics that classify it as one of the planet’s Blue Zones.

I am grateful for my direct experience of retreat in this magical place and for the opportunity to inquire deeply into what life is really all about in the Blue Zone—to experience how it feels to step off the modern world merry-go-round for a time to truly connect back to my inherent knowing about how life can feel day to day. How health is our divine right, and our connection to the earth not only nourishes us deeply, but also guides us deeper into our own intuition and what we truly need. Boulder Nutrition’s yearly health retreats are set up for this specific study into experience and transformation.

It is true that 75% of how long we live is dictated by lifestyle, not genetics. With a population nearing 75,000, life on the Nicoya Peninsula proceeds similar to the way it has for hundreds of years, where people make their living as small farmers, laborers and cowboys. The character of its inhabitants is unique in the world, where their lifestyle revolves around partaking in cherished activities, quality time spent with family and friends, and a strong commitment to spirituality. The simple way of life endorsed in Nicoya is directly linked to a strong sense of contentment and genuine happiness.

Diet plays a large role in the health of Nicoyans, coming first and foremost as one of the five characteristics that constitute the superior vitality of populations found in Blue Zones. Nicoya is the driest part of Costa Rica, with a diet unique to the rest of the country, consisting mostly of healthy, non-processed, local foods. The predominant Central American diet for over 3,500 years is known as the Mesoamerican Trifecta, consisting of lightly-salted corn tortillas, beans and squash. Other staples include yucca, tiquizque, avocado, coconut, fresh fish and local dairy. In Nicoya, there are 14 different kinds of trees that produce ripe fruit all year long. Nicoya is also home to the infamous noni fruit. The water is known to bring youth to Nicoya’s inhabitants. The hard water that flows through the hills is chock-full of minerals, which makes for stronger bones and better muscle function.

Exercise is a part of everyday life, as manual labor is a necessary part of survival. Because food is locally farmed and wood-burning stoves are still used to cook with, there is a lot of physical activity involved in food acquisition and preparation. In our modern culture, we know that physical activity is an important component to our overall health, but with the increasing societal pressure to be a workaholic and a growing dependency on fast food, exercise becomes a lesser priority. Modern day luxuries such as cars, cooking devices and fast-food restaurants are not readily available in Nicoya, allowing the people to remain active in their everyday activities as a means of survival. Most people transport on bikes or on foot, and the fast-paced lifestyle that we experience in a technology-driven society is not considered important.

Thirdly, the people of Nicoya prioritize spending time with family and friends. Because Western culture supplies us with televisions, computers and video games, we are less inclined to invest in our relationships with people, resulting in feelings of loneliness or isolation. It is too often forgotten that happiness is most often a result of quality interaction with others.

Spiritually, the Nicoyans primarily connect and follow the rhythms and guidance nature offers, allowing people to recognize and appreciate the gifts and blessings they receive in life.

The pure, fresh air in the region is certainly a factor in the overall health of inhabitants as well. Because the country is not centered around industrialism, air and water pollution are significantly less. Free radical damage is low compared to most modern-day city living.

The people of Nicoya have a simple, yet pertinent philosophy on life: Eat simply, work with a purpose and spend your time connecting with family, friends and God. The overall attitude of contentment is reflected by the long, healthy lives Nicoyans are known for.

Boulder Nutrition visits the Nicoya Peninsula annually to study and experience the local culture and way of life. The next Waves of Bliss: Women’s Wellness Retreat: November 2009. Our primary focus on nutrition and lifestyle as the path to whole body health and happiness makes for an ideal time to retreat, reset and rejuvenate: RadiantHealthRetreats.com.

Sue Van Raes is a longtime friend of elephant, and a passionate Nutritional Therapist in Boulder, Colorado. Committed to educating her clients on whole body health, balanced and intentional living, Sue’s private practice focuses on education and life coaching through diet, nutrition, and holistic health counseling, yoga and cleansing. Sue is the skin care Nutritionist for 4 Seasons Skin Care in Boulder and leads wellness retreats and groups both locally and internationally for women of all ages. Sue practices at the Mandala Integrative Clinic in Boulder. More: BoulderNutrition.com.

Images courtesy of Bear and Bee Creations, LLC.

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