Read part I: Keys for Longevity in Costa Rica’s Blue Zones
In the world, there are five blue zones, regions where their inhabitants reach longevities much superior to the world average. And nobody knows yet why. I just visited one of them and I have seen amazing things, like centenarians riding horses.
Eulalia Obdulia has never danced. And that time has had because four months ago that turned 100 years. But her mother’s first eight births were girls, and in those days (1917) the only possibility of subsistence in Nicoya’s savannah was to help the father with land and cattle. So the eight had no choice but to learn the farm work, ride horses and “fly machete” as men. A hard life, very hard, says Eulalia, which prevented him from learning to dance but not reach the centenary.
Like her – centenarians – there are now 42 on the Costa Rican Peninsula of Nicoya, a remote Pacific-bound area in the northwest corner of the country, which has the privilege along with four other regions of the world (Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, Icaria in Greece and Loma Linda in California) to house a number of long-lived people well above the world average. People who reach a hundred years and not precisely lying in a bed and filled with tubes and probes. These are the so-called blue zones, the blue zones.
“It was 43, but last week a lady of 101 died; Although there are seven others that will reach the century before December 31, “tells me Jorge Vindas, who has been following this phenomenon for 12 years following Nicoya Peninsula from the Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone Association.
He is the one who has put me in contact with the centenarians and who accompanies me on visits to a region of dry tropical forest, savannahs, pastures and threshing floors in which GPS is of little use.
Our first stop is at José María Guevara Pizarro’s house, Chepe for friends, born on September 13, 1909 (108 years hence). It looks like Uncle Tom’s cabin: a small square room of gabled wood as rickety as Chepe, in the shade of a grove of porotes, caraos and guácimos. Despite his 108 years, Chepe maintains an acceptable mental lucidity and his face lights up when he sees Jorge arrive. They have known each other for 10 years and you can tell that the old man really appreciates it. The first thing I think of is that although the studies say that the genetic issue is not the most relevant in longevity, it will be because they have not come to this house: their daughter Leonor, who receives us between smiles while gallo-pinto cooking is about to turn 70 Years and I would not have missed 50; And that without any intention of piroping (flurting) it. Shortly afterward comes a grandson of 58 who could pass for a young man of 40.
While we have breakfast at a table in the backyard with Chepe (gallo-pinto with egg and avocado, his daily breakfast at 7 in the morning, every day rain or shine), Jorge gives me his opinion on why people reach such high ages in These blue zones.
“No scientific study has yet demonstrated what are the reasons for the higher average life span of these regions. My opinion after 12 years analyzing and attending the centennial of Nicoya is that – at least in this area – is a confluence of characteristics. On the one hand, the most important, the social network: all the elderly take care of their family, and more than care, true affection. If no one comes to visit you, you become depressed, you lose your appetite, with the defenses … and you die. Then there is a healthy diet. They have lived eating rice, beans, corn, and vegetables. No added chemicals or sugars; Most have not tasted soda until they were 90 years old. Then a life of continuous physical exercise. They ask questions that they miss now and they all answer the same thing: work. And finally a strong desire to live, wanting to do something tomorrow, to eat the corn that will come out in the next harvest.
The Blue Zones concept was recorded and disseminated by Dan Buettner, an American explorer, writer and lecturer. Buettner relied on studies carried out by various demographic experts to bring them together under a sellable slogan – the blue zones – on which he has researched a lot and on which he has written several books well thought out for the North American market. Buettner walks the US Giving talks and selling healthy living projects to local corporations based on the exportable experiences of these blue zones.
In the case of Nicoya, Buettner relied on the work of Luis Rosero Bixby, a researcher at the University of Berkley (California), formerly of Costa Rica, a demographer, economist and founder of the Central American Population Center. Between 2004 and 2014, Rosero Bixby and his team interviewed over 2,000 people over 90 years of age throughout the country, taking blood and urine samples. From this study they drew some amazing teachings. For example, the inhabitants of the Nicoya peninsula have 20% fewer cardiovascular diseases than the rest of the country. The nicoyanos who reach 60 years are seven times more likely to reach one hundred years than the Japanese, who are the people with the highest life expectancy on the planet.
While in Costa Rica the percentage of people with 100 years or more is 1 per 8,000 inhabitants (approximately the world average), in Nicoya is 1 per 3,800. More than twice as much!
“The dry climate is also a factor that appears in the five blue zones and prevents respiratory diseases,” adds Vindas. “But for all who study the phenomenon, healthy eating is the key. I remember that in 2006 Buettner and his team came to Nicoya once again to collect and contrast data; At a road junction they saw a sign announcing a Burger King that was not on their visit five months earlier, and Buettner exclaimed, “Look, the end of the centennial.”
“The funny thing is that everyone smoked, drank and were very dogs (ethical expression for the womanizing and promiscuous man). Almost everyone had a lot of children out of wedlock. There was one who confessed to me that he had 26, only 10 of them with his wife. In addition, they ate a lot of meat and lard, which was what was in Guanacaste. But it was his fuel. They went out to work at 4 in the morning to the savannah and everything was burning. And in the case of centenarian women, it is even more difficult to understand because they had to add numerous births, to carry out the children, to take care of pigs and cows, to go to the river for water, to wash … a life without concessions, Jorge Vindas tells me as we go by car to see the most curious case of the day: José Bonifacio Villegas Fonseca, Pachito.
Pachito was born on May 14, 1917, meaning he turns 100 next week. And he quoted us from 10 in the morning because before “he went out to mount the horse”.
To ride a horse!? A man of 100 years old!? I ask you, thinking that I’ve heard wrong or that he’s laughing at me.
And no, I had not heard wrong. Jose Bonifacio Villegas, Pachito, the centennial of Nicoya, leaves every morning at dawn on the back of Corazón, an old horse, and sorrel, to visit friends or someone sick. Pachito started riding at age 4 and continued to do so for the rest of his life because he was a savannah (cowboy), he was herded by the pastures, he carried the cattle for days in the savannah of Guanacaste in search of seasonal pastures and he lived – Sabanero- to the roof most of the year.
“When I’m sitting here,” Pachito tells me, pointing to an old wicker armchair on the porch of his house, “everything hurts. But I ride on the horse and my pains are taken away. ” As I still do not believe it, I ask him to get on the horse to take some pictures, and he does it with the grace and lightness of a boy. See it to believe it! I would have needed twice as much time and effort when I was half as old.
Pachito is one of those who maintains good mental health, lives with a daughter but is self-sufficient. He tells me that what he likes most is horseback riding and the women (“that feeling is never lost, mae”) while he pulls out a great log book for us to sign a memento of the visit. I see the book is clean, we release it. “It’s that it has several already filled,” clarifies the daughter to me to see my face of surprise.
He spends long hours with all of them and has come to establish an intimacy that sometimes the elders do not even have with their own relatives. But she confesses that her favorite was Panchita, a Guanacasteca of Cuban origin (she claimed to be the granddaughter of the liberator Antonio Maceo), “a hundred years of blue book”, in her own words, who died at the age of 110 on December 20th with complete lucidity Mental and physical. “Panchita was a strong and exceptional woman, the first feminist in the country. It was always full of earrings and jewelry and well dressed outside. He had five children (I never dared to ask him how many men) but he never married because at that time macho men beat their wives, and ‘the husband was not born to hit me,’ he told me. ”
On the Facebook page of the Association has posted a video of a party they did a few years ago in which they gathered 17 centenarians. In it Panchita appears dancing to its 103 years with more freedom than many young girls. Also appears Chepe Guevara dancing. Jorge Vindas tells me that they told Chepe if he wanted to dance with Panchita’s granddaughter, who was 75 years old. And he answered: “I do not dance with a rock.” And he ended up dancing well with the young great-granddaughter of one of the people present, genius and figure to the grave.