In Costa Rica, the astonishing life expectancy of the inhabitants of the “blue zone” – West-France evening edition

By David GOLDBERG, Agence France-Presse (AFP)

The Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, is one of the five regions in the world where people have a long and surprisingly long life expectancy. The secret to the longevity of its inhabitants? Healthy eating and activities.

Don “Sato”, 94, is an early riser. He chops the wood he’ll need the day before heading out for a walk around his home on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, one of the five regions in the world with the long – and astonishing – life expectancy of his. residents. “For my age I feel good because the Lord gives me the strength to walk slowly. I go for maybe 1 kilometer or even 4 kilometers, then I go home, calmly ”, tells Saturnino Lopez, known as “Sato”.

Five “blue zones” in the world

He is one of 1,010 Costa Ricans over the age of 90 who live in one of the five listed “blue zones” in the world. It is at the end of the XXe century that the Belgian demographer Michel Poulain and the Italian doctor Gianni Pes, noting a strange proportion of centenarians in the region of Barbagia, in Sardinia (Italy), surrounded the mountain villages with a blue pen.

The Washington-based National Geographic Society then identified unusual life expectancies in 2005 in Loma Linda in California (United States), Icaria in Greece and Okinawa in Japan.

In Nicoya, Don Sato, father of nine, lives in the village of Dulce Nombre, a natural refuge surrounded by vegetation where the cicadas sing. Far from any stress, life flows peacefully there. “During the day, if you have to sweep the patio, you sweep it; if you have to cut wood, you cut it. There are lots of little things to do ”, he explains, saying to feed “Rice, beans, a little meat, fruit and avocados”.

A goal in life

A diet similar to that of her neighbors, Clémentina, 91, and her husband Agustin, 100. Clémentina had 18 children, 12 are still alive. With small steps, she still throws corn to her chickens, prepares meals and maintains the house.

Clementina Espinoza (92) and her husband Agustin (100), exceed all statistics on life expectancy. (Photo: Ezequiel Becerra / AFP)

The couple exceeds all life expectancy statistics: 80 years for Costa Rica and 72 years on average in the world, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

“In the countryside, we live more quietly, not like in cities where you have to take care of everything, right? Here you live more peacefully, there are no dangers ”, says Clémentina. Setting goals is essential for healthy aging, says Aleyda Obando, social security manager at Nicoya. “They always have plans in mind to plant something in the garden, to see their friends […] It is the sum of several small things that make this population live longer ”, she believes.

They are not isolated people, they practice physical activity and eat healthy, she notes. “We have always eaten what we grow”, confirms Clementina. Agustin is one of the region’s 53 centenarians. If he has lost his sight and suffered a stroke, he relishes the treasures of tenderness that Clementina lavishes on him.

” I will make it “

José Villegas, known as “Pachito”, another centenarian, lives in the neighboring village of San Juan de Quebrada Honda, with one of his eight daughters. He hopes that on the occasion of his 105e birthday, on May 4, he will again be able to ride a horse, an activity he has practiced all his life as a herd keeper. But his legs sometimes hurt him. “For me, it’s a great accomplishment (to be 104 years old) because God gave me so much life. It wasn’t all great, but it wasn’t all bad either ”, says Pachito, who lives on the farm where he was born.

“Today lifestyles have changed, it is not the same. Before, everything was healthy and people loved each other a little more ”, he believes. Widowed for seven years, he accompanies his evenings of solitude with music ranchera on his radio.

Natividad “Talia” Matarrita Fonseca, 93, still cooks her tortillas at her home in Nicoya. She also has the makings of a centenary. (Photo: Ezequiel Becerra / AFP)

Not far away, in Puerto Humo, Talia, 93 years old and mother of 14 children, bakes tortillas. “Some say ‘I’ll reach 100’ but don’t succeed […] It is God who decides, and if he wants it, I will do it ”, she says.

For the demographer Gilbert Brenes, of the University of Costa Rica, this “blue zone” can still grow “Due to the demographic momentum and the higher fertility rate than before”. Corn “It will not last more than twenty to thirty years”, he believes. According to him, the new generations “Do not have such good dietary practices” and develop obesity or diabetes, and fewer and fewer people grow what they eat.

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