Eulalia Obdulia, is a centennial woman residing in Nicoya, Costa Rica. In the photo, she is with her 72 year-old child Elias and her 70 year-old daughter Carmen.

Description: Costa Rican centennial womanEulalia has never danced, although she has enough free time to do it, especially after her 100 hundredth birthday. Her first eight children were females. In 1917, she used to help her father on the farm to survive. Therefore, her eight girls had no other choice but to learn farming, horse-riding and cropping like men. A really very tough life. Eulalia never had time to learn things like dancing but that didn’t stop her from making it to 100 years.

There are 42 centennial people in the Costa Rican peninsula, Nicoya. So, Nicoya is another blue zone in the world alongside Okinawa (Japan), Cerdeña (Italia), Icaria (Greece) and Loma Linda (California). Nicoya is located far off in Northeastern Costa Rica. These places are full of one-hundred-year-olds who have reached such like live wires, not in bed or in hospital.

“Last year, one of those one-year-olds passed at the age of 101” – said Jorge Vindas, a researcher who has been studying this demographic phenomenon for 12 years. He is the manager of the Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone Association – “My father has been the person who has made it possible for me to get in contact with the centennial residents. He is also my company when I have to go to inaccessible places like savannas, rainforests, pasturelands and deer trails” – he added.

Jose Maria Guevara Pizarro

Jose Maria Guevara PizarroPeche, known so by his friends, was born on September 13th, 1909. He’s currently 108 years. He lives in an uncle-Tom-like log cabin: a small house made of old wood, as old as him, located near a caraos copse. Although he’s 108 years, Chepe is still lucid and his face changes for joy every time he sees his “son” Jorge. They have been friends for 10 years.

Description: Costa Rican Centennial ManAccording to Jose Guevara, genetics has a lot to do with longevity. Chepe’s daughter is already 70 years and looks really younger, like a middle-aged woman. And he also has a grandchild who is 58 but looks like a 40-year-old.

Chepe gets up at 7 and has gallo pinto (black beans with eggs) for breakfast. He always has gallo pinto rain or shine. Jorge Guevara shared his opinion about why people live longer in blue zones:

“Scientists have been unable to discover why people live longer in those regions. But, after having studied this phenomenon for 12 years, I think it’s because of genotype. Besides that, all these old people are taken care by their relatives, which is true love. If nobody visits you, you can fall into depression, your appetite decreases and your immune system slacks off and then, you die. Additionally, long-lived people eat healthy. Their feeding habit is based on rice, beans, corn, and green vegetables. They consume sugar-less non-additive foods. Oddly to say, just a small part of them has drunk a soda pop. I met one guy who drunk his first Coke Cola at 90. Added to this, physical exercise is also important. And the other key for longevity is working along with the desire of living longer, doing something new every day, and eating the ears of corn of the next crop.”

The phenomenon of longevity drew the attention of writer Dan Buettner, founder of Bluezones.com. His mission is to identify what he terms “blue zones,” or areas of greater longevity around the globe; not only areas where people live longer, but also where they seem to enjoy better health than those who live in surrounding areas.

He and his team, with the support of the National Geographic Society and Allianz Life, corroborated in 2007 the accuracy of the data in Costa Rica, but also identified a blue zone in the Nicoya Peninsula where the residents likewise live longer on average than those in the rest of the country. Other blue zones internationally include Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), and the valley of Loma Linda, California (USA).

According to scientists, genetic factors play only a 25 percent role in determining how long we live. The rest is determined by our lifestyle and daily habits. One thing that means is that even though you don’t live in Nicoya, you can still apply some of the research findings to increase your longevity. Besides specific factors in the region such as water rich in calcium that strengthens bones and a diet rich in fruits and hominy (nixtamal) with their antioxidants, niacin, and amino acids, there are other secrets one can adopt which have to do with how these people approach life.

Living in extended families, having faith and engaging in physical labor that keeps them in shape are three more pieces of the longevity puzzle of the Nicoyans, factors that also help them to live a life that has direction, meaning and connection to others. Such a lifestyle brings about happiness, which in turn raises endorphin levels and strengthens the immune system.

Apparently the people of Nicoya are not only concerned with their own lives, but see themselves as connected to others and stay active and seek to learn new things throughout their life span. And so they get to add a new candle each year to the cake.