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Blue Zone researchers have tried to find the secrets to longevity by analyzing the habits of elderly people in certain areas of the world where, it is claimed, people live longer than elsewhere.Janice Dickson/The Globe and Mail

Costa Rican centenarian Ramiro Guadamuz Chavarria rides his horse up the middle of a dusty road while skillfully holding the reins of two horses that trot closely behind him. He leads the horses to a stable behind his home, showers and eats breakfast, all before 9 a.m.

The 102-year-old cowboy is visited by people from around the world who all want to know the same thing: What is the secret to living a long life?

Guadamuz Chavarria has been featured in a number of articles over the years because he is a centenarian living in a so-called Blue Zone, one of five regions in the world where people are reported to live longer than others. He was also included in the Netflix documentary called Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones.

Sitting in the shade behind his family home surrounded by plantain trees, Guadamuz Chavarria holds a guestbook signed by people who have sought him out, including visitors from Hungary, Colombia, a class from the university of Central Arkansas, among others.

“It’s the question I’m always asked,” he said.

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Ramiro Guadamuz Chavarria is more than 100 years old and still healthy, both physically and mentally.Janice Dickson/The Globe and Mail

Academics and the general population are fascinated by longevity, but experts say a recent peak in interest could be driven by demographic shifts, with older adults, particularly baby boomers, taking interest in how to age healthily.

Professor Esme Fuller-Thomson, the director of the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto, said a search of Medline, which is the database for the world’s peer-reviewed medical literature, shows that since 2010 there have been more published academic research papers on longevity in medical literature than in the previous 150 years.

Guadamuz Chavarria draws visitors from afar because he’s an example of someone who has lived to be more than 100 years old and is still healthy, both physically and mentally.

Jenny Godley, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Calgary, said similarly demographers have long been interested in Jeanne Calment – the eldest person to have been recorded alive. Godley said people were interested in her routine and particularly the fact that she smoked a cigarette and had a glass of wine every day.

“People were obsessed with that about her,” she said.

Blue Zone researchers have tried to find the secrets to longevity by analyzing the habits of elderly people in certain areas of the world where, it is claimed, people live longer than elsewhere.

What is your probability of living past 90? The answer could change your retirement planning

Jorge Vindas Lopez, the founder and president of the Blue Zone Association in Nicoya Peninsula, has been supporting and working with long-lived Costa Ricans for 18 years. He said right now there are 52 centenarians in Nicoya Peninsula and 43 people who will turn 100 this year. He said genetics plays a part, but “the other factor is a mystery.”

As Fuller-Thomson points out, the habits Blue Zone researchers identified generally correspond to common-sense practices such as exercising, eating a plant-based diet and maintaining strong social connections. The Blue Zones website acknowledges that “to make it to age 100, you have to have won the genetic lottery.”

Not everyone in Costa Rica’s so-called Blue Zone is as lucky as Guadamuz Chavarria. He told The Globe that he has a few friends over 100 but that they’re not as healthy as he is.

Godley said demographers studying longevity look at life expectancy but also overall health.

“Some people would argue that even though we now have more longevity, if you will, we also have during those years, a lot more illness. … Do you want to live to 100 if those 10 last years are not going to be healthy?”

Fuller-Thomson said it’s natural to be fascinated by inspiring, fit and mentally sharp centenarians.

“We always love that secret of one person, but generally, that’s the weakest form of evidence.” Fuller-Thomson said while we want to know what makes them so special, each individual is unique and so it’s impossible to draw universal rules about what allowed them to age successfully.

She said it’s only when researchers follow a representative sample of many older adults over decades that we can really get a full understanding of what factors make it more likely to experience optimal aging.

We asked people over 80: What keeps you fit, healthy and happy?

For now, Guadamuz Chavarria is happy to share his routine with others, even if it may not work for everyone.

He starts his day at 5 a.m. with a cup of coffee and he’s off on his horse to check on his farm animals. He enjoys a typical Costa Rican breakfast: rice, beans and eggs. Then he’s back on his horse. Lunch is usually corn tortillas. And, he likes drinking a little whisky. He also spends time with people he loves, such as his family and his grandchildren.

Guadamuz Chavarria attributes much of his luck to growing up in the old days when people worked hard all day and socialized by candlelight at night. But every time he reaches for advice on longevity, he comes back to what he loves to do most: “I love to be on the horse,” he says.

Vindas Lopez said it is possible Nicoya Peninsula will eventually lose its Blue Zone status, because younger generations are not embracing the habits of the centenarians – they don’t move as much, they’re eating processed food and they’re stressed. “It’s so hard to fight against modern life,” he said. Fast-food chains such as McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken dot the road on the way into Nicoya city.

He said the moment Nicoya Peninsula was declared a Blue Zone, a program should have been launched to focus on healthy habits and preserve its status.

“It’s a missed opportunity to learn more about the centenarian’s life,” he said.

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