In a world where anti-depressants are fast becoming as common as Tylenol, it’s refreshing to run into a culture, an entire population or Blue Zone if you will, that possesses joy as a palpable entity.

The Carioca spirit, or “joie de vivre” of the local Rio de Janeiro population, is not only infectious but palpable. It’s something even those living here for years can still feel, understand and wrap their finger around. A Carioca will describe his or her city as “magical” and describe their beach-centered lifestyle with a gleam in her eye. Perhaps the most standard body language here is a big toothy grin with a thumbs up sign.

While the elephant in the room may be the incredible landscape, green-covered luscious mountains, miles of pristine white sand beaches and year-round sunny weather – there may be more than meets the eye with regard to Rio’s success for producing such a joyous, vibrant population.

1) Beach Gym = $0/month

While there are plenty of expensive gyms around, where locals socialize and practice anything from Crossfit to Muay Thai, most of the action happens along the city’s 22 miles of public beaches where the monthly fee is zero reais.

The city maintains over 30 workout stations every 1 or 2 km along the coast from Copacabana to Barra da Tijuca. They are free, clean and frequently used by all ages, boys and girls alike. The stations go so far as to suggest 15-20 stretches and exercises:

Bikes are available up and down the coast as well. These carry a nominal fee of 10 reai per month (or less than 10 US cents per day):

The pedestrian walkway is huge – at least twice the size of what you’d expect in the most generous spots of California. On weekends and holidays, additional lanes are closed off to vehicles and you’ll see rows of folks walking, jogging, running, skating, rollerblading, biking, hopping, skipping you name it:

Tons of nets are made publically available for volleyball, soccer and the local favorite futevôlei (foot volleyball). Surfboards are available for rent, as well as bodyboards. Meanwhile, you’ll find locals swimming and bodysurfing as well.

The beach and its inherent active lifestyle is so ingrained in the culture that as one Carioca put it, if you’re not out enjoying the beach and playing sports “you might as well be E.T.”

2) Party Size of 4 or more

In the States, it’s common to see folks going to the beach solo or perhaps more frequently in couples. The average size of a beach party in the States might be around 2 or 3 considering…

In Rio, the average party size at the beach and most places out and about is 4 or 5. It’s extremely rare to see lone rangers at the beach or on a night out. And even couples are the exception here. Extended families and large circles of friends are rather the norm, as beach sessions become all-day hangouts and true social occasions. People catch up, talk about the workweek, discuss the latest soap operas and the whole nine yards:

We know that Exercise and strong Social connections are key determinants of health – considered two of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s five lifestyle vital signs. While Rio has mother nature playing to its advantage, the municipal government is taking clear powerful steps to ensure beaches act as a public gymnasium, a prime preventive health tool, and the Cariocas take it upon themselves to nurture long-term and extended social connections.