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Healthy Living in Costa Rica’s Blue Zone

Will I truly be healthier and happier if I move to Costa Rica? Is it possible to live longer by just moving to this small Central American country? It might be, if one moves to the right part of the country and learns the lessons for living longer from the people in the area who have lived the longest.

Along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica is an 80-mile long finger of land called the Nicoya Peninsula, a unique area designated as a Blue Zone. There are only five Blue Zones on earth: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy, Ikaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.. Blue Zones are special places where people live measurably longer lives, often exceeding 100 years. Researchers have identified a group of towns on the Peninsula with a significantly higher rate of longevity than the rest of Costa Rica—and the world, for that matter. They are: Santa Cruz, Hojancha, Carrillo, Nandayure, and Nicoya.

What lessons can be learned from the lifestyle of the Nicoyan people? The following are the factors that have proven to increase longevity in the residents of Costa Rica’s Blue Zone. Implementing any or all of these factors in your life will result in a long, healthy life “in the zone!”

Get plenty of sunshine. This is easy to do in an area that averages 7 hours of sunshine per day all year long. Regular sun exposure helps bodies produce vitamin D for strong bones and healthy body function. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with a host of problems, such as osteoporosis and heart disease. Laying out on the beach all day is too much, however. A healthy amount of sunshine is about 15 minutes on the legs and arms each day–an easy prescription to fill!

Keep moving. Regular, low-intensity physical activity is a must for longevity. Walking, bicycling, gardening, cooking, keeping up the house, taking care of animals and looking after children, etc., has been a big part of the daily routine for Nicoyans during their entire life. Make regular activity a part of your new life by playing a sport, chasing after a new puppy, or simply walking on the beach every day!

Do hard work. Centenarians on the Nicoya Peninsula have done physical work all their lives. They find joy in everyday chores instead of viewing them as, well, chores or hiring someone else to do them. So, plant a garden! Be your own “pool boy”! You will go to bed each night tired and satisfied.

Eat a plant-based diet. Rice, beans, corn (in the form of handmade tortillas) and green vegetables are staples of the Nicoyan diet, along with the occasional addition of a small portion of meat. It has been said that the combination of corn and beans may be the best nutritional combination for longevity the world has ever known. Also, rich, colorful fruits are readily available in Costa Rica and high in vitamins and antioxidants. Order regional dishes in restaurants and try a new vegetable or fruit every week to broaden your culinary horizons.

Have a sense of purpose. These centenarians usually live with their children and grandchildren where support is mutual. They help clean, cook, and take care of the animals and children; in turn, they receive physical and financial support. They have a “plan de vida”—a purpose in life. Even though your family may not make the move with you, you will find there is an extensive expat population waiting for you with outstretched arms. Join a club or do volunteer work—you will soon find a support system and your own “plan de vida.”

Have an offline social network. Social networks (the old-fashioned kind) seem to play an important role in longevity. Nicoyan centenarians get frequent visits from neighbors and, in turn, visit others. They know how to listen, laugh, and appreciate what they have. Start up a conversation at the grocery store or on the beach, and, before you know it, you will have hundreds of friend requests—real ones!

Unplug.  Cell phones and cable TV have only existed in these communities in the last 25 years. Most of the centenarians do not text or use the internet. In many cases, they have lived the majority of their life without electricity and do not drive. They have lived slow-paced, pastoral, quiet lives. It may not be practical to unplug completely, but you will find placing limits on the use of your electronic devices and exposure to new reports reduces stress and increases a sense of calm.

Drink the water!  The water under the Nicoya Peninsula percolates through limestone substrata and is very high in calcium and magnesium, perhaps explaining the lower rates of heart disease as well as stronger bones and fewer hip fractures. So, drink up!

Be a spiritual person. Residents of Blue Zones have a strong belief in God. Nicoyans in particular believe that everything that happens is God’s will. A common expression you will hear is “si Dios quiere.” meaning if God wants me….I will be at work tomorrow, or I will see you tomorrow, etc. Though this may seem simplistic to some, and it relieves them of stress and anxiety. Even a non-religious person will benefit from accepting what can be changed and what can’t. Gratitude will help you feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve your health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.

So, yes, moving to Costa Rica’s Blue Zone gives you all the ingredients for a healthy, happy, long life. Start living it now!

costa rica's blue zone

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