Aug 21 2008

Costa Rican Secrets to a Long Life

Where do people live the longest?  So far, researchers have identified four places, which they call “Blue Zones,” and one of them is on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.  In a recent AARP magazine (see below), I read about a group of villages there where an inordinate number of people live to 100 years of age.  Not only are their lives longer, they are also healthier.  As the researchers interviewed the people living in these villages, they were able to identify the factors which contribute to their longevity.

Nicoyans live simply, eat nutritious food, mostly beans and maize, and they eat lightly, much less than the average American.  They stay active, routinely doing physical work like chopping wood and clearing brush with a machete. Not your normal picture of someone 100 years old.

They drink the clear, clean water of their country which, in their locale, contains a bonus of high calcium content, and they soak up Vitamin D by being outdoors in the Costa Rican sunshine. Together this combo strengthens their bones and keeps their bodies healthy. They are also a spiritual people, which help them stay free from stress.

Costa Ricans in general, and these Nicoyans in particular, maintain their social networks, frequently visiting with friends and neighbors. Family is an important part of their lives, and it is not unusual for several generations to live together and share their days.

But the factor contributing to their longevity which stood out most strongly to me is that they have a sense of purpose.  They feel needed, and want to be contributing members of society.   For those of us who come to Costa Rica from other countries, there are many opportunities to contribute to others by involving ourselves in the community.  You can volunteer at the local school, teaching English to the children.  Maybe you would prefer to donate funds so the locals can pave a road in your shared neighborhood.  Even learning a little Spanish makes an impact.  You stop just being “the rich Norte Americano,” and are looked at differently by the locals.  Be a part of your Costa Rican neighborhood.  Don’t just stay behind secure gates in an expat enclave and miss out on interacting with the Ticos.  Yes, the weather is beautiful and the air and water are clean.  There is much to love about retiring in Costa Rica.  But this daily interaction can be the best thing of all.

When you think about your retirement lifestyle, does it include these things?  If you follow the practices of the Nicoyans, you might live to be 100 too.

You can read more about the amazing longevity of the Costa Rica Nicoyans in the AARP article in print (“Costa Rican Secrets to a Long Life,” May/June 2008) or online at http://www.aarpmagazine.org/lifestyle/living_healthy_to_100.html.  The AARP article was excerpted from the book, The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, written by Dan Buettner, an explorer, writer, and Guinness Book world-record holder, and published by National Geographic.

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