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Pura Vida Living: Embrace The Blue Zone Lifestyle In Costa Rica | CruncyTales

Live Like a 100-Year-Old: Costa Rica’s Blue Zone Secrets to Steal for Your Own Life

6 min read

Last year I did something crazy. I went to Costa Rica for the first time, fell in love with the country, bought a house, and moved there! Although my mind was racing when I signed the sales agreement (who goes on vacation for 3 weeks and buys a house?), my heart knew it would be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Why? My big goal in life is to be healthy at 100, and Costa Rica is one of the healthiest places on the planet. Along with Okinawa, Japan; Nuoro, Italy, and Icaria, Greece, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica is a Blue Zone, an area of the world where there are more centurions than anywhere else on earth. 

The secrets to living better and longer are simple. According to Dan Buettner author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest the four common denominators and cornerstones are: Eat Wisely, Connect, Move Naturally, and Outlook. 

The good news is that you don’t have to move to a Blue Zone to live that healthy lifestyle. By incorporating the following habits into your life, you can experience the essence of Pura Vida – a life filled with joy, purpose, and well-being – wherever you call home.

The essence of Pura Vida: Eat Wisely

The concept of “Pura Vida” (pure life) isn’t just a motto, it’s a way of living and starts with eating well. In the Blue Zone, this means having a plant-based diet and eating in moderation (preferably local). Enjoying a glass of wine with friends is also fine.

Think gallo pinto (rice and black beans) for breakfast and casado (a platter with beans, rice, plantains, and meat/fish) for lunch or dinner. Meals are also accompanied by a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, which thrive in Costa Rica because the soil is rich from volcanic ash and there’s an abundance of sunshine. You can pick mangos and papayas right from trees growing along the side of the road. Produce and farmers’ markets are easy to find, and many Ticos (the name for native Costa Ricans) have vegetable gardens. Some plant foods I’ve discovered and grown to love include cassava, plantain, chayote, and guanabana. 

Blue Zone at home

Aim for 5-10 servings of produce a day. Fill your grocery cart with fruits veggies, whole grains, and beans. If you’re short on time buy precut and washed veggies and canned beans. Frozen fruits and veggies are another time-saving option. 

Cutting down on animal protein is also key for longevity. Rather than the focus of your meal and the centre of your plate, think about animal protein as a condiment that adds flavour. Have “Meatless Mondays” and invest in an instant pot. You’ll be able to make dishes like Sopa Negra, the traditional Costa Rican black bean soup fast, served with a hard-boiled egg.

Along with reducing meat consumption, cut back on processed foods and sugar. Instead of cookies and ice cream have fresh or frozen fruit for desserts and snacks. Instead of chips, cut up veggies and keep them where you can see them in the refrigerator and enjoy with hummus or a little nut butter.

Connect

In the United States loneliness and isolation are an epidemic that can have serious mental and physical complications and shorten your life. It’s a big issue with many midlife women who complain that they don’t have any close girlfriends and don’t spend time with family members as often as they’d like. In contrast, Costa Ricans have tight social circles that include family and friends. Loyalty to family and friends is valued, and Ticos make time for the people they love. 

Rather than retirement homes, different generations live and hang out together. The beach down the street from where I live is filled with people of all ages – infants to grandparents all soaking in the vitamin D-generating sun. Older people are also treated with respect. They are called “ciudadanos de oro” which means “golden citizens. I realized this early on when my silver hair and passport allowed me to use the over-60 express line at the bank. 

Blue Zone at Home

Having the right friends and surrounding yourself with people you love is key to longevity and happiness. The right tribe can also encourage you to engage in healthy behaviours and do less of the wrong things so you don’t develop a disease that will shorten your life. Making friends after 50 takes time and patience, but it’s an awkward journey, worth trying. Start by finding group activities that you enjoy. Take a yoga or painting class. Do volunteer work that you enjoy. Join a hiking group or a spiritual community that resonates with you. 

Reconnect with old friends. They will likely be happy to hear from you, and you’ll probably find the connection that brought you together is still there. In terms of reconnecting with family, be intentional about connecting and make a habit of creating family time. Plan a family trip. Visit loved ones in person. Play games or watch a movie virtually. Send a written note, email, or text or pick up the phone and call. 

SEE ALSO:  On Having A Pro-Ageing Mindset

Move Naturally

Nicoyans are naturally active. While there are gyms in Costa Rica (mostly for expats), instead of pumping iron and doing Pilates, people in Nicoya incorporate movement throughout the day. They take long walks, garden, dance, and chop wood. There’s a strong cowboy culture inherited from the Spanish settlers, so people ranch and ride horses.

They do much more manual labour, too. Women make tortillas from scratch grinding corn and kneading the dough by hand. Labour-saving devices like dishwashers, vacuums, and washing machines are nonexistent, so cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and doing laundry is also more labour-intensive.

Inspired by the Blue Zoners and my fiancée, I’ve started to do a lot more gardening. We created a small garden in Costa Rica where we’ve planted an avocado tree and several papaya bushes and plan on growing herbs and a variety of spinach that can thrive in the 90-degree heat. Instead of going to the gym, I wake up at 6 am while it’s still cool and take a long walk followed by a swim. I also go dancing a few times a week and plan on taking Salsa lessons. 

Blue Zone at home

Make a habit of moving, rather than sitting, throughout the day. Take walking breaks between meetings and park your car further away from the office entrance. Get a standing desk, and instead of emailing co-workers walk to their cubical. Bike or walk to stores instead of driving. Play music and dance at home or go out dancing with friends. Also, consider planting a garden. There’s nothing like picking your own fresh produce. If you live in an apartment, you can still create a container garden. 

Right Outlook

One of the reasons I fell in love with Costa Rica is the chill Pura Vida vibe. Pura Vida, pronounced “poo-rah vee-duh” is Costa Rica’s national motto. The term “Life is Good” literally means “pure life.” The Ticos use it to say hello, goodbye, or as a response to “How are you doing”? Maybe it’s the sunshine, beautiful beaches, and incredible natural environment, Ticos are happy and feel fortunate no matter how much of a fortune they have. People wake up joyful and look forward to their day. They live in the moment, are masterful at managing stress, and connect with their gifts and talents. This is a huge contrast to the states where people are stressed out, burnt out, and worried. 

The Blue Zone outlook entails having a positive mindset and a strong sense of purpose. Whether it’s the Ikigai of the Okinawans or the “plan de vida” of Nicoyans, people living in the Blue Zones have a reason for waking up in the morning. That strong sense of purpose adds life to your years, and research shows it also adds years to your life

Blue Zone at Home

Start by doing an inventory of your life and note what you love to do along with your core values, passions, and strengths. Then think about making a list of activities that you enjoy which tap into what you discovered. Another way to find purpose is to think about a problem in your world – it can be local or global – and get curious about how you might help solve it.

Another way to upgrade your outlook is to practice mindfulness. You do this by being present and noticing what you are experiencing while you experience. Start by taking a few moments to pause, breathe, and relax throughout your day.

Look for the Pura Vida, the good in your own life. Appreciating and accepting your life as it is and being grateful for all you have will reduce your stress, elevate your outlook and help you live to 100. 

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About The Author

Dr Ellen Albertson | The Midlife Whisperer

Dr Ellen Albertson | The Midlife Whisperer

Dr Ellen is a psychologist, registered dietitian, board-certified health and wellness coach, podcast host, Reiki master, and self-compassion teacher. Known as The Midlife Whisperer™, she helps women have the energy, confidence, and clarity to make their next chapter their best chapter. A bestselling, award-winning author, and inspirational speaker, Dr. Ellen is an expert on women’s well-being and sits on the medical board of The National Menopause Foundation. Dr Ellen has appeared on Extra, the Food Network and NBC World News and has been quoted in Psychology Today, Forbes, and Eating Well. She has written for SELF, Better Homes & Gardens and Good Housekeeping. Her latest book is Rock Your Midlife: 7 Steps to Transform Yourself and Make Your Next Chapter Your Best Chapter! She brings over 30 years of counselling, coaching, and healing experience to her holistic practice and transformational work. She lives on the Champlain Islands of Vermont with her high-tech, raw-food-loving partner Ken and her tree-climbing Border Collie Rosie.

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