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Health in Costa Rica: Keep on Livin’

Keep on truckin’

After spending a few weeks in Nosara, Costa Rica, it is apparent that they have mastered the art of living healthy, long, lives. Hiding down on the pacific coast and only accessible by miles of unpaved, often totally muddy roads, Nosara is like a magic paradise of never-ending health and life, except that it is actually a real place with taxes and everything.

Nosara is known internationally to some because it has been designated one of several “blue-zones” where residents have unusually high chances of living to see the hearty age of 100. The factors attributed to this are diet, proximity to nature, family, and others. Nosara exists in such a bubble that I have concluded it is nearly impossible not to live forever. At the conclusion of a week of yoga, surfing, and generally living the dream with folks who came on our retreat, it certainly seemed that we were all overflowing with vitality. How does Costa Rica do it?Costa Rica health
As with all journeys, it begins on the road. The roads that one must drive to reach Nosara are notoriously cruel. Riddled with potholes, with more curves than a bag of pretzels, and miles of it unpaved and muddy, reaching Nosara is a vacation in itself.

Despite the fact that Nosara has more than its fair share of ex-pats, it is largely a village of Costa Ricans, and not so easy to access. Like the depths of the Grand Canyon, Nosara can only be reached by the devoted. I think this inaccessibility is paramount to Nosara’s magic. Nary an 18-wheeler can make its way to the tiny surfing town, and as a matter of consequence, many “big city” elements are absent from the community, including excessive mass-produced food. People eat fresher, better food. Not to mention the fact that mangos and avocados are basically so plentiful that you’re likely to be struck in the head by one falling from a tree. Being right on the ocean, fish are practically beaching themselves. So right off the bat, the exclusivity of the village sets it up for healthy eating. Westernized food has no easy access into town and people benefit from that fact.

Its coastal location also plays a major role in extending life. Everyone in Nosara is either a swimmer, a surfer, or both. I think I can speak for every human on earth who has ever met a surfer: as a rule they are perpetually relaxed and youthful. Like your uncle Derek who is halfway through his 70’s but is really into the Kendrick Lamar album, surfers seems to take on a relaxed attitude that, despite any scientific research to draw from, must be amazing for health. It’s one thing to be a surfer and to live “near” the beach and to get out on weekends, but living within a stroll of the ocean is another matter entirely. Many Ticos I met in Nosara have surfing essentially woven into their day-to-day routines. Not only do people constantly receive spiritual and emotional value from spending so much time with the ocean, but the obvious implications of regularly getting physical exercise are great.

Costa rica banner mobileSwimming is often touted as being the “best” exercise, but there is a distinct difference between the way that Costa Ricans are getting exercise from the way many people get it in the US. With swimming and surfing, there is joy, pleasure, and sometimes a great feeling of community in these things. They are not so much forms of exercise as strands of social fabric that happen to result in the maintenance of physical health. There is an important psychological component at play here. Whereas getting to the gym might feel good, for many people, it is a departure from our “lives”, when we stop by the gym. It can often be a thing we have to convince ourselves to do. Conversely, the inter-woven aspect of the relationship to the physical world (which can include walking, gardening, or cycling for transportation, as many Costa Rican do) changes the nature of exercise. Instead of getting one hour of very intense and often well-intentioned but misguided or overly-strenuous exercise, Costa Ricans in Nosara maintain health by living actively.

With all this surfing, swimming, monkey-watching, and so on, people in Nosara get noticeably little “screen time”. That is, there is not much TV watching, or computer use, and while most folks have cell phones, they aren’t necessarily that “smart”. While I am absolutely not a proponent of this idea that cell-phones, social media, and and generally “tech” components of modern life are ruinous to our health, I think we have a lot to learn about healthy use of these technologies. As anyone can tell you that has ever unplugged for a few days, it can feel really refreshing to get away from the constant, ambient tether to technology. Now imagine a community that is nearly perpetually unbound to technology in the same dependent way. There are drawbacks, of course, but in Nosara, it really seems like a community of people who are open, engaging with one another and more focused on the things going on right in front of them.

As with all habits and addictions, healthy or not, it is important to remove oneself from the normal cycles of activity to gain some perspective and objectively choose if our relationship to a thing, whether it be TV, working on cars, or coffee, is benefiting us or not. In Nosara, at least, residents have not yet had to have that conversation with respect to computers and technology, and for many of them, it’s improving the quality of life.
Am I suggesting that if we surf, eat well, and limit our dependence on technology we’ll live forever? I guess I sort of am. Nosara, a small coastal community would probably not trade their lives for those of anyone else in the world. While we can’t all live the sleepy village dream, I think there are lots of lessons we can take from it to apply to our own lives. Do yourself a favor and study up or take a trip to Costa Rica soon!

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