Ever heard of a Blue Zone? Prior to my recent trip to Costa Rica, I hadn’t either, but apparently I was in the heart of one. New York Times bestselling writer Dan Buettner partnered with National Geographic to identify Earth’s Blue Zones, longevity hot spots where the average human lifespan is 100+! Only five known Blue Zones exist in the world, spread across the globe in:
Loma Linda, California
Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Buettner and team identified these oases of long living by intensely studying each zone’s population to determine the healthy traits and practices inhabitants had in common. The findings were surprisingly simple, but, in a fast-paced, results-driven culture like New York City, what may seem like minor lifestyle tweaks can become quite challenging undertakings.
Before I divulge the three secrets I learned, let’s go back to the source: the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica. I’ll admit it, Costa Rica was not at the top of my list in terms of travel destinations. For one: I am not a fan of bugs. I certainly appreciate their function in the ecosystem, but having a giant green flying thing (See pic. That’s him!) perched over the sink as I brushed my teeth was a bit disconcerting. Nonetheless, my dear friend and his partner were leading a yoga and shamanic journeying retreat in Nosara, and the timing was perfect given my then state of mental and physical burnout from the daily hustle. I jumped at the chance to join, and, on November 28th, I boarded a plane to this beautiful Blue Zone.
Given Costa Rica’s reputation as a yoga-retreat destination, I was surprised at how sparsely populated it was. Most days I’d stroll along the pristine beach and be able to count on one hand the other people in my sightline. This was an immensely satisfying contrast to my daily commute from Brooklyn sardined on the L train.
I was also a bit unprepared for how undeveloped this area was. On the shuttle bus ride from the airport to the retreat center, we hit over an hour of traffic, not because of the amount of cars on the road, but because there were minor repairs being done on the other side of the street. Rather than allowing several cars in our lane to pass at regular intervals, we sat, gridlocked, pretty much until the job was done. I felt my blood start to boil, especially after the long, bumpy flight. I was becoming more and more hangry as my tummy struggled to cling onto the few Terra Blue Chips left in my system to digest. Knowing what I know now about Blue Zones, it’s clear why they breed centenarians: The driver was completely unfazed and just sat there smiling and listening to calypso tunes on the scratchy radio. Meanwhile, I sat in the backseat simmering in stress.
Secret #1: Take life out of the fast lane. Work less. Slow down.
Another difference between Brooklyn life and my time in Nosara was the quality of the food I ate. My morning smoothie was made from bananas and mangos picked right off a nearby tree, which I sipped, not through plastic, but, through a bamboo reed. I enjoyed lunches and dinners of free-range, organic meats, and seafood freshly caught from the unspoiled sea. I know I am very fortunate to live in an area of America with access to a variety of healthy food choices. Still, most days I run around, depleting my body of energy to the point where, when I finally do grab a bite, I definitely don’t take the time to analyze the nutrition label, and/or I inhale my food so fast that it’s tragically unsatisfying.
Secret #2: Eat more local vegetables and fruits, less protein, and fewer processed foods, and stop eating when you are 80% full.
Beyond the beauty of Nosara’s landscape, laid-back vibe, and bountiful fresh food, is what stands out most in my memory from visiting here—the people. Natives, or “ticos” as they refer to themselves, truly live by their motto, “Pura Vida.” Akin to “Hakuna Matata,” it means: To live a peaceful, simple, uncluttered life with a deep appreciation for nature, family, and friends.
Ticos’ sense of worth is not defined by how big their bonus is at the end of the year, or how packed their popular yoga class is. They truly savor each day’s blessings. Every evening, our group followed the locals as they flocked to the beach to watch the striking sunset. It was my favorite time of day. As the sky blazed colors so radiant they seemed to burn into my soul, I was reminded of the amazing things I take for granted everyday.
Secret #3: Live each day enjoying what is now. Dance. Laugh. Love.Take in a beautiful sunset.
Research indicates that life is shorter for us dwelling outside of the Blue Zones, so take the time to live yours to it’s fullest potential.