Since the beginning of time man has been in search of the proverbial fountain of youth. For most, this “fountain” has been illusive but a select few have seemingly discovered it and are drinking from it daily.

In the modern world we are bombarded with negativity and bad news about issues ranging from the economy to our health. Our lives have become complicated, full of stress, unhealthy and riddled with disease. Heart disease, cancer and diabetes are plaguing our society at an alarming rate.

Am I alone in saying that this seems to be a major contradiction? Should we not be more happy and healthy, especially in the “developed” world with all our modern conveniences’ and ground breaking advances in technology?

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When I made the decision to move to Costa Rica, it was a personal choice of wanting to live a happy, healthy and more fulfilling life. Before moving to Atenas, I notice that when I would visit on my vacations, I just felt better, waking everyday with the sun and having a permanent smile affixed on my face.

But why? Was it the fresh, whole foods? The clean mineral filled water? The pure mountain air? The near perfect climate of the Central Valley? The scenery that provided a sense of peace and tranquility? The happy locals who always greeted me with a smile and “Hola”? Personally I think it was all of the above.

Since childhood I too have been in search of the fountain of youth and fascinated with the elderly, especially those who have excelled at the “art of living”, not only surviving but thriving into their 80’s, 90’s,100 and beyond! The wisdom and life lessons that they offer are invaluable. If we would only take the time to listen to these seasoned veterans, our complicated, modern lives could be so much happier, healthier and less complicated.

However, what is of particular interest to me is HOW this select few have managed to thrive to such mature ages. What has allowed them to cheat death? Do they have secrets and habits that set them apart from the average Joe?

In my early teens I became fascinated with the story of Jeanne Calment from Arles, France, who to this day holds the world record as the longest living human (that can be proven through documentation) who died at 122 years, 164 days. But the real question is, how did Jeanne and thousands of others on our planet manage to arrive at such ripe, old ages?

What did they do differently that helped them to avoid diseases like cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes that plague our modern society?

As for Jeanne she made an art out of living life. Jeanne had a great sense of humor. After being interviewed on her 117th birthday, the reporter took leave by saying “Until next year, perhaps,” and Jeanne quickly responded: ”I don’t see why not! You don’t look so bad to me.”

She was both socially and physically active, and seemingly immune to stress. Her response to difficult situations was “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”. She took up fencing at age 85, rode her bicycle until age 100 and lived alone until she was 110. She began smoking at age 21 and only decided to kick the habit at 117.

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She ascribed her longevity and “youthful” appearance to olive oil which she “poured” on all her food and rubbed into her skin daily. Also as part of her diet she ate nearly a kilo (2.2 pounds) of chocolate every week and drank port wine on a daily basis.

Another story that hits a little closer to home and gives me hope that I too may live to see 100, is that of my great-great-great-great grandfather, Henry Blackman, who lived to age 98. Apparently he was a very colorful character who was honest, hardworking, creative and resourceful. I am fortunate to have a clipping of his obituary that was published by the Charleston Dispatch in1886, giving us a glimpse into the life of someone nearly a century old. It reads as follows:

“The oldest resident in Darlington County and probably the oldest inhabitant of upper South Carolina, died at his home near Swift Creek, a few days ago. Mr. Henry Blackman, the subject of this notice, was in his ninety-eighth year. Until a few years ago he walked seven miles every sales-day from his house to Darlington and the same distance back. He had an aversion to riding in a buggy or carriage, and of all vehicles, he preferred a cart. He made enough provisions to supply all his needs if crops were short.

He was a man who lived entirely within himself and never wore store clothes, but carded, spun and wove his own cotton and wool into clothes. He drew his pension regularly as a survivor of the War of 1812, having served on the coast defenses about Charleston. When about 90 years of age, while hoeing corn in his field, he was bitten on the leg by a rattlesnake and his robust constitution enabled him to survive it, to become the victim of a severe attack of pneumonia.

Mr. Blackman raised nineteen children, one hundred and five grand children and one hundred and eleven great-grand children. Another of Mr. Blackman’s notable traits was his strict honesty in all his dealings. The interior of his house was a curiosity to the youth of the 19th century. There were looms, old spinning wheels, one of which he told your reporter, he made about 78 years ago.

All his household furniture and utensils were made by himself, and though very antique in appearance, were well made and are in a good state of preservation. He settled in this country before the Indians were removed, and told some very interesting reminiscences of his night vigils to avoid surprises from predatory bands of Cherokee Indians.”

More recently an article caught my eye that was written about a book called The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. Buettner uses the terms “blue zone” and “hot spots” to identify areas of the world where people live measurably longer lives. Now that the writer had my attention, where were these “hot spots” located and what were these populations doing to live so long? On Buettner list of hot spots were Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; the Seventh Day Adventists colony in Loma Linda, California and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

For me it was no surprise that Costa Rica made Buettner’s list of Blue Zones. You just feel healthier here. There’s a natural rhythm to life that you are hard pressed to find elsewhere. I rise with the sun and I usually go to bed before 9 p.m.

The bounty of the harvest is respected and used to nourish your body. In Costa Rica, life feels wholesome and stress free. So according to Buettner, what’s the secret? Buettner’s team of researchers and specialists found interesting similarities among the Nicoyan centenarians that are common characteristics in all of the other Blue Zones:

Have a “plan de vida,” or reason to live.

It also can be called “why I get up in the morning”. Centenarians say they feel needed, with a sense of purpose that often centers on their family.

Focus on your family and friends. Having a good relationship with their family and maintaining a strong social network contributes greatly to centenarians’ sense of purpose and well- being. Gathering daily to laugh with friends and/or family is crucial to shedding daily stresses.

Have Faith.

The Nicoyans’ strong belief in God and their “faith routines” help relieve stress and anxiety. Almost all of the centenarians interviewed around the world for Buettner’s book belonged to a faith-based community of some form.

Work hard.

Nicoyan centenarians maintain a strong work ethic, which keeps them active and healthy while contributing to their sense of purpose. Moderate physical activity is a normal part of daily life — walking, bicycling, gardening, cooking, keeping up the house, taking care of animals, etc.

See videos from Dan Buettner’s trip to Nicoya, including interviews the 101-year old Panchita who still splits logs with an axe and cuts her own grass with a machete!

Healthy diet.

Most of the various Blue Zone residents in the world eat a primarily plant-based diet, especially legumes (all kinds of beans, peas and lentils). They also eat rich, colorful fruits — in Nicoya, they eat marañon, the red-orange cashew tree fruit that has more vitamin C than oranges, and noni, a pear-like fruit rich in antioxidants.

Nicoyans eat their biggest meal during the day and their smallest meal at night. Japanese centenarians have a rule to eat only until their stomachs are 80% full to avoid being “overstuffed.”

“Wine at 5:00” — in most of the Blue Zone communities, centenarians drink a small amount of alcohol on a near daily basis. For instance in Sardinia, they drink a particular dark red wine called “Cannanau,” made on the island, which is rich in anti-oxidants. In Japan, it is saké. In Costa Rica, sugarcane rum called guaro!

Live Longer in Costa Rica Video

Get some sun!

Nicoyans enjoy healthy doses of daily sun, enriching their bodies with Vitamin D. Getting at least 15 minutes every day can decrease the risk for osteoporosis and heart disease, experts say.

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Get Sleep.

Nicoyans sleep an average of 8 hours per day. They more or less go to sleep soon after nightfall and wake with the sun.

No smoking!

Smoking is not common in Blue Zone communities.

When I look back on the “mature” people that I have admired in my life and had the good fortune to actually know and interact with, they have shared most of the traits of those who are from Blue Zones; They were hard workers, had faith, got sun and sleep, had good social networks and ate a relatively healthy diet.

In reading the obituary of my grandfather Henry Blackman, it appears that he too shared many of the traits known to residents of the Blue Zones. Now having found my bliss in Costa Rica, living a “pura vida” or pure life in combination with good genes and adopting many of the Blue Zones traits, I too hope to see 100 or beyond!

If at the age of 101 I can still wield an ax and machete like Panchita, decide to kick one of my bad habits when I turn 117 as did Jeanne Calment or when in my 90’s walk 14 miles to and from town like my grandfather Henry Blackman, then I will know that I did something right.

So, in honor of Panchita, Jeanne Calment and Henry Blackman, let’s all raise a glass in toast for health, happiness and longevity.

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Blue Zone: Living a Long and Healthy Life in Costa Rica.

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