Breakthrough Patient Recruitment

: Living Longer and Prospering in Costa Rica (Pura Vida)

Living Longer and Prospering in Costa Rica (Pura Vida)

Managing Editor

Clint Borgen, founder and president of the Borgen Project once said "When overseas you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you're visiting." I could not agree with this sentiment more. I travel a great deal. It is my personal mission to travel outside of the United States at least once or twice a year. And when I do, I always learn something about this country that can only be seen from the vantage of another country where people live and act differently than they do here.

Difference in health and health care are especially prevalent, and when I travel, the health communicator in me often finds it difficult to turn off that part of my brain that is always asking "why" regarding health issues. This questions inevitably leads to a blog post, so here we are!

I recently took a fabulous vacation to Costa Rica. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to pull out a blog post from this trip because, to be honest, Costa Rica and its people sort do things really, really well. And then I realized, maybe there's the blog post.


Costa Rica has a government-run universal health care system called Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (this post will not discuss the merits or detriments of a single-payer system-that's a different post for a different day). The country also has a private health care system. Health care costs are 10 times lower in Costa Rica than in the United States. And what do these lower health care costs get you? Well, apparently, a few more years of living in a tropical paradise.

Costa Rica ranks near the top of world for life expectancy, and a recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that people in Costa Rica live longer than people in the United States, with a life expectancy of 78.5 years in Costa Rica verses 77.4 in the United States.

In particular, the study found while the wealthiest U.S. residents live 3.4 times longer than the poorest, the wealthiest Costa Ricans live only 1.5 times longer than the poorest Costa Ricans, despite a greater income gap in Costa Rica. Smoking, obesity, and lack of health access were cited for why poor Americans don't live as long as their relatively poor counterparts in Costa Rica. Of note, " U.S. men are four times more likely to die of lung cancer and have a 54 percent higher risk of dying of heart disease than Costa Rican men."

Why the difference? According to the study, "stress, strong family and social networks, and happiness are all factors that are not well understood but likely play an important role in how long someone lives."


Costa Rica has a national phrase: pura vida, which literally means pure life but is often used as a greeting or farewell or to simply assert that things are going well. Is it this pura vida way of living that reduces stress and increases happiness? I was only there for eight days, but I can tell you the Costa Rican way of thinking and living had a big impact on me in that short time.

Pura vida? Yes, I think so.


0 :


The Healthy(ist) blog is a platform to share, learn about, and debate topics related to public and social health, scientific research, health communications, and behavior change.
We invite and encourage anyone interested in current public health and health communication trends and issues to join MMG's contributing bloggers in adding their voice to the ongoing discussion about how we can advance health, together.


MMG Headquarters
700 King Farm Boulevard
Suite 500
Rockville, MD 20850
+1-301-921-4405 (fax)
MMG Europe
Thremhall Park
Start Hill
Bishops Stortford
Hertfordshire CM22 7WE
+44(0) 1279 874463