4 Surprising, Movement-Centered Longevity Lessons I Learned at a Costa Rican Retreat

On the "woo-woo scale"—where 0 is pure rationality and total skepticism, and 10 is reiki and charging crystals—I would say that on most days I fall at a 2, maybe a 3. But during a recent visit to Costa Rica for Hacienda AltaGracia’s Summer of Longevity Series, I felt something shift among the birdsong and flowing waters and humid air. A few days at this Costa Rican retreat reminded me of the power within myself to change my perspective and focus—and to love and care for my own body.

Near the Nicoya Peninsula Blue Zone—which offers plenty of Costa Rican longevity lessons of its own—Hacienda AltaGracia is a luxury resort that embraces the core tenants of longevity-focused living: healthy eating (read: "three sisters" recipes), outdoor activity, fostering community, and having a plan de vida (life purpose). These pillars are well-known and well-covered, but at Hacienda AltaGracia's longevity retreat, I found something deeper, softer, and more personal.

Experts In This Article

If you want true longevity—where your life is long in years, and your years are long in life—taking care of your body and your self cannot be separated.

What are you doing with your body today that will help you feel better and move more easily next year, or even next decade?

The 50-casita resort in the mountains of Talamanca is using the slower summer season to highlight the ways we can work longevity principles into our lives. Each week there is longevity-specific programming: You might take a (surprisingly challenging) yoga class led by Meilyn Solís Elizondo, attend a fascia flow (more on that in a bit), or enjoy a sound bath. There are small group conversations, meditations, and workouts, and each month a new visiting master.

The master for May is Anisha Chaves, a Costa Rican who has used various healing modalities for years, and whose knowledge of the body is impressive, while her demeanor (vibe, if you will) is calming and grounding. (If you get the chance to go in May, take it just to get to meet Chaves—she led me through a River Bath reset, essentially water therapy, that I can only describe as life-changing.)

In a conversation about plan de vida, lead by Lauren Ferioli, Hacienda AltaGracia's on-staff health coach and movement specialist, and attended by Chaves, there was great honesty and openness about the meaning of longevity. That meaning is shifting even within Costa Rica, where modern life is taking the place of much of the traditional (and traditionally healthier) lifestyle. But ultimately, it came down to this: What are you doing with your body today that will help you feel better and move more easily next year, or even next decade?

These are the expert tips and tricks I will take home and use to age well.

4 surprising lessons I learned at HaciendaAltaGracia's longevity retreat

The longevity resort programming at Hacienda AltaGracia makes sure to cover the well-known aspects of what it means to live a Blue Zone life, but I learned some specific, surprising things about how movement and fitness can help you live longer.

1. Take care of your spine

Throughout my stay, the health of the spine emerged as a theme. Chaves talked about it, Ferioli talked about it, Elizondo talked about it.

"Spine health is crucial for overall wellbeing and is key for postural health, balance, and movement longevity," says Ferioli. "Articulation and flexibility are important to maintain—plus 'flexible spine, flexible mind.'"

By the age of 60, more than 90 percent of people will show evidence of some disc degeneration, according to Columbia University Irving Medical Center, but by including spine-healthy moves (like the pelvic clock and articulated bridge, below) in our workouts, we give our whole bodies a better chance to age well and feel good.

Pelvic clock

"I love the pelvic clock movement because it awakens our connection to our nervous system at the base of the spine and allows us to align the spine all the way up the chain," Ferioli says. "Pelvic clock also gives us vocabulary to talk about where we feel constriction or lack of mobility in the pelvic region."

  1. Start by lying on your back on a yoga mat or other comfortable surface. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Make sure your spine is in neutral and your shoulders are relaxed and away from your ears.
  3. Place your hands on your lower belly, letting the tips of your pointer fingers rest on top of your pubic bone near the crease of your thighs and the tip of your thumbs near your belly button.
  4. Imagine that your pelvis is a clock, with your belly button at 12 o'clock and the bottom of your pubic bone at 6 o'clock.
  5. Engage your abdominals and bring your belly down to your spine, lengthening the spine along the floor. This will create a pelvic tilt, where you're tilting down at 12 o’clock (navel) and up at 6 o’clock (pubic bone).
  6. Tilt back and forth here a few times, until you feel like you're getting a sense of the movement.
  7. Use your abs to rotate your clock down to the side so that the 3 o’clock hip is lower. ​​Tilt between 3 and 9 o'clock a few times, inhaling and exhaling evenly.
  8. Repeat another cycle in the opposite direction.

Articulated bridge

"Articulated bridging is a must for any spine, as it promotes space for our disc tissue to live unencumbered," says Ferioli. "Spaciousness in the spine will ensure a lifetime of mobility, balance, and wellbeing."

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Tilt your pelvis back and begin to peel your back off the mat, vertebra by vertebra, until you're in a bridge, with your hips in the air and feet still on the mat. Support your weight with your shoulders and don't articulate past them.
  3. Try to do this segment by segment rather than just lifting your hips up to get into the glute bridge. You want to press through your upper back and roll up slowly.
  4. Hold up top briefly, then roll your spine back down to the mat slowly, vertebra by vertebra, and repeat.

2. Take care of your fascia

Your fascia (aka, connective tissue) as a system is only just now starting to be understood by science—according to the Cleveland Clinic, researchers recently realized it provides form and function to your entire body. And after one fascial release flow led by Chaves, it was clear that my entire body understands the importance of it.

Chaves recommends checking and correcting your posture every 15 to 30 minutes and listening to the needs of your body to help support the fascia. "Integrating free and conscious movements into our daily routine helps us balance, strengthen, and release tensions, as well as oxygenate the body and promote energy flow," she says.

Want some whole-body moves to try? Chaves recommends doing the below exercises whenever you feel they're necessary (if you're tight, stiff, or sore), but points out that they're especially beneficial to do before going to bed and upon waking up. "[This] can lead to significant physical, mental, and emotional changes," she says.

Oppositional tension neck pull

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, with your spine long, chin tucked slightly, and shoulders down and back.
  2. Take your right hand and place the palm on the left side of your head, facing down (your arm will be curved above your head).
  3. Push your head into your head, but don't move it—this is called "oppositional tension," and helps release your fascia.
  4. While still pushing your head into your hand, pull your head down toward your chest until you feel a stretch.
  5. Keep pushing and pulling for a few seconds before releasing.
  6. Switch hands and repeat on the other side.
  7. Do this front to back and side to side until the entirety of your neck has been stretched.

Eagle arms

  1. Sit in a comfortable position, with your spine long, chin tucked slightly, and shoulders down and back.
  2. Inhale, and bring your arms into a wide T-shape.
  3. Cross your right elbow over your left, bend at your elbows and bring your forearms perpendicular to the floor.
  4. Cross your wrists to connect your palms together (or press the backs of the hands together).
  5. Press your hands together for oppositional tension as you bring your crossed arms out and up. You should feel a deep stretch between your shoulder blades.
  6. Hold this for about 30 seconds before releasing and switching sides.

3. Daily movement can be tough—but it’s worth it

Something you’ve likely heard over and over about the Blue Zones is that one of the keys to longevity is weaving movement into your everyday, through gardening or manual labor or long walks up steep hills. But for many of us who tend to feel chained to our computers or stuck at a desk, changing our lifestyle to be more movement-centric can feel impossible (carving out an hour a few times a week to hit the gym is difficult already!).

But what’s true is that it’s worth it: in the original Blue Zone research, it was determined that the oldest living people were getting up and moving every 20 minutes.

And you can start somewhere small and mostly painless—seriously! A small 2024 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found that 10 bodyweight squats every 45 minutes during prolonged (8.5 hours) sitting did a better job at helping the body with glycemic control than a single, 30-minute walk.

For Chaves, her preferred form of movement for longevity is dance. "Dance encompasses so much—from breathwork and free movement to immediate connection with pleasure and joy," she says. "It activates your internal waters, altering your vibration, and induces sweating, which detoxifies your body."

And while the Hacienda AltaGracia longevity retreat offers golf cart rides to anywhere you want to go, I found the nights I walked back to my casita after dinner were the nights I slept the best.

4. Consider inflammation

There is a time and place for high-intensity workouts (you need impact, for example, to improve bone health), but recovery and a mix of modalities is important to remember.

Chaves moved my body for more than hour in the River Bath reset, a form of water therapy, stretching and moving my limbs, turning me over in a warm, river-fed and fire-heated pool. Afterward, you would say that I was vibrating at a high frequency—my body felt relaxed and stretched, the soreness from the previous day’s hike dissipated. I had amazing energy for the rest of the day.

"Water facilitates healing by allowing us to release control and surrender to its movements as we float in a horizontal position, uncommon in our daily lives," Chaves says. She considers aquatic therapy a somatic practice that helps us "connect what we think with what we feel and release the tensions held in the body."

And science agrees that there are anti-inflammatory benefits of moving your body in water. Indeed, a 2019 study in the Journal of Pain Research found that water therapy improves pain and fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.

If you’re often sore, tired, or run-down after your usual workouts, it might be time to work in something new.

I discovered all of this (and more) in just a few days at Hacienda AltaGracia's longevity retreat, and much of this programming is available until July 31. Can't make it to the heart of the Costa Rican cloud forest by then? The resort is investing in evergreen longevity programming to be available year-round. Pura vida!

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Gao, Ying, et al. “Enhanced muscle activity during interrupted sitting improves glycemic control in overweight and obese men.” Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, vol. 34, no. 4, Apr. 2024, https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.14628.
  2. Zamunér, Antonio Roberto et al. “Impact of water therapy on pain management in patients with fibromyalgia: current perspectives.” Journal of pain research vol. 12 1971-2007. 3 Jul. 2019, doi:10.2147/JPR.S161494

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