Usually when people think about moving to the beach, it is to enjoy sunshine, surf, sand, and good weather. When my wife Rita and I moved to Salinas, Ecuador on the Pacific coast, great weather was at the top of our checklist. Now, after three years of beach living, it may be a little surprising to hear that the thing we enjoy most is our improved health.
When we first arrived in Ecuador’s most popular beach resort, I weighed in at just under 300 pounds. I was taking two types of medication for Type II diabetes, and one for high blood pressure. In the first year-and-a half, I lost 30 pounds. Then I retired from my job as a network/computer tech to fully enjoy my new life, and began losing more weight.
As of the end of January, I’ve lost a total of 80 pounds, and I should be at my ideal weight by the middle of 2017. My blood sugar is now normal, and controlled by diet and exercise only, no pills. The blood pressure medication has been reduced to the smallest dosage available (5mg daily), and I should be able to drop it completely once my weight goes under 200 pounds.
All of this has come about without a fad diet or rigorous exercise plan, without daily visits to the gym—although there is a very nice one in our condo building—but simply through enjoying the healthier lifestyle we naturally have here on the beach.
A lot of the credit goes to lifestyle changes that just happen naturally when you live in Salinas. Some of these involve personal choices, but they really do not involve what I would call “sacrifice” either. Let’s take a look at some of the major factors that can help you live healthier and happier.
First of all, I cannot say enough about the weather as a health factor. We enjoy a climate that is perfect for outdoor living. We have never seen a morning here cooler than 66 F, or an afternoon warmer than 98 F—and both of those were extremes. Usually, the morning temperatures are between 70 F to 79 F, and daytime highs are usually in the 78 F to 88 F range. Cool ocean breezes make even the warmest days pleasant to be out and about. Since it hardly ever rains (we get less than 5” of rain a year, similar to Las Vegas, NV), there is rarely a reason to stay indoors, or to skip your morning or evening walk.
Speaking of walking, that is the second factor. Living in Salinas, we do not need to own a car. We are less than a half-mile walk from the local Mercado, our bank, a small grocery store, numerous tiendas, hair salons, pharmacies, a clinic, and so on. In fact, I could name at least two-dozen bars and restaurants within that same half-mile radius. This means that without any extra effort, we walk two or three miles a week just taking care of business. Since the beautiful weather allows us our morning and after-dinner exercise walks as well, we are currently clocking over 40 miles a week.
Even these “exercise walks” do not feel like exercise. We walk either a two- or three-mile circuit that takes us along two beaches, and around a beautiful church in a park. We see people playing volleyball, children laughing and running, and watch pelicans diving into the surf for fish. We listen to strolling guitarists or the calls of the parrots flying overhead as we watch the morning begin, or the sun setting.
The third big natural factor in healthy living is the availability and affordability of great produce, seafood, and meats. Back in the U.S., it seems the foods that are best for you—like fresh fruits and vegetables—are the most expensive, whereas the foods that are bad for you—like processed foods and snacks—are all much cheaper. In Ecuador, it’s the opposite. Here, processed foods are, for the most part, imported from outside the country, and are as a consequence fairly expensive. For example, at our local SuperMaxi, a box of macaroni and cheese costs $2.03, while local, fresh spinach is only 92 cents per kilo, or about 45 cent per pound. At the local Mercado, prices for produce are even lower.
Better yet, with the climate here on the equator, it is possible to have fresh produce year-round. We have found that the fruits and vegetables are not only available in greater varieties, but that the flavor is superior to what we used to find in the States, making it a pleasure having a diet full of healthy, whole foods.
When it comes to protein, here next to the Pacific Ocean we also have some great options when it comes to seafood. Fresh tuna, sea bass, flounder, trumpet fish, mahi-mahi, shrimp, clams, mussels, oysters, octopus, squid—you name it. If it lives in the water you can probably find it in one of our many fresh-fish markets. We also enjoy excellent chicken, pork, and beef, brought in daily from farms where they are raised without steroids or other feed additives.
All of this means that we are eating healthier and getting more outdoor exercise. This combination has had a profound affect not just on our health, but also on our outlook on life and our plans for the future.
Of course no matter how healthy you are, you still may need some health services from time to time. Fortunately, we have found the health infrastructure here to be excellent for our needs.
First, let’s do a quick review of the options available. Ecuador has a public healthcare plan that expats can participate in after paying into the system for only three months. The cost is about $80 a month for a couple, and entitles you to use any of the doctors, clinics and hospitals that are part of the IESS (Instituto Ecuadoriano de Securidad Social) program. This is the least expensive option.
You could also purchase health insurance from a private carrier, and there are several to choose from. Prices range anywhere from $200 a month per person, depending on your choice of coverage, deductible, and so on. If you are over 65 when you sign up, you may have limited options or need to pay higher premiums.
Under these plans, you can choose from a wider range of doctors and facilities, including private hospitals. However, you still pay up front for the medical care, and then submit the bills along with supporting paperwork and wait for reimbursement of whatever portion your particular plan covers.
Lastly, you could do as Rita and I have decided to do, and just pay as you go for any healthcare needs. We are in reasonably good health (and getting better thanks to the reasons above), and the costs even at the best hospitals and clinics are a fraction of what they are in the States, giving us complete freedom in our choices of doctors.
Farmacias are plentiful in the Salinas area. Except for some pain medications, you do not have to have a prescription to get what you need; you can just walk in and ask for a product. You can even describe your problems, and ask for recommendations. We have also found prices to be reasonable. However, not all medications prescribed in the U.S. are available here, so make sure to check. Clinics are also easy to find and use, with a visit costing anywhere from free to $18. There are even doctors who will make house calls for $20 to $60.
As for more serious concerns and hospitals, Rita and I have both had to have surgical procedures while living here in Ecuador, and I’m happy to say our experiences were extremely positive. Last year, I developed a pain in my left shoulder that required arthroscopic surgery. I easily found an orthopedic surgeon who spoke English in the Kennedy Clinica Hospital system in nearby Guayaquil. The costs for my procedure, including initial consultation, X-rays, sonogram, MRI, pre-surgical cardio check, the operation itself, an overnight hospital stay, and six weeks of physical therapy was only $6,000.
So if you started off 2017 with a New Year’s Resolution to get into better shape, and start living a healthier lifestyle, maybe instead of looking into gym membership, you should take a look at a new lifestyle on the Pacific coast of Ecuador.
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