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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

The Perils of Pumping, Healthy Habits, and Living to 100


Hello from Norway, friends!


This past Saturday we took a favorite drive to the Byrkjedal region just outside Stavanger.

I have two questions for you today.


Ok, maybe three.


1)    What happens when you accidentally pump regular gasoline into a diesel-powered European car?


2)    Barring serious illness or a disabling accident, what’s one of the best ways to live to 100?


3)    And what in the fjord do these two have in common?

 

Before ovarian cancer quickly took my mom’s life when she was nearly 95, I used to occasionally ask her if she’d like to reach 100.  Mom's answer was always a resounding no. My great-aunt Lou Thorson had lived to104, but Mom had no desire to mark her own personal centennial.

 

Perhaps some of you, having seen advanced age ravage loved ones, feel the same.

 

Since our borrowed car is currently in the bilreparajson (automobile repair shop - see question 1), we’ve had a bit of extra time on our hands. Mike and I have just finished watching a Netflix documentary that you might have seen as well. If not, I recommend it.

 

Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones is an upbeat travelogue that takes researcher Dan Buettner around the world to interview older people in communities where there are unusually high concentrations of centenarians. Only one – Loma Linda, California - is in the United States. Longtime residents in all five, however, share four major lifestyle habits.

1.     Natural Movement. Centenarians don’t prioritize gym attendance or “exercise,” but rather stay active with gentle, low intensity physical activity like walking and gardening. Rather than using labor-saving equipment or machinery, they prefer working with their hands.


The absence of a car this past week has spurred Mike and me to adopt a healthy habit here ourselves – walking a mile to the nearest dagligvarebutikk (grocery store) and purchasing only what we can carry home in our backpacks. Many Norwegians commute to work in the city on two wheels rather than four, aided by paved bike paths.


Biking and hiking are favorite activities for most Norwegians

 

2.     Right Outlook. While there are certainly crotchety older people (known any?), most centenarians have a positive outlook on life that contains three major components: A clear purpose, faith-based community, and intentional stress relief.

 

Purposeful living is key. Researcher Buettner discovered that centenarians know why they wake up in the morning. They even have a vocabulary for it. Okinawans call it ikigai, while the 100+-year-old crowd in Costa Rica has a plan de vida (plan for life).

 

Most also belong to faith-based communities, where they stay actively involved, volunteer, and most importantly, show up. The senior population at our home church in North Carolina is the backbone of its outreach and community efforts.

 

In addition, long-lived elders understand the importance of unwinding. They enjoy naps, happy hours, and socializing. Before her death last month, America’s oldest citizen, 116-year-old Edie Ciccarelli of California, gave an interview in which she spoke of a newspaper ad she placed when she was 104 seeking a dancing partner!

 

3.     Wise Eating. The benefits of a plant-based Mediterranean diet are well known. While there are certainly exceptions, populations with high concentrations of centenarians enjoy healthy, delicious foods rich in whole grains, greens, tubers, nuts, and beans. They also eat in moderation, practicing the 80% principle (stop eating when you’re 80% full.) Traditional communities around the world also enjoy wine, but again in moderation. And they express gratitude before meals.

 

Now, ahem, about that car we borrowed. Thankfully, pumping the wrong fuel did not ruin the engine, but it certainly wasn’t good for it either. And yet how often do I fill my belly with poor quality fuel pumped full of salt and sugar that’s not good for me, either?

 

I’ve recently joined the board of the national organization First Place for Health, which focuses on wellness for body, soul, mind, and spirit.  Meeting online every Wednesday with my First Place group for Bible study, prayer, and accountability in our fitness goals helps keep me on track. (Click here to find a group to join.)

 

4.     Meaningful Connection. Finally, centenarians prioritize family time and a network of friendships. Traditional communities with long-lived elders tend to keep their aging loved ones close by and eat together whenever possible. They invest in a circle of friends for life, and intentionally foster fresh relationships in new settings.

 

They also reach out. In all my years of blogging, do you know who my most faithful “commenter” is each week?  98-year-old Elaine Sohlo.  Elaine and my mom became friends in their St. Paul, Minnesota, kindergarten class and remained close friends for nearly 90 years. Elaine’s an early bird, and she often comments on each post nearly as soon as I hit “publish”.

 

I love my home country, but oh friends, the United States could do better. Do you know we have the lowest life expectancy in the world among large, wealthy counties, while far outspending our peers on healthcare?


In Live to 100, researcher Buettner commented,

“I’m a big believer that if you’re overweight and unhealthy in America, it’s probably not your fault. We’ve engineered most of the physical activity out of our lives with mechanical gadgetry. You can’t walk more than a few steps in any grocery store without running into cookies and chips. [Previous generations] experienced hardship and scarcity, and now we live in an environment of ease and excess.”

Here in Norway these next two months, I’m focusing on personal relationships first, followed by increased activity and healthier food choices.

 

Not to mention paying closer attention at the fuel pump.

 

-       Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2024


Maggie Wallem Rowe is a speaker, dramatist, and writer from North Carolina who is currently spending several months doing volunteer work in Norway, where healthy eating does not include lutefisk.

 

 

 

 

 

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