Health Matters

1920: Centenarian husband and nonagenarian wife reveal their longevity secrets

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Demyan’s Fish Soup by Andrei Andreevich Popov, 1865 (published before 1923 and public domain in the US)

I’m always interested in stories of longevity, so when I came upon this one right after preparing a big old pot of borscht, my favorite soup, I could not help but feel validated about my cooking choice.

It was about a South Dakotan who’d made it to 100 (in 1920) and was living with his 96-year-old wife. They were originally from a place once known as Kulm, Bessarabia, South Russia. Today this location is known as Pidhirne, Odessa Region, Ukraine. The couple emigrated to the US in 1880, and of their 11 children, only one was still living in 1920.

Their lifestyle and her cooking seemed to be what kept the two of them going all those years, and apparently she was still doing the cooking at age 96. Perhaps, almost a century later there is something we can learn from them, or at least reinforce what we already know is key to a healthy, long life. Their “secrets”:

  • Low stress – they never spent time worrying about anything (although their life was not without heartache);
  • Physical activity – they performed manual labor on their farm every day;
  • They never worked too hard;
  • They never ate in excess;
  • She never baked him pies, cakes, cookies, etc., and they never ate any of those things;
  • They never ate candy—ever;
  • They never ate fried meat, except bacon on rare occasions;
  • They only ate Russian black / whole wheat / rye bread;
  • They drank milk in unlimited quantities;
  • Meat, eaten rarely, was roasted or boiled;
  • Soup – lots of it, every day; borscht was their favorite 😉 ;
  • Never used tobacco products;
  • Alcohol abstinence for last 20 years; just occasional wine before that.

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borshcht1

My latest go at Moscow-style borscht topped with sour cream & fresh dill

Any surprises in the list? Just one for me: that they avoided cakes, pies, cookies, and candy altogether. I think I’d find it challenging to go even a week without at least one cookie. But reading their story does make me want to cut out processed sugar…. and eat more borscht!

Now, I know that there are many different styles of borscht, a dish that got its start in Ukraine. The one I am used to is Moscow-style borscht, and it is so delicious, I could eat it every day. I’ll leave you with the recipe. It’s very simple, and can be adjusted—you can easily make a vegetarian version.

Stay healthy and well, everyone, and have a good day.

borshcht3

A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality p. 159 – an easy & delicious Moscow-style borscht recipe (Beef or vegetable bouillon works fine if you have no beef on hand.)

Categories: Food: Family Recipes & Favorites, Health Matters, Russia | Tags: | 5 Comments

In 1858: Viewed from “across the pond,” Americans seemed a sickly lot, but at least we had cricket!

I recently happened upon the London Times article “Bad Health and Body-Fragility of Americans” which was published in 1858 in many US papers including the Long-Islander (Friday, 12 March 1858; article below, courtesy of Fulton History dot com).
Cricket

It’s quite a curious read, the writer observing how weakened the American populace had become compared to their ancestors, the early colonists, and he had various theories for that, as did Americans themselves—they also found this phenomenon distressing. He mentioned feeling somewhat encouraged by America’s adoption of cricket as a sport, and indeed if you troll through 1858 newspapers, you will find plenty of mentions of cricket being played around the US. Click here to view a digital image of the printed engraving “Cricket Match Between Canada and the United States, at Hoboken [NJ], August 2, 3, and 4, 1858.”

Cricket1902

A cricket match in Newport, Rhode Island, 1902 – Credit: Library of Congress digital images (Catalog number 2007663759)

Cricket had been played in America since the early 1700s. George Washington is even said to have joined in a game with his troops at Valley Forge during their winter encampment of 1777-1778. Philadelphia, which once had as many as 100 cricket clubs, became its epicenter. While the sport’s popularity began to wane when baseball gained a foothold during the Civil War years, it was still being widely played into the early 20th century (up to the WWI-era). Interestingly, efforts are underway to rebuild this most English of sports in America where it is experiencing a revival in places like Atlanta and Los Angeles. For the interesting 2006 Smithsonian article “The History of Cricket in the United States,” click here. The Atlantic‘s 2014 article “Cricket Is Back” is also worth a read.

Bart King of Philadelphia, 1897. King is considered to be America's best cricketer ever.

Bart King of Philadelphia, 1897. King is considered to be America’s best cricketer ever.

Cricket or no cricket, at least on the surface we seem to be doing better as a nation today than in 1858, when the average American was viewed as a “thin, frail creature.” That said, as we all know, the pendulum has definitely swung in what could be argued an equally undesirable direction: approx. 66% of Americans (and 62% of UK residents) are now categorized as overweight or obese.

And, while the US and the UK have garnered high numbers of Olympic medals (the US garnering the most of any nation), neither country can claim to be the most athletic. When comparing a country’s population to its medals, the US ranks 17th worst, and neither the UK nor the US makes it into the list of the top 20 healthiest countries in the world. So it looks like both sides of the pond still have some work to do. I wonder what they’ll be saying about all of us 158 years from now, in the year 2174? And, will they be viewing us from a Wall-E-world type of environment and marveling at how slim and mobile we are? Or will, fingers-crossed, the pendulum have swung back for them and stopped in a much healthier place? For their sake, I hope it’s the latter!

Resources:
The book of American pastimes: containing a history of the principal base-ball, cricket, rowing, and yachting clubs of the United States by Charles A. Peverelly, published 1868

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Categories: Cricket, Health Matters | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

For 2016 (and beyond): It’s all in the ankles

Actress and singer Gaby Deslys (1881-1920), circa 1913 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Actress and singer Gaby Deslys (1881-1920), circa 1913 (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Before you read this post, try to balance yourself on one foot. Focus on doing 60 seconds on each leg. How did it go? Did you make it to the end?

Ankles. To a great extent, our longevity depends on them. Strong ankles = good balance, and good balance is a key ingredient to keeping people mobile and fall-free as they age. Obviously, at this point most of us are not going to train to become ballerinas or danseurs, but no matter how old we are we need to strive to achieve our best balance, best range of motion, and best levels of strength and endurance, if we want to stick around and be independent for as long as possible.

So what’s all that got to do with a family history blog? Well, I care about all my readers for one thing. For another, when we look back in our family trees of all those who have since passed on, we see two dates against each name. As the pastor said one Sunday (his misuse of grammar intentional): “Ain’t none of us gettin’ outta here alive.” Why not do everything we can on our part to ensure that when our time comes, those two dates are as far apart as possible?

Time is not kind to ankles. If left to their own devices, the ankles of both men and women slowly weaken and lose their ability to move in all those different directions to the extent that was previously possible. In fact, women in their 80s can experience up to an 85% decrease in ankle range of motion. Yes, ladies, it’s true. Hearing that a few years ago was a wake-up call for me. Maybe it will sound some alarm bells for you, too.

Men are not in the same dire straits, but things can get pretty bad for them as well. And, when your ability to flex, extend, invert and evert your ankles deteriorates, your balance deteriorates and then the body starts trying to compensate for that deterioration in different, unhelpful ways.

So if you have not done so already, I want to encourage you to find your own strategy for working on your balance, posture, and maintaining good muscle strength. And moving (!)—the more the better.  It’s absolutely never to late to make improvements. If you’re not sure how to start, talk to your doctor or drop by to ask a physical therapist what they’d recommend for you. Start slow. Practice standing on one leg at a time every day. One good ankle exercise, with toe pointed and knee extended: spell the alphabet with your big toe each day, one foot at a time. How simple is that? As easy as A-B-C… 😉

Resources:
Fix Your Weak Foundation: Your Ankles by Jeff Kuhland
12 Ways to Build Ankle Strength for Top Performance
Ankle-strengthening exercises
Ankle-foot Range of Motion exercises

Categories: Health Matters, Miscellaneous | 10 Comments

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