This weekend, my family and I were at a hospital with my sister, who had minor surgery. All went well. As we were leaving, my 74-year-old Mom said the last time she stepped inside a hospital was when my brother was born. Dead silence.
We all exclaimed, “1969?” That’s right. Forty-three years ago. Wow. My niece asked, “Nonna…haven’t you ever broke a bone?” No, she did not. We all laughed and I asked, “Ma, what’s your secret?” Let’s take a look.
That’s Mom and I on the beach in Cali. She’s telling me not to worry about water washing over my new tennis shoes. Healthy Habit Numero Uno is probably: Don’t worry. 🙂
1. SLEEP. Mom turns in no later than 10 p.m. each night. She wakes at 7:30 a.m. Naturally. No alarm clock. No uninterrupted sleep, except for her Italian Romeo. Dad? TMI, Mom! That’s 9 and a 1/2 hours of sleep per night. Give or take an hour for Amore…
2. BREAKFAST. She never skips breakfast. She eats a bowl of Cheerios cereal with 1% milk, one sliced banana, 1/2 a grapefruit and one cup of coffee. Every other day, she has a bowl of oatmeal, 1/2 a grapefruit and a cup of coffee.
3. VITAMINS. She takes one multi-vitamin for active women over 50 & one calcium vitamin daily.
4. EXERCISE. At 8:15 a.m. she drives to the nearby Community Center Gym. She walks for 1.5 miles on the treadmill, rides the stationary bike for 10 minutes, then uses various machines like the rowing machine, arm pulls and uses two 5 lb. weights to do 3 sets of 10 arm lifts on each side. The entire workout is one-hour long. She wraps at 9:30 a.m. She does this routine 4 days a week, Monday through Thursday. And she’s been doing it for 4 years now, since she retired from working. Mom says I inspired her, but she gets major props for commitment.
5. EAT DINNER EARLY. EAT WELL. At noon, she begins preparing dinner. Dinner is always between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day. It consists of some type of fish, such as salmon with lots of steamed vegetables on the side. One day a week, Mom makes steak with a giant salad. On Sunday, she cooks a traditional Italian meal, which always includes pasta and an assortment of other dishes.
I’m thinking after Sunday’s weekly festivities –they’re good for the week. If she gets hungry after dinner, she’ll have an apple or other fruit. She loads her refrigerator with lots of fresh fruit for snacking. She loves to bake cakes and Italian cookies, but saves it for when company comes over or to enjoy once in awhile when her and my Dad feel like having dessert. No lunch, but after dinner there is always leftover food placed in the refrigerator, which they warm up if they’re still hungry.
6. VINO. Mom doesn’t drink any soda. She has one glass of red wine with dinner each night. It’s either home made wine from one of Mom’s brother’s, Orazio or Pasquale or my Dad’s brother, Bonafacio. Otherwise, it’s from The Wine of the Month Club compliments of their son in California.
7. SKINCARE. Mom has beautiful skin, so I tossed this in. She says she uses Dove soap to cleanse her face and a daily and nightly moisturizer from Loreal. She doesn’t wear makeup unless she’s going to a party. I asked her if she’d ever consider cosmetic surgery and had to keep from laughing because I already knew the answer. She waved her Italian hands in the air and in an Italian accent said, “Oh noooooo, nooooo, no for me. You have to be natural.”
8. PRAY. Each day, Mom says the rosary. And she attends Mass every Saturday evening. She reads a lot of spiritual books and underlines things to share with us kids.
[photo: Mom with one of her sisters –lots more! & two of her brothers. They’re all a hoot!]
9. SOCIALIZE. Mom spends a lot of time with Dad since retiring. I should probably call this LOVE & LAUGHTER. They eat breakfast and dinner together daily, and in the evenings they enjoy watching NBC News with Brian Williams followed by International News on the Italian channel, RAI. That’s followed by an Italian movie and the Italian version of the game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. They laugh a lot together and have fun calling out the answers. Mom has 8 siblings. Dad has 6 siblings. Laughter is a big part of family gatherings too. So, if they want company there is always someone to visit or call. Celebrating holidays and milestones is a biggie. Every now and then, Mom has neighbors or friends from the Community Center Gym over for lunch.
[photo: Mom with two of her brothers at the Annual Family Pool Party. There are a lot more. Love them!]
10. PASSIONS. When I ask Mom what she loves, she says she loves her family. Her second love is gardening. It reminds her of the farm she grew up on in Italy. She loves planting her vegetable garden, which includes tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant. In the Summer, she loves creating meals with all the fresh vegetables. She also loves planting flowers.
Finally, I asked Mom what advice she’d give to anyone wanting to maintain healthy habits. She said, “Be strong and have faith.” That’s it. There you have it. The daily habits of a woman who has no intention of ever being in a hospital, unless she’s a visitor. We love you, Mom!! Stay healthy. 🙂
Also, make a note that ITALY ranked number 10 on the CIA’s life expectancy list. According to the World Factbook, compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency, Italy is one of the Top 10 nations that seem to have discovered the secret to longevity. All 4 of my wonderful Grandparents lived to 87 years of age. One Grandpa (Nonno) chain-smoked non-filtered cigarettes, which means Grandma (Nonna) was exposed to the second-hand smoke. They died one-day apart at age 87. So, I reckon good genes play a role in longevity too –as I imagine if he hadn’t smoked he’d have lived till 100. But all 4 were healthy their entire lives –never had to live in an old age home or be in a hospital, and they were surrounded by SO much LOVE. Family, Love & Laughter with values passed to over 30 Grandchildren. So much LOVE.
My Grandparents were romantic and loving until the end. We learned how to love from observing them. They weren’t into materialism. They weren’t superficial. They communicated with each other with honesty and respect. They cared for each other in little ways every single day. They bickered, but with humor. We saw them resolve disagreements in loving ways. They laughed a lot. They were happy always surrounded by family, friends in the community. They shared life’s ups and downs and they listened to everyone’s problems without judgment. We all felt safe and secure around them. They didn’t even speak English. Yet, over 30 Grandchildren communicated with them and observed their HEALTHY HABITS. The more complicated life gets –the more we realize they had it right.
A healthy life, indeed.
Average Life Expectancy: 81.86 years
Italians live an average of 3.37 years longer than Americans. Many experts draw a connection between their longevity and diet–which is more than just pasta, meat, and cheese. The Mediterranean diet is credited with lowering the risk for all sorts of diseases. The antioxidants found in olive oil and red wine–two key features of an Italian meal–can improve cholesterol, prevent blood clots, and stave off heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Italians also rely on spices like basil, oregano, and garlic to flavor their cuisine, while Americans depend heavily on salt. As such, Italians improve their odds against high blood pressure and stroke.