Menu, Week 31

The Sound of Music

A reminder of the Healthy Change for the past week:  “Be muscular; add strength (resistance) exercises to your workout plan.”  In the last post we discussed how the Industrial Revolution flooded us with processed and fast foods, and also with laborsaving devices.  Both of these have become part of our culture so are not easy to change.  But change we must, if we wish to reduce our risk for chronic disease and enjoy health, beauty, and longevity.  The purpose of this blog is to facilitate that cultural transformation, in 52 Healthy Changes.

Remember Maria von Trapp of The Sound of Music?  Maria was a young, music-loving, want-to-be nun who was just too exuberant for life in an abbey.  So she left monastic life and found her happiness with the von Trapp family.  It’s a great story.

Well, we have a delightful woman much like Maria in our community—with a similar name, Ana—a music lover too full of life to remain a nun.  In Ana’s case she surrendered her vows, married a professor of physiology (exercise science), and became a piano teacher to the local children.  I used to meet this woman occasionally on walks and she told of how her husband had done a landmark study of how to take 20 or 30 years off the life of elderly people (as measured by fitness) simply through exercise. 

The study was done with people at a nearby retirement community known at the time as Leisure World (but called “seizure world” by the high school kids).  These were retired people, the oldest 86.  Intrigued, I found a copy of the book, titled Fitness after 50: An Exercise Prescription for Lifelong Health.  The book is out of print and the author, Dr. Herb de Vries, recently passed away (in his 92nd year), so perhaps I could summarize his exercise program.

Four Basic Exercises

To regain their youth, after a preliminary physical exam, the older people started a 5-day-a-week program combining walking/jogging, stretching, and four basic exercises.  After six weeks they markedly improved in measures of blood pressure, body fat, arm strength, nervous tension, and oxygen capacity.  Within 42 weeks they had regained the physical fitness of people 20-30 years younger.  Now who wouldn’t want that?

Now it’s easy to start walking and, if you choose, you can move on to jogging.  But it’s not as easy to start exercising.  The author suggested four basic in-the-comfort-of-your-home exercises, no equipment required, done three days a week.  Do a comfortable number of repetitions, just a few in the beginning, exhaling and inhaling with muscle contraction and relaxation, repeating this sequence three times:

  1. Benders—start in a standing position and reach for your toes, without forcing.  Then raise your hand high and bend back, arching your back a little, but without forcing or falling over backwards.
  2. Easy push-ups—start by lying down and using your arms to raise your body, but keeping your knees on the floor.  Later, when you’re stronger, you can do traditional pushups with just your toes on the floor.
  3. Flutter kicks—still lying face down, raise one leg off the floor without forcing, pause, and return.  Now repeat, lifting the other leg.
  4. Easy sit-ups—lying on your back with your hands beneath your lower back, raise your upper body off the floor as much as you can without forcing.  Pause and return to the floor. 

Dr. de Vries also wrote an exercise textbook still in use, now in the 5th edition, Physiology of Exercise for Physical Education and Athletics.  But for me, his best contribution was a study showing how exercise is possible and beneficial at any age.  Older and not exercising?  Give Dr. de Vries’ method a try.

Menu for Week #31


  • We were supposed to cook an eggplant and I had an interesting N. Y. Times recipe, “Eggplant and Tomato Gratin,” but we were tired and just had cantaloupe and watermelon with some homemade bread and cheese.  

Tuesday  (We had guests, a former colleague and his wife, we hadn’t seen in 20 years, so a special dinner was in order.)

  • Cantaloupe and melon appetizer
  • Shrimp salad
  • Homemade bread
  • Skip’s Apple-Bread Pudding


  • Greek Lima Beans (leftovers from last week)
  • Cantaloupe (more leftovers)

Thursday  (This planned meal didn’t happen, I was in the middle of a project, so we’ll have it next week.)

  • Poached salmon
  • Rice
  • Green salad

Sunday  (Watching the Olympics with family.)

  • Poppyseed chicken with rice
  • Green salad
  • Skip’s Apple-Bread Pudding (Yes, one more time, with a new audience.)

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