Ron Marinucci: April, 2014 Column - "LifeNuts"

Ron Marinucci: April, 2014 Column - "LifeNuts"

“LifeNuts? Isn’t that one of those new healthy breakfast cereals?” No, but LifeNuts is trying to help people lead healthier lives.

LifeNuts was founded in 2011 by Cincinnati dentist Bob Kroeger (pronounced “kray-ger”). He explained, “It’s a community-based vitality and longevity program.” It is designed to not only help lengthen one’s life, but also to improve its quality.

Kroeger cited many of America’s health issues, known but probably ignored by far too many people. We have an epidemic of obesity, particularly among our children. Despite leading the world in per capita health care spending, almost three dozen countries have greater life expectancies. For the first time ever, our children are expected to live shorter lives than their parents.

And these issues have other than health-related consequences, financial ones. They add to our national debt and to the financial burdens that will be carried by our children and grandchildren.

LifeNuts was started to combat these ills, while potentially saving communities and companies money. Kroeger said its goal is to “change our health, our lifestyle—the habits of individuals.”

He explained. “I retired four years ago. I have a friend [Mike Fremont] who was a mentor to me. I was walking with him one day, just listening.” He likened Fremont to “a verbal encyclopedia.”

Fremont is now 92-years old, still running about 35 miles a week and still racing. In fact, he holds a number of age-group national and world records, including two that are pending for the half marathon and marathon. He also canoes several times a week. More than twenty years ago, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, but killed the carcinogenic tumor with diet alone—a vegetarian diet. He stayed with the vegetarian diet and still maintains his college wrestling weight of 125 pounds.

Kroeger said of Fremont, “He taught me about nutrition and vitality. I began to think about this wonderful, vital man.” He added, “LifeNuts was modeled after [Fremont’s] lifestyle. He walks the walk.”

Along the way, Kroeger became “interested in the common factors of the ‘Blue Zones,’ locales around the world where people lived better lives.” “Better lives” included living until 100 years old, at rates ten times greater than in the US. “I brought the Blue Zones into the place where I worked for 37 years, a way to give back.”

From Mike Fremont and the Blue Zones, LifeNuts was born, again, “a way [for Kroeger] to give back. I get no financial benefits.”

The name has Michigan ties, sort of. Engaging in a conversation with his wife while driving near Charlevoix, she said to him, “You’re a health nut.” He thought about that for a moment before responding,” No, I’m not ‘a health nut.’ I’m a Life Nut.”

There are several levels in the LifeNut program. The basic level includes criteria such as exercise, nutrition, stress management, and lifestyle habits. “It’s hard,” Kroeger noted, “to be healthy while holding three jobs, eating fast food….” LifeNuts are asked to exercise, mostly aerobically, at least an hour a day. They eat mostly a vegetarian diet—fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They seek to control stress rather than let it control them. LifeNuts don’t smoke or use drugs, “aren’t promiscuous,” and drink alcoholic beverages infrequently. They are active with their families and friends. They strive to keep their Body Mass Index balanced, maintaining their measurements between 17 and 22, avoiding being underweight as well as overweight. “We measure on day one and measure on day 365, looking for improvement,” Kroeger said.

An advanced level concerns lifestyle, such as getting enough sleep, being “environmentally conscious,” and giving back to the community, as well as understanding financial, religious, and personal relationships.

For example, “I’m not trying to sell religion,” Kroeger said, “but studies show that people live longer and healthier lives if they attend religious services every week.” He also promotes, but not “sells,” marriage, citing research and adding, “People who co-habit have shorter life spans and greater tendencies for [later] divorce.”

LifeNuts is in its early stages and Kroeger is really looking for communities to get involved and adopt the program. But, he admitted, “We’ve had no bites so far. We’re still working on it.” Right now, LifeNuts are mostly “friends and relatives. It’s great for individuals.”

But, he went on, “There’s a need for a cultural change” to fight our health issues. That’s why he is seeking community involvement. “They’ll see improvement,” he assured. He stressed that participation in a LifeNuts program is voluntary and cooperative. “People don’t like government shoving things down their throats. We like a grassroots approach.”

Ultimately, among other things, the ideal LifeNuts community would involve more than just individuals. Employers would participate, encouraging and recording their employees’ participation, while watching health care costs and absenteeism decrease. Restaurants would offer “at least two vegetarian meals” as options for diners. Health clubs and perhaps community education programs would offer aerobic and anaerobic exercise activities and classes. There is even a place for community volunteerism, such as community gardening.

Of course, it isn’t just individuals and their health that can profit from LifeNuts. Companies and cities can cut their insurance costs, boost moral among workers, and see decreases in absenteeism among healthier employees. Kroeger said, “I think it can really make a difference in a small town.” Success there might lead others to explore the LifeNuts program.

More detailed information, including research, ties to Blue Zones, personal testimonials, how to start a program, and more can be found at the LifeNuts Web site at http://www.lifenuts.org and in Kroeger’s book LifeNuts, which can be purchased online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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