Wellness principles I learned from my old school grandparents

Oma & Opa about to cut a rug at a Teutonia Club banquet

I was blessed to spend a lot of time with my father’s parents growing up and I credit them for instilling in me a budding interest in taking care of my body and soul. Despite facing poverty and malnourishment growing up in Germany, having lived through WWII, and having endured the punishment of Russian war camps after the war, they kept their health in tact. In 1955, my grandparents immigrated to Canada in search of a better life. With them they brought a suitcase, a little bit of cash, and life giving traditions from their homeland.

My Oma (grandmother) is celebrating her 85th birthday in two weeks. She is thriving and only takes one medication.  My late Opa (grandfather) maintained  his independence for 17 years after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, when an accident took his life just before his 90th birthday.  They didn’t eat gluten free or vegan. I never saw either of them take a supplement, nor did they have a gym membership. My grandparents did, however, employ some sound wellness principles, which I’m honoured to share with you here. 

1. Live off the land 

Oma has always tended her own (large) garden. The produce in her yard is grown in quality soil with love and without pesticides. Whatever isn’t eaten right away from her harvest is preserved, dried, frozen, pickled or fermented. She replenishes her soil every year from her own compost bin, ensuring that important minerals are returned to the land for the next crop. I believe that food from Oma’s garden is more nourishing than anything else around.

Opa was an avid hunter and fisherman in his day. It wasn’t uncommon for my brother and I to come to our grandparents house to see an assembly line of amateur butchers in the basement harvesting a moose or a deer. Meat from wild game is much healthier, leaner, and higher omega 3 fatty acids than meat from conventionally raised animals. Wild animals are free to eat their natural diet, live in their natural habitat, and are not subject to unnatural hormones and antibiotics. Organ meat from ducks and geese was also a common dish at the dinner table. This part of the animal was almost always used in ancient cultures, yet is not common in our modern diet, despite its many health benefits. The tradition of hunting has been carried on in my family, and wild game and organ meat is still on rotation at my Oma’s dinner table. 

When meat or produce doesn’t come from the fruit of my family’s labours, Oma makes sure to shop Ontario grown. If it doesn’t come from Ontario, Oma doesn’t want it. Local produce typically contains more nutrients because it is often in season and picked fresher than products that must travel long distances. Oma understands this.

2. Get up early

This was Opa’s advice. He said people die in bed.

3. Sit down for a home cooked meal 

“Food keeps your body and soul together”

-Oma

Dinner has always been served at 5 o’clock sharp in the Erber household. Oma knew the benefits of sitting down to eat together long before the Washington Post compiled recent research articles summarizing that it’s the best thing you can do for your family. To this day, our family gathers around Oma’s table at least once a week for a meal prepared by her loving hands. I tend to have a sensitive stomach, however, it seems that foods that would normally bother me are much more easily assimilated when they are served at Oma’s table 🤔

4. Stay active, physically and socially

Oma has always been a hard worker. To this day, she runs her household as independently as ever. She tends her garden from seedlings to harvest, watering it manually all season. She takes care of her large yard year round, shops the city for deals on groceries, and makes a big home cooked meal for our family at least once a week. As a child, I watched my Opa lift his steel weights, which I’m pretty sure he forged himself as a machinist. He would often take me with him for “runs” in the boulevard too. Later in his life when he couldn’t participate in the activities he loved like hunting and trapshooting, he got out to visit his friends at General Gun, Windsor Sportsmen’s Club, and walked Devonshire Mall daily. I think that staying active both phycialy and socially helped keep Opa going so many years after his diagnosis. 

My grandparents had been active participants at the Teutonia Club (local German club) since it’s inception in 1955 until recent years. They often cut a rug at the club’s many banquets, and I believe that having this interest in common helped keep them active, getting their heart rates up in a meaningful way as they entered their senior years. 

5. Wine*, beer* & honey heals all

When you make your own, you know what goes into it. Opa made his own wine and beer, and was known to enjoy a glass. Opa wasn’t the only one who enjoyed the life extending effects of alcohol in moderation. Dr. Gifford Jones attributes his longevity partially to his daily imbibement in his most recent book 90+ How I Got There.

Now for Opa’s Parkinson’s secret. After hearing a positive review on blueberry honey in the holistic management of Parkinson’s disease, Opa started importing raw blueberry honey from a family friend in Niagara. He took generous amounts of his “medicine” on toast at breakfast each morning. Of course, I cannot vouch for the validity of this, but the healing properties of honey and the benefits of the placebo effect are well studied. 

*Disclaimer: this is not advice to drink excessively. If you can’t have a little without having a lot, if you are dealing with illness, or if you are sensitive, then I advise to abstain from alcohol altogether. 

I’m blessed to have been benefitted from my grandparents’ wellness principles while growing up, and to share it here with you. There is so much to be learned here, and I find myself receiving a reminder as to what’s important even as I’m typing. This is different than the typical advice about eating superfoods, following an exercise program, or taking supplements. It really comes down to making due with what you’ve got available to you, and the life giving power of love: love for the work that you do in the home and in the world; love for your family, friends, your community, and love for yourself.

🍎 🔬 Yours in health, 

Carly Del Ciancio
Thrive Live Blood Microscopy

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Carly Del Ciancio is the owner and microscopist at Thrive Live Blood Microscopy. She is passionate about sharing the benefits of natural health, and helping her friends, family and clients THRIVE! Carly offers in-office live blood microscopy services in Kingsville & Essex County, as well as wellness consultations near & far. Find out more about Thrive’s services and variety of available tests here.