It’s not a bathing-suit body that Daniel and Vicki Fontoura and their neighbors are after as they go about their days in perhaps the healthiest community in the United States. It’s something so much more essential, a part of their very being.
The Fontouras, their three children and Daniel’s parents are among the 22,000 residents of Loma Linda, where as many as a third of the people are Seventh-day Adventists. Their faith instructs them to treat their bodies as temples: little or no meat or fish, no smoking or alcohol, plenty of exercise and a sense of purpose.
The Loma Linda Market near Loma Linda University has bin after bin of beans and grains; there’s no meat section. There is a McDonald’s in a shopping center, but it moved in only after a fight; the arches are demure, and a countertop poster advertises veggie burgers.
On a residential street, tables piled with grapefruit and oranges for sale — on the honor system — sit outside houses. Sixteen-year-old Claire Fontoura says there are few overweight students at her Adventist high school. The cafeteria at Loma Linda University is vegetarian. Students attend chapel every Wednesday to, as the chaplain put it one recent morning, “stop stressing about tests, stop texting … put away our to-do lists.” And the campus fitness center, and its programs on diet and exercise, are open to the community.
Studies have shown that Seventh-day Adventists, who have a broad range of ethnic backgrounds, live as much as a decade longer than the rest of us, which led to Loma Linda being identified as one of five longevity spots, called Blue Zones, on the planet and the only one in the United States.
“I don’t think we’re so bold as to say that the only way to have this eight- to 10-year advantage is to be an Adventist,” said Fontoura, vice president/chief wholeness officer at Loma Linda University Health. “We do view it as the core. But how people get there is up to them.”
At 100, Benita Welebir is chatty and observant. What’s extraordinary about her longevity is that it’s not. In Loma Linda, she’s just another active old person.
One of her neighbors at the Linda Valley Villa is 101, another is 100, and several belong to the 95-plus club. After the morning exercise class, several residents take a walk outside; others gather in the common area of the senior apartment building. (According to census data, just 55,000 Americans reach 100; that’s .02% of us.)
“I am extremely energetic, but I also believe in full rest. If you have full rest, you can go like a little speedster,” Welebir says.
The mother of five says her legs are wearing out a bit. That may be, but she walks the halls at the 100-unit Linda Valley Villa half a mile at a time. She does her own hair.
“I’ve always been happy, and if I’m sad, I know I’ll be happy again.” Read More