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Puzzle of the Century

Is it the fresh air, the seafood, or genes? Why do so many hardy 100-year-olds live in yes, Nova Scotia?

I was a very careful young girl,” says Hildred Shupe, 102, of Lunenburg. “I never went around with men.” “I mind my own business,” says Cora Romans, 100, of Halifax. “

 

The Lord just expanded my life, I guess,” says Elizabeth Slauenwhite, 99, of Lunenburg. “I’m in His hands, and He looked after me.”

 

Delima Rose d’Entremont, a tiny, brown-eyed woman of 103, of Yarmouth, says the piano helped keep her going. “I won two medals in music when I was younger, and I taught piano all my life,” she says, sitting straight in her wheelchair and mimicking herself at the keys. She occasionally performs for friends at her nursing home, Villa St. Joseph-du-Lac.

 

Cooper grew up on a farm in IndianHarborLake, on the province’s eastern shore, and remembers meals that few followers of today’s nonfat regimens would dare contemplate. “I ate the right stuff when I was growing up,” she explains. “Lots of buttermilk and curds. And cream—in moderation. And when I think of the homemade bread and butter, and the toast with cups of cocoa,” she says, trailing off in a high-calorie rhapsody. Then she adds: “I never smoked. And I never drank to excess. But I don’t know if that made the difference.”

 

In some ways, Nova Scotia is an unlikely longevity hot spot; a healthful lifestyle is hardly the provincial norm. Physicians say that despite abundances of brisk sea air, fresh fish and lobster and locally grown vegetables and fruits, Nova Scotians as a group do not take exceptionally good care of themselves. “The traditional diet is not that nutritious,” says Dr. Chris MacKnight, a geriatrician at Dalhousie University in Halifax who is studying the centenarians. “It’s a lot of fried food.” Studies show that obesity and smoking levels are high and exercise levels low. Also, the two historically most important industries—fishing and logging— are dangerous, and extract a toll. “In fact,” Mac- Knight says, “we have one of the lowest average life expectancies in all of Canada.”

 

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