In Albert Lea, Minn., A Family Strives to Live An All-Around Healthy Life

Family takes part in Vitality Project

For Bob, Sue, Tom and Tim Furland, getting healthy has become a family affair as organized as any.

That's because the Furlands are taking part in the AARP/Blue Zones Vitality Project in Albert Lea, Minn., in which people pledge to change several aspects of their personal environment to maintain all-around healthy living.

The Furlands have chosen to focus on the parts of the pact that relate to the household. That includes planting a garden and using a longevity grocery list of food that promotes health. The next step for the Furlands is drastically reducing their time in front of the tube.

To help them do that, this week, they removed their teenagers' bedroom television sets. "They agreed to it for four months," says Sue, 47. The TVs will be housed at her mother-in-law's home. Her son, Tom, 16, is planning to use music to fill the time because the family only has one computer. Their parents, however, will keep their TV in their bedroom to stay on top of the news, Sue says.

The Furlands were motivated to participate in the Vitality Project because Bob, 46, who works as a facilities manager for the town's arena, wanted to be deeply involved in the "unique and special project" Albert Lea was taking part in, Sue says.

The 10-month pilot project began in the town (pop. 18,000) in January to improve the health and projected life expectancy of people of all ages who live and work in Albert Lea. Sponsored by the United Health Foundation, the project aims to add at least 10,000 years of projected life expectancy to its residents (that's equivalent to at least two years of projected life expectancy for each participant) through both environmental and individual changes.

As far as environmental changes, the Furland family is slowly learning the art of gardening, having planted for the first time this past spring. The project notes the benefits of gardening are physical exertion and stress reduction.

Gardening 101

So far, it's been a positive experience for them, Sue says, but there were some unexpected mishaps. First, they made the mistake of planting their crops in the shade. They have since trimmed the trees, which has helped bring in more light, she says. Sunflowers were planted in the wrong place, she sighs, while rabbits ripped through their onions and peas. To keep the rabbits away, "I think we're going to have to go with chicken wire, though I don't want to," she says. But the green beans and potatoes came up, she says. "I'm still holding out for the bell peppers," she adds.

Their children Tom and Tim, 13, have been as engaged in the effort as their parents, cutting out their frozen pizza dinners and taking their trips to the Y by bike, she says.

But not all of the lifestyle changes spelled out in the project have been welcomed in the Furland family. Their house is now stocked with nuts instead of chips and a lot more fruit and vegetables. "The kids grunt and groan about the grocery list. They're not huge fans of vegetables, but they're working on it," she says. Buying fresh groceries continually has made food preparation more time consuming, too, she admits.

In the process, they've shown how it's possible to make adjustments in a diet without too much difficulty. Sue used to eat a bag of M&M's to get her through the day. "I don't crave that anymore," she says.

Her husband's weakness is fast food. "He's been going to Subway a whole lot more now," she says because it's seen as a healthy alternative.

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