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Travelogue

Photographs courtesy of Alexander Bruno, '20
Oct. 14

Eighteen of us arrive in Halifax [1], rent minivans, and drive through the Novia Scotian countryside, awestruck by the color range of autumn’s palette. After an hour, a lighthouse appears on the horizon.

We hop out at Peggy’s Cove [2] and gaze at the intricate rock formations jutting toward the Atlantic Ocean. We snap landscape shots and inhale the cool, salty air. We made it.

Oct. 15

We tour the Lunenburg Academy of Music Performance and then split into three groups to interview five centenarians and one 95-year-old.

Phyllis Creaser [3], a 101-year-old living in nearby Riverport, invites my group into the home her late husband built 82 years ago. She sits immobile in her chair and kicks her feet as she tells us of her recent loss of the ability to walk. When we ask her what she would do if she got her legs back for a day, she says, “I’d go crazy.”

Nova Scotia resident during visitShe expresses grief over friends and family she has outlived and recalls her working days fondly. She leaves us with some parting wisdom: “Keep up good work. Never give that up.”

Back in Lunenburg [4], we visit Lilian Hall, a 95-year-old war bride born in Britain who was a nurse during World War II. She captivates us with stories of the Blitz bombings and tells us how she met her husband, a member of a British military band, in a bar she frequented to watch him play.

After the war, they moved to Novia Scotia, where they ran a supermarket for two decades. They traveled the world together, once taking the same route the British military band took from Sicily to Holland.

She attributes her longevity to her faith and attitude. “You just have to get up and do it,” she says.

When we ask her what she would do if she got her legs back for a day, she says, 'I'd go crazy.'

Map of Nova ScotiaOct. 16

We tour a Lunenburg nursing home and play a game in which a staff member describes a country and the residents guess it, find its flag, and pin it on a map.

Some residents have trouble, but one of them, Bill, has none whatsoever. He sits at the head of the table with his daughter, sipping from a Coors Light-filled metal flagon labeled with his name.

“I’ve traveled the world,” he says while reaching for Switzerland’s flag after the prompt. “This country is known for its chocolate and watches.”

Another resident hops on the piano and plays “O Canada.” Every resident in the room begins singing, their voices ringing in patriotic synchronicity despite differences in health, age, and cognition.

Oct. 17

At the Division of Geriatric Medicine at Dalhousie University [5] in Halifax, we meet two experts on aging who explain the importance of quality of life considerations when discussing treatment options with patients. The biggest takeaway is that the best predictor of future health is present health. That night, we fly to Boston.

Nova Scotia student groupOct. 18 

After a morning wandering Quincy Market, we discuss longevity at Boston University School of Medicine with a doctor who runs the largest centenarian study in the world.

Eighty-five percent of centenarians are female, he says, a disparity he attributes to heart attacks and strokes related to higher testosterone levels in men. But the men who make it this far, he says, are generally healthier than the women.

He attributes 30 percent of life expectancy to genetics and 70 percent to nongenetic factors, including socializing, high cognitive activity, low levels of neuroticism, exercise, having interests, and not smoking. Based on these factors alone, he tells us, 90 is a very achievable age.

At the airport, we board the plane grateful for this opportunity and inspired to make healthy choices that lead to long, happy lives.

Ms. Hall’s words echo in my ears: “You just have to get up and do it.”