Moving naturally

Every week, Marco leads a Dance Mania class at one of our local YMCAs. He was a Zumba instructor but, frustrated with the restrictions of their music choice requirements, he created his own brand of dance fitness using music that inspires him. Each week 30-50 people gather to follow fun dance moves led by Marco. It’s one hour of constant dancing, screaming, and sweating. Those who wear fit bits say it’s about a 500 calorie burning hour of movement.

My favorite healthy aging book, “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest” by Dan Buettner, studied 7 regions in the world where a good percentage of people are living healthy lives to their 90’s and 100’s. Throughout this blog, I refer to many of the themes explored in his book. One of the 9 lessons is to “move naturally”. What Buettner found in all the blue zones is that the centenarians live lives of activity. None of them go to the gym, but their daily lives contain movement.

The community on the island of Sardegna in Italy is a cluster of men in their 90’s and 100’s. Each day they walk the hilly island fields shepherding their flocks of sheep. On the Greek island of Ikaria, the centenarians exercise by gardening, tending the vineyards, and walking in their communities. And, in Okinawa, the 100-year-old women never attend “boot camp” but, in addition to gardening and walking, squat daily up and down from the floor due to the fact that they don’t have furniture.

We see this kind of movement when we travel to Italy and other parts of Europe. People walking from place to place carrying out their daily chores. Bicyclists of all ages pedaling to and fro. And, absent the modern convenience of the elevator, folks climb the stairs in their homes and workplaces.

In Salem, there is a restaurant location that doesn’t succeed. My take on this is that the two food purveyors that tried just weren’t that good. Many others say that it’s the lack of parking when, less than a city block away, there is a large municipal lot. It seems, they suggest, the walk from the lot to the restaurant is just too much.

The natural movement of walking would be a welcome addition to the day. And, while we may not have a garden to tend or vineyards to stroll, finding more steps in our day allows our bodies to do what they are built to do, move. Dancing and moving to the music each week in Marco’s class is one more fun way to age!

Buon Movimento!





 We have our weekly pizza night and it’s a family affair! Matteo gets home from school at 4. Before he heads out to exercise at the local YMCA, he makes the pizza dough (click here for video). Marco and I arrive home, and, as he heads up to shower, I cut up the peppers and sauté them in olive oil. I add some sea salt and let sit. Marco comes down, flattens the dough in the pizza pan, adds the sliced fresh mozzarella, and tops with the peppers.

Who says there isn’t time to eat healthy or eat together!? We each contribute 5-10 minutes and we have a healthy meal. We add a salad to the vegetable-topped pizza and it’s a nice plant-based meal. (Remember Michael Pollan says–eat food, not too much, mostly plants)! We each have two slices of the pizza some salad and a glass of milk to balance protein, plants, and palatable goodness.

In a recent post you heard that the surprise hit of our tapas party was the sautéed peppers with bread (click here). Such a simple preparation yet a delicious sweet, savory, and salty flavor combination. This pizza does a similar thing, minus the capers and balsamic vinegar.

Buon appetito!

Habits for healthy living

In a recent post, I spoke about how Italians have a flow to their week and routine rhythms of time. There are even days of the weeks when a certain food is typically eaten. We try to do this in our family. Our family has routine meals, habits for exercise, routinized sleep patterns, structured relaxation, fun times like our Friday family film night, and plenty of times for plain old relaxation!

My work as a therapist with people who have depression and anxiety involves helping them to create healthy routines in their day to day lives. The two problems often seem like two sides of the same coin. Depression drains the motivation to move forward with day to day tasks. Anxiety also can paralyze a person so that inactivity is preferable to any situation that might cause a challenge. One of the ways to help is to slowly but surely create routines that promote health and resilience; adding activities like a daily walk, time in the sunlight, mindfulness-based meditation, a simple task that provides a purpose, a moment of enjoyment, or a connection with a friend.

Another prevalent problem in my counseling practice is insomnia. So many people struggle with a simple, serene, night of sleep. The effects of this over time are numerous. Researchers don’t know why we sleep, but they do know that it serves a critical purpose. Our organs will eventually shut down if we don’t get sleep. Our brains seem to do some sort of needed repair during a night’s rest. A decent night’s sleep affects everything from our immune system to our ability to perform tasks effectively, all the way to our daytime mood.

I lead a weekly group for people struggling with insomnia. It is a cognitive behavioral based model for sleep based on Gregg Jacobs’ book “Say Good Night to Insomnia”. The model focusses on the thoughts and habits that contribute to insomnia and how to change them in order to sleep a healthy 6-8 hours. The power of our thoughts to affect our lives is strong and, in this course, we learn how to change our negative sleep thoughts into positive ones. Our habits and behaviors are also a powerful influence on sleep. We learn simple but effective changes to lifestyle that positively impact restful sleep.

Recipe for sleep:

  • Positive sleep thoughts
  • Leave the bed if not asleep in 20 minutes (the bed is for sleep or sex, a place of sleep and relaxation)
  • Have regular awake time and try not to deviate by more than 1/2 hour on weekends (throws off circadian rhythm)
  • Avoid caffeine past 3 or 4
  • Avoid sugary food or drink after 5
  • Limit to one alcoholic beverage 3 hours before sleep (it disrupts the deep sleep stage)
  • Practice relaxation techniques near bedtime and/or upon nighttime awakening
  • Hot bath near bedtime (spike in body temperature followed by cooler temperature which promotes sleep)
  • Avoid heavy exercise closer to bedtime (affects body temp and promotes agitation)
  • Cooler room temperature
  • Bedroom environment that promotes sleep
  • Little to no electronics in the bedroom

Enjoy the rythyms of life!


Concoction of yumminess

Finally, Marco made gnocchi alla romana! He talks about it a lot, practically salivating as he speaks. It’s a dish that, in his immediate family, his brother is known for making. So, given the right combination of winter weather, nostalgic longing, and motivation, Marco succeeds in bringing this recipe to The Bella Vita Blog!

Gnocchi alla romana are dumplings made with semolina flour and not potatoes. This is the original gnocchi from Italy that predates the arrival of the starchy root. The heritage and the name seem to suggest Rome, but some historians point to the use of butter and eggs as evidence of an origin from farther north in the region of Piemonte.

This is traditionally a first course. In Rome, it is a treat for Thursday, and, as the saying goes, “followed by fish on Friday, and Saturday tripe.” We ate it as our main dish along with a salad. The simple combination of cheeses, butter, crunchy crust topping, and tender dumpling texture made a savory meal satisfying for a cold winter night.

Ingredients (makes about 40 pieces, serving 4-6 depending on whether it is a first course or main):

  • 9 ounces semolina
  • 4 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter for mixture and 4 tablespoons butter to melt for the topping
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 5 tablespoons grated parmagiano reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1 ball of fresh mozzarella cut into pieces
  • pinch of salt
  • nutmeg q.b. (to taste)


  1. place the milk, butter, salt and nutmeg and heat, bringing the liquid close to a boil

2. stir in the semolina and whisk vigorously to avoid the formation of lumps

3. cook over low heat for a few minutes until it is thickened, switching to a wooden spoon

4. remove from the heat and stir in the two egg yolks

5. add the parmagiano and stir

6. spoon half of the mixture onto parchment paper and the other half onto another piece

7. form into two rolls and place in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes

8. cut the rolls into 1/2 pieces

9. place in a 9 X 13 inch pan, slightly overlapping

10. pour the melted butter

11. sprinkle the pecorino cheese and place pieces of mozzarella

12. bake at 400° for about 20 minutes and then use the broiler to brown the top and create a nice crust

Buon appetito!