September 2015

Family ties

Healthy living – but how? People are healthier in Switzerland than in almost any other country. And yet it is difficult for many people to eat correctly and get enough exercise. Why? Three families recount how they live and what they have to cope with.

The Delgados, the Schmeltzers and the Stalders – three Swiss families whom we asked to tell us what they perceive a healthy life to be and what they do to achieve it. But most importantly: what could be better. They live not two hours away from each other by car, yet their ideas of the best way to treat their bodies couldn’t be more different. Nevertheless, they all agree on one point: living healthily can sometimes be very difficult indeed.

Familie Delegado

Delgado family: When Jonathan (27) moved to Buchs (ZH) to be with Morena (31), the surfing instructor from Panama put on one and a half stone. But his travel consultant wife stopped eating frozen pizzas when little Liam (1 1/2) was born. They say that health consciousness is a question of age and culture.

It is half past six and Buchs (ZH) gleams in the evening sun. At 27 and 31, Jonathan and Morena Delgado are really too young to be walking along these fields every evening like pensioners. As surfers, they prefer riding the world’s waves. But when Liam (1 1/2) came into the world, a great many things changed.

Before, they would have been eating “spätzli”, a kind of pasta, and meat at this time of day. At least Jonathan would who, dressed in shorts and a cap, still looks like the surf instructor he was in his native Panama. When he arrived in Switzerland, he continued eating like he did when he spent 10 hours a day standing in the water: rice, beans and plenty of meat - and that was just for breakfast. And the pregnant Morena loved sticking a frozen pizza in the oven in the evening.

“I was frustrated,” says Jonathan, stroking his washboard abs where not too long ago 10 extra kilos would have been wobbling. Although Morena automatically lost weight while she was breastfeeding, Jonathan worried about his body and his health: he was deeply concerned about contracting an illness. His grandfather drank and died at an early age from cancer. After Liam was born, Morena also wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, “only I didn’t know how”.

Managing your body and your well-being has become a complicated affair, says Marianne Honegger, a health expert with the school medical service in Zurich. In modern life, we do less and less exercise and replace traditional meals with fast food. We drive cars through the landscape and wolf down a sandwich or a pizza on the way, as long as it doesn’t take very much time.

Anyone who wants to be fit must therefore take action: be informed, plan ahead and above all choose from a vast product range. Meat or no meat? Jogging or yoga? Traditional medicine or homoeopathy? The right lifestyle is almost a question of faith that is influenced by a person’s age, job, education, environment and living conditions – like the Delgados.

Not much bread and something sweet once a day

They have both reached their ideal weight. But how did they succeed where so many others find it so difficult? Very simply and without nutritional counselling or special diets: with plenty of exercise and a balanced diet. He plays football and does push-ups every night while she goes jogging and does yoga. They left out what nutritional expert Marianne Honegger recommends only moderation: soft drinks, ready meals and meat seven days a week. Instead they eat lots of “bird food” as Jonathan puts it: muesli, salad, vegetables, hot lunches and small portions in the evening, little bread and something sweet once a day.

According to Ms Honegger, the fact that the Delgados have changed their habits is particularly important for Liam: “Parents have to set framework conditions.” In her daily business, she nevertheless notices that children often decide what should be served and eat only fast food such as pizza or pasta as stressed parents want to avoid a quarrel. Naturally, this is counter-productive. Some 2.5 million Swiss citizens are alreadyoverweight and it affects almost one child in five - and the trend is increasing.

Familie Delegado

Schmeltzer family: Fitness is everything for Dagmar (42) and Andy (45) from Gachnang (TG). Muscles are attractive, aren’t they? To this end, they sometimes do too much, sometimes too little. At present, the insurance man wants to lose about one stone while his secretary wife feels she should listen to her body. Only their little Dara (7) is yet to have such thoughts.

Parents set the example, children copy them. That was the case for Andy Schmeltzer, a 45-year-old father and insurance adviser. At the family Sunday at the pool in Frauenfeld, he recalls that smoking was a matter of course for his parents and that he too smoked a packet a day until three years ago. The 45-year-old with thick muscles seems to be a man of extremes in other respects too: gaining weight, losing weight, putting it on again. At the moment he is seven kilos overweight - the result further education he sighs. Too little time, too much stress.

For our expert, Marianne Honegger, the scenario is all too familiar. People often forget just how much they can do in their daily routine to get some exercise. Anyone who travels to work by bike, takes the stairs or constantly gets up from their chair is already achieving a great deal. It is nevertheless more difficult to handle situations where, like Andy, people reward themselves with chocolate. We might say that it is a fault in the rewards system which is also conditioned at an early age. People therefore shouldn’t reward children with sweets.

Muscles are attractive

It is difficult to imagine how, as a slim 25-year-old measuring about 5 feet 7 and weighing a little over 10 stones, Andy transformed himself into a 12 1/2-stone strapping man in only a few months. Muesli for breakfast, a sandwich during the coffee break, spaghetti for lunch, another sandwich for his afternoon snack, meat and “on-top” shakes with proteins and carbohydrates in the evening. He also played American football four times a week and did power training the other days – all for his chosen sport.

“In the end, good health is a gift.”, says his wife Dagmar shaking her blond hair: she is 42 and has a more athletic figure as a mother than most of the girls here at the pool. “A fitter lifestyle – that is important,” says the administrator who is sometimes in the kitchen at five in the morning preparing balanced 3-component meals for the family comprising proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins. If the Schmeltzers don’t go on a hiking or biking holiday, the hotel must at least have a fitness room. On summer Sundays like this one, the Schmeltzers walk here from their house in Gachnang (TG) - taking one hour - while their daughter Dara (7) rides her bike. And once at the pool, they really get going.

“Sport is fun,” say the Schmeltzers, “muscles look good and are a symbol of health.” Naturally, it is also a question of feel-good hormones which are activated. But what happens when the body suddenly says no? Dagmar went through this when she went at least three times a week to the weights room and also started swimming front crawl. “When you reach 40, you’re no longer full of energy,” she says, her voice betraying a certain wistfulness. Despite a pain in the shoulder, she continued training leading to chronic inflammation, an operation and a period of rest: “Now I have learned to listen to my body.”

How much sport is good for you and how much is too much?

According to Marianne Honegger, “Adults should do two and a half hours of medium-intensity exercise per week or one hour 15 minutes at high intensity, for example jogging, playing tennis or going cross-country skiing. Children, on the other hand, need at least one hour’s exercise a day.” For adolescents, it is just as important that parents question their ideals and consider when aesthetics become unhealthy. Extreme ideas can be handed on and prevent children from developing a relaxed attitude to eating and exercise. “They shouldn’t think,” says Honegger, “but should listen to their body.”

Familie Stalder

The Stalder family: Alexandra (40) and Nick (41) live in Puppikon (TG) with their children Simon (10), Jana (8), Samuel (6) and Noah (4). As a family of farmers, they only eat the meat from their own cows and swear by tried and tested household remedies and the power of nature. Only leisure time falls by the wayside in the everyday life of the farm.

Nearly four miles to school every day.

That is what Noah now does, at 4 the youngest member of the Stalder family of farmers from Puppikon (TG). Lunch isn’t for another half hour leaving more than enough time to climb onto the banister and pull himself up. Once, twice - Noah wants to show off what he can do. He could fall. But his mother Alexandra shrugs her shoulders. “To a large extent, children have to discover their own limits,” says the 40-year-old laughing, “and mine are all a bit suicidal.” And suicidal means that something might well happen as they rampage around. The hysteria of urban parents, who hover over their children like police helicopters, is not in evidence here.

In general, everything seems to be more natural in the Stalders’ house: every day, Simon (10), Jana (8) and Samuel (6) clock up a little under 4 miles on their way to school while their parents get more than enough exercise on the farm. Whenever possible, vegetables are not treated and the meat comes from their own cows. The children eat salad as if it were the most natural thing on Earth. If you ask them what they don’t like, they shrug their shoulders. “Black pudding maybe?” And if they like video games as much as city children? “We prefer to be in the stable.”

The zeolite powder they drink dissolved in the water is almost supernatural: ground volcanic rock. The Stalders swear by it. Especially Alexandra. “It detoxifies and relieves the system,” says the mother who would like to have studied medicine but didn’t because of her family. Nick, her husband, adds that zeolite also helps the cows to get back on their feet more quickly after calving.

Naturally, the effect of this natural medicine is not proven scientifically. At the same time, the nutritional expert Marianne Honegger is aware of no risks either. She nevertheless emphasizes that the body needs no dietary supplements if it is given a balanced diet. However, she believes that it is a positive thing that the Stalders don’t resort immediately to pharmaceuticals in the event of little aches and pains. For stomach aches there is fennel tea while headaches are treated with peppermint oil rather than aspirin. Nature is good, as long as it doesn’t become dogma.

A year ago, when Nick, the 41-year-old farmer, suddenly found that he could no longer hold his cows, household remedies were no longer enough. He was admitted to hospital with thrombosis of the portal vein. Since this turning point, the Stalders are keen to live an even healthier life. In their case that means more leisure time. A family Sunday every other week when they do not work on the new house. “But you can still do so much,” says Alexandra. “In the end, good health is a gift.”