Tom West, West Words

Tom West

Occasionally, I’ve written about what it takes to live an active life longer than normal. Some readers have responded that they aren’t sure they want to live into their 90s because their image is that one will be in a wheelchair that much longer, unable to care for oneself.

That wasn’t what I had in mind. My thought is that people would want to live longer so that they could enjoy the things they like to do for more years and because most likely their demise will then be swifter.

However, a couple of months ago, I attended my 50-year college class reunion. It was somewhat surreal in that I had drifted far away from any ties there. I had been in Navy ROTC. When I graduated, I was on my way to San Diego and three years of active duty.

By the time I left the Navy, my ties to college friends were slim to none. More than 30 years had passed since I’d seen any of them. However, whenever one reunites with friends, the interval disappears quickly. Scrape off the barnacles of age, and their essence is the same.

Since then, we have been exchanging sporadic emails. My email group members all live on the East or West coasts, except one in Oklahoma and myself in Minnesota. One person said that she hoped to see us all at the 75th reunion.

Another thought that would be a challenge, so I chimed in with advice I’ve shared in this space about “Blue Zones,” a book by Dan Buettner about those places around the globe where an extraordinary percentage of people live into their 90s and beyond. Boiled down, the keys are regular exercise, low consumption of meat and alcohol and a commitment to a circle of friends or involvement in one’s community.

Social Security says that men my age will live another 13 years on average and women another 15 years. Buettner suggests in “Blue Zones” that a person can gain an extra 10 active years by following his findings. That puts the above average woman at 25 more years, but leaves men still two years short of making it to the 75-year reunion.

So, then I pitched that they all should move to Minnesota. I know this sounds counterintuitive, since we only have about 30 or 40 days annually when it is not too hot, too cold, too humid, too rainy, too snowy, too something such that you wouldn’t wish it on your neighbor’s dog.

However, a little-known fact is that, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2016 rankings, Minnesota tops the nation in life expectancy by state. I attribute this to our ability to walk on water (at least during the winter months). Further, we live upstream from nobody, since the Red River of the North and the Mississippi both begin here. Thus, we deal with less sludge.

Here is the WHO’s average life expectancy ranking and years for each state in which my email circle lives:

1. Minnesota – 78.7 years

2. California – 78.6

4. Hawaii – 78.4

8. Massachusetts – 77.9

19. Rhode Island – 77.2

21. Florida – 77.0

22. Virginia – 77.0

32. Pennsylvania – 76.0

47. Oklahoma – 73.2

As you can see, one would gain more than five years by simply moving from Muskogee to Minnetonka. Eleven states have shorter life spans than Nicaragua’s 74.8 years.

In spite of what I thought was a convincing argument, one person suggested that we all move to Hawaii.

Another suggested that since women live longer, perhaps all the men should have a sex-change operation.

A West Coast classmate reported, “California is like granola. If you take away the fruits and nuts, all you have are a bunch of flakes.”

And the person in Oklahoma offered this classic comeback about the Sooner State, ““You can only live on barbecue ribs, fried chicken, beer and country music for so long.”

Then, a few days ago, I was reading an article paying tribute to Minnesota’s state muffin: the blueberry. This puts Minnesota in elite company, since the only other state to officially sanction a muffin is Massachusetts, which opted for the corn variety.

State legislatures choose to endorse various state symbols whenever they become bored with setting budgets for schools, criminal justice or roads and bridges. Illinois offers popcorn as the official state snack food and Rhode Island has chosen calamari as the state appetizer.

Besides the muffin, Minnesota has an official bird (loon), butterfly (monarch), fish (walleye), flower (lady slipper), fruit (honeycrisp apple), gemstone (Lake Superior agate), grain (wild rice), mushroom (morel) photograph (“Grace” by Eric Enstrom), soil (Lester) and tree (red pine).

However, Oklahoma is the only state to offer an entire, officially state-sanctioned meal. The Oklahoma “state meal” includes: barbecue pork, fried okra, squash, cornbread, biscuits, sausage and gravy, grits, corn, black-eyed peas, chicken-fried steak, strawberries and pecan pie.

I could feel my arteries clogging up just reading about it.

So that leads me to suggest that Minnesota should have a state meal, but not one that jeopardizes our longevity ranking. What should be included in a Minnesota state meal? My first thoughts are: Tater Tot hotdish, lime Jell-O with pears, lutefisk, Spam. …

I’m not off to a good start. Readers’ suggestions are welcome.

Tom West, now retired, is the former general manager of this paper. Reach him at

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