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Advice for a healthy mind and body from octogenarian doctor

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POSTED January 30, 2013 3:38 p.m.

Everything that helps Dr. George Veldstra physically fit and healthy is found in an almond orchard.

Well, almost everything.

The 83 years young retired family practitioner, and a charter member of Manteca Hospital – now Doctors Hospital of Manteca – gets most of his weekly exercise regimen working in the family almond orchard in Ripon. The farming pursuit used to be just a hobby.

“Now, it’s become work,” the longtime Manteca doctor said with a laugh.

But all that physical effort has evolved into a form of exercise. It’s enough to keep him fit, he said of the pruning and other maintenance chores he does around the trees which often involve wielding a chain saw for what he called “the major stuff.” That means removing the suckers growing at the base of the trees that the pruning crew may have missed.

He just got done pruning the nut trees, and would have gone on to pick up the branches and twigs that the workers may also have missed – he does not use a backhoe to do that task – but a nasty cold thwarted his plans to get that job done right away.

The winter pruning is contracted out, but he does all the irrigation and fertilization. He does not use drip irrigation to water the trees. He uses what he refers to as “the micros,” the sprinkler system that releases the water just around the trees so that only the roots are targeted, instead of sprinkling the entire orchard and thus wasting water. There was a time when he irrigated “the old way” using aluminum pipes that had to be moved from one row to the next.

“That’s a lot of work,” Dr. Veldstra recalled.

He also does all the mowing of the weeds that grow between the trees. How often that chore needs to get done depends upon how fast the grasses grow due to irrigations, and how warm is the weather.

Combined with the physical work-out in the orchard are visits to the gym three times a week, each lasting about 45 minutes. He chooses the equipment that “uses your arms, shoulders and legs, and so on,” he said. Then on to the treadmill.

“People that exercise not only do better in life but they feel better, have a better attitude of life, and so on,” he said, enumerating some of the benefits of a physically active lifestyle.

‘Eating – that’s a different story’

When it comes to eating – well, “that’s a different story,” Dr. Veldstra said, showing a healthy sense of humor.

“I eat what I see. I’m on a see-food diet,” he said with a small laugh.

“I’m careful,” he said about the food choices he makes, “but I don’t indulge in all the fat and greases all day.”

However, he admitted that he does “indulge a little bit” in what he described as “non-essential food.”

At the same time, he confessed, “I love chocolate,” but even that sweet indulgence is considered healthy now, he pointed out.

Part of his daily healthy-food diet – fresh-off-the-trees nuts – also comes from the same pampered trees in his almond orchard.

“I do eat a lot of almonds every day – just raw almonds. They are good antioxidants. We snack on them every day, absolutely; because we raise them, we might as well eat them. They’re very good, healthy and nutritious,” the good doctor said.

Two heaping tablespoons of the fresh nuts are also added to his cereal every morning, he said.

Mental health also essential in life

Maintaining a good mental health is also essential in life, said Dr. Veldstra. “It’s also associated with exercise and outlook on life. We’re people of faith, so that also increases your outlook on life.”

He and his wife Henrietta have been members of the First Christian Reformed Church in Ripon. He has worshipped there “all my life,” he said. That’s not counting the three years he and his parents lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, before his father moved his family to California.

“I lost my mom when I was an infant. Then my dad got tired of scraping snow off the boards – he was a carpenter – and moved to California, to Ripon” where he grew up, said Dr. Veldstra who graduated from Ripon Christian High.

When you are a person of faith, “you have a purpose in life. I think you have a much better attitude and disposition as well. You look at life differently because you have a goal in life,” he said.

Dr. Veldstra opened his private medical practice in Manteca in 1960. He was a charter member of Doctors Hospital of Manteca – when it was known as Manteca Hospital. During the early days of the Manteca Hospital, he and other doctors in town at that time – Doctor Winters, Dr. Taylor, Dr. Russell Carter, Sr. – handled the local hospital’s Emergency Room for a couple of years.

“They didn’t have emergency doctors in those days. We wore a lot of hats,” Dr. Veldstra said.

He and wife Henrietta have been married for 60 years. She worked for doctors for many years while he was going to Chicago Medical School and even prior to that when she worked for a pediatrician in Modesto. She also helped her husband in his medical office.

The Veldstras have two children and two grandchildren. Son Bradley, 57, followed in his father’s medical footsteps. He graduated from Milwaukee Medical School and is an ER doctor in Coos Bay, Oregon. Their daughter, Cheryl Austin, who used to work for a grocery store but is now retired, lives in Ojai, Calif.

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