Friday, December 9, 2011

I'm still an athlete?

August 2003 - I'm at my doctor's office having my first physical in a few years and she tells me "Okay, your blood pressure is just above normal, your glucose tolerance is above the level of acceptable, and your cholesterol levels are way out of whack. That heart burn you've been experiencing is acid reflux and it's only going to get worse. I want to start you on some meds to fix these."

I didn't think I was that bad off! Still fairly thin, skinniest of all my friends, that's for sure! About one hundred and eighty pounds on my six foot frame. But hey, if the doc thinks I need to address all this stuff, I probably should. So I start taking all these drugs and, wouldn't you know it, my BP becomes normal, glucose tolerance falls right into line, cholesterol is excellent and the heart burn goes away. Better living through science, indeed!

So I stuck to my ways, occasionally playing golf, tennis now and then until the arthritis in my wrist put an end to the tennis. Slowed down the golf, too, but I still manage to make it out and play once a month or so. I kept eating whatever I wanted although I did manage to reduce my red meat intake to once a day. Dammit. Okay, sometimes twice a day but only when traveling. I did start eating more chicken instead.

Six years goes by, I become more sedentary, have surgery for an old knee injury and the doctor tells me I'm going to need a knee replacement in about 5 years or so. Say what????? That's for old people isn't it? I'm only 52....oh wait. I guess that is kind of middle aged, isn't it? So I keep taking my meds and continue to eat the same way.

Two more years and I realize I weigh just over 200 pounds. I'm thinking I need to put a stop to this or, by the time I reach retirement age, I'm going to weigh about 250! So I join Weight Watchers online and start to watch how much I eat. For several months I cut back on my calorie intake, try to reduce carbs, focus on lean meats, blah, blah, blah, and.......almost nothing happens! All this work and I've only dropped two pounds???!!!????

I'm a pretty bright guy, have a job that requires some thinking, certified as a Six Sigma Black Belt in business processes. Like most people though, I don't think about myself or my life or my health in the same way as my work. Maybe I need to start doing that if I'm going to really make some changes. Then, it hits me like that lightning strike in a cartoon, you know the one I mean?

I'm only treating symptoms, not root causes! (Cue the heavenly choir!) That's what all those meds are doing, treating symptoms.

The next week, I was at my doctor's office so she could renew my prescriptions, check my tests, you know the stuff that middle aged guys have to do about once a year. When I asked the doctor how long I'd have to continue to take them, she said, "For the rest of your life, of course. You can't stop." (That is the easiest way to get me to do something, of course. Tell me that I can't do it!)

"But doc," I continued, "won't my body get used to these meds and they'll lose their effectiveness over time? Then what?"

She looked at me kind of startled, like no one asks these questions, and said, "We'll have to find some other ones then. Or perhaps there'll be new treatments available at that time."

I thanked her for her time but couldn't help but wonder about that. I mean, I know the drug companies put a lot of money into R&D but what if they only worked on the important stuff like erectile dysfunction, sleep dysfunction, heaven knows what other kinds of dysfunction? Or what if the current group of drugs was the end of the line? Sorry, no upgrades available!!! This was starting to look like a major buzz kill.

The following Sunday, I was reading the newspaper. (Tangent / Rant - I realize that some of you have no idea what that is and others are thinking how quaint it is. Whatever...I like to read the newspaper. I even get the New York Times on my Kindle so I can read a really good newspaper. All I know is, AOL / Huffington Post is not a news source. It's crap. Thanks, I feel better. We now return you to your normal old-fart ranting.)

There was a full page ad for a "health institute" that captured my attention with the phrase "we help people get off their meds" and "lose weight for good." They also had a "road warriors" program. (I travel a lot for work.) Some of my acquaintances had been to this place and had good success. Maybe it was time to do something for me.

I spent the next 10 weeks learning about eating, how your body gets energy, exercise and how it affects your body's systems. This weekly lecture was very eye opening to me. I learned that, like 95% of Americans, I was eating myself to death, very slowly. (It's lucky that none of us is in a hurry!) That all those delicious foods are really bad for you if that's all you eat. (And that’s nearly all I ate.) And that the human body evolved to be busy and active, not to be sitting in front of a computer / TV / video game. (I know you're reading this on a computer and I'm writing it on one. Ironic, huh?) I learned that Type 2 diabetes is running rampant through this country and it's all driven by how we eat, how much we eat, how much we don't exercise, and that it's all preventable!

That was it for me. I changed myself and was surprised at how quickly it happened and the value of the results. After resolving myself to being a middle-aged guy, and being okay with that, I discovered that there is still a little of that young guy in me, that used to be an athlete.

I spent those 10 weeks zealously watching how much and what I ate. I exercised vigorously three or four times a week. I got my old Trek Hybrid bike out of the shed, pumped up the tires and began riding it. Probably most importantly, I enjoyed all of it! And I felt about 20 years younger!

The results were surprising and exciting. In those first ten weeks, I dropped almost twenty pounds while reducing my body-fat content from twenty five percent to less than fourteen percent. I lost almost four inches around my waist and my bride began to say, “Hey, you’re looking skinny! Be careful you don’t get carried away.” (Don’t worry, I like to eat way too much!) And I even lost weight in my wrists. I know, weird, huh? Who knew your wrists get fat? But my watch was suddenly looser around my wrist.

After a few more months of this, to make sure that I had developed it as a habit and not just a fad, I went back to my doctor. I had stopped taking the meds and wanted to see if the results translated into numbers on the medical side. Amazingly, my doctor told me I could stop taking all of them. All of my blood work was normal! After telling her my story, she asked if I’d be willing to stand out in the waiting room and repeat it every hour or so. She seemed very proud of what I had accomplished.

She also pointed out that I needed to continue this new lifestyle for the rest of my life because failing to do so would put me back on the meds in order to remain healthy.

Really??? You mean, I can’t get really healthy by just taking a pill? I can’t get fit with only five minutes of walking per day for exercise? I can’t keep weight off by eating whatever I want? I know! It’s what I learned and that’s why I took the class! It’s also part of who I am now, and that’s why I started with the story.

So, when does the rest of the country learn it?