I just went to the doctor for my annual physical a few days ago. Every year I have to confront this lingering health issue, and every year it becomes more of a problem. So what is it? I’m just too healthy.
Now I realize that this might not seem like a problem to many of you. Those of us who are edging into our late 50s see all too often the beginnings (or worsening) of the ailments we once watched our parents and grandparents deal with. And I realize that there are a lot of folks who would happily trade places with me. But I need to be honest, being healthy is not, well, a piece of cake.
Several years ago I was in a moderate car accident and called my old doctor to check me out. It turned out that they no longer had any of my records because I had not been there in the previous three years. They could get me in, but it would have to be as a new patient and the doctor I had been seeing was not taking new patients. So see? It is indeed possible to be too healthy for your own good.
But this is not the kind of problem I am really suffering from because of my good health. My problem is that I weigh a bit too much. About 7 pounds more than last year when I weighed a bit too much. And this is where the problem comes in. Every year my blood pressure is great, my lab results come in just fine and I feel good. The problem is that my condition simply kills all incentive to do the stuff I know that I need to do.
I know what I need to do. I know even without the Mrs. mentioning it as she is wont to do from time to time. I need to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. I need to eat less red meat and fewer processed foods. Certainly fewer starches and carbs. Everybody knows that I need to eat less crap and more good, healthy stuff. Because . . . . Isn’t it to be healthy? But I’m healthy now. So when offered a plate of fried SPAM and boxed mac and cheese or a nice, fresh, delicious salad I’ll take the heady rush of fat, salt and carbs every single time. And yes, I should eat ice cream less than twice a day whenever I feel like it. But why?
I need to exercise more. I have a gym membership, but have not gone regularly in . . . I’m not sure. I know perfectly well that exercising will help me to lose that extra few pounds. Or maybe it will allow me to pile on the additional calories guilt-free.
Making decisions about diet and exercise when you are basically healthy is a lot like the problem smokers face in quitting. Everyone knows that the smoker is likely to suffer problems in the future. However (as I used to tell myself when I still smoked) this single next cigarette isn’t going to make any difference ten or twenty years in the future. Likewise, one less cheeseburger or one more helping of fresh arugula in the next three hours isn’t going to affect the state of my health in 2024 by one micron.
Here is where people with health issues have it all over me. If I had a bad heart, my doctor could say “Look, Bub. One more Philly cheese steak could very well kill you six hours later. Is that what you want?” And I would, of course, answer “No” and be scared into eating the tofu on whole wheat half-sandwich for tomorrow’s lunch. But I never have this conversation with my physician.
Or if I weighed 300 pounds and had to ride around inside Wal-Mart on a scooter, he could say “It’s like this, kiddo – you have got to start exercising, or next year at this time you will either be completely immobile, or maybe dead.” Once again, there would be a decent incentive to change what I have been doing and get on the exercise program to go along with the teeny piece of baked fish and the three mouthfuls of mixed greens.
Instead the conversation with the doc always goes something like this.
“You know that you should lose some weight.”
“And you should get some more exercise.”
“Although I can’t really sit here and tell you that you are going to die next week if you don’t do these things.”
I need to be able to do the stuff I want to do as I get older. The problem is that when I get older I have no desire to go on ten mile hikes or or run a marathon or climb Mount McKinley. Which is a good thing, since it’s not called Mount McKinley anymore. I want to be able to do the stuff I like to do right now, which is sit and read, sit and write, sit and watch TV or a movie, or sit and listen to music. OK, I would certainly like the ability to walk around the block or stand for 2o minutes while waiting for a table at the steakhouse on a Saturday evening. But as I told the doctor, I religiously get up from my sitting to use the restroom, to refill my glass or get a snack, and occasionally to answer the door. And at work, the men’s room is a good forty-five second hike from my desk chair. So it’s not all just sitting around.
All of these things would be so much easier to address if my blood sugar was pegging the DiaBet-O-Meter or if my cholesterol was setting off alarms at the lab. But they’re not. And so here I sit, a little sluggish from digesting those multiple glistening patties of beef from my Wendy’s cheeseburger. And kind of enjoying it, but still feeling a bit like I should be doing something else.
It is not as though I have no good habits at all. For example, I rarely drink sweetened soft drinks and don’t really drink much alcohol. I also don’t eat as much as I once did. When I was in my 20s, I could easily polish off a big roast beef sandwich, fries, jamocha shake and a cherry turnover at Arbys. These days, I almost never get the turnover when I go there. And while some might argue that I should not still be getting credit for this, I quit smoking 27 years ago. Hey, it was hard, so it should still count.
But I don’t see a way around this: I simply need to deal with my health problem. Wouldn’t it be nice to only weigh four pounds more when I see the doctor next year. I could feel good about that kind of progress. If only our government could exercise such control over the deficit. I know this sounds drastic, but I am simply going to have to start eating less, eating better and exercising more. And I think I am going to start first thing – tomorrow.