We were at a friends’ house with a group of 50/60-somethings. The evening started quite pleasantly: a glass of wine, a bite to eat, good music, catching up on what’s new…and then somebody ventured into the dreaded zone. He (or she) flopped on the sofa with a senior grunt and “Oh, my back!”. Friends that care immediately switched to “inquiry and advice gear”. In 15 minutes the whole room was discussing everybody’s aches and pains, complaining about useless doctors and medications. Somebody even started to make plans on being cremated instead of buried….You get the picture.
So here’s lies my problem. First of all, my father taught me early in my life that discussing one’s health problems at social gatherings is bad manners. Secondly, how pleasant is it to hear the full details of other person’s sneezing/bowel movement/scalp itching/wheezing/any other possible health disasters? And finally, will we all feel better or really depressed at the end of the evening?
I will state the obvious here: we all have some health issues – some more serious that the others – and in most cases they will not go away as we age; they may actually get worse. How we deal with them though may make a huge difference in our life styles and actually impact our health.
There are several studies and research on the subject. The most dramatic one that I read was a study at John Hopkins University: after studying 5000 people at the age of 65, they found that poor image of one’s health doubled the risk of death within 5 years. Actually, a pessimistic outlook proved to have worse impact on subjects’ health than congestive heart disease or smoking. Other studies also prove that pessimistic outlook or depression and anxiety can contribute to many illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma, and possibly cancer and diabetes. It can also facilitate slipping into unhealthy lifestyle habits (overeating, drinking, becoming inactive). On the other end of the spectrum, a good attitude may limit mental distress and actually help with some health issues, avoid them, or at least lessen the impact.
I see around me several people that show remarkable attitude when facing serious – sometimes deadly – health conditions. I have friends and clients that battled cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and many other problems. I’m always in awe of those that keep going through life – wiser from their experience – and more hungry for the rest of their lives. I did not ask their permission to tell their stories, but allow me to indulge myself here, and give you just one example. My husband, 64 now, found himself in the ER of Edward Hospital on March 31, 2000. He was lean, healthy, with a bunch of marathons under his belt, and he was hours or maybe minutes away from an inevitably deadly heart attack. We won a lottery: he went successfully though an angioplasty, did not suffer a heart attack. The bad news was that his arteries are genetically predisposed to clog up. 13 years later he went through another procedure – without a high drama, this time. That’s his life – and those are his limitations. What he chose to do though is:
Make lifestyle changes that his condition requires, and
Keep on doing things that he loves.
As of today, he finished 2 Ironman extreme triathlons, 2 ultra-marathons, a number of regular triathlons, and 32 marathons. I’m not ashamed to brag about him – he is a role model for so many of us. Will he have to stop one day? Most probably. But he is not giving up until he has to.
So, it’s up to each one of us to make the most of life when we face health challenges.
How do we do that?
Don’t be a victim of whatever our health condition is. We can still do what we want – just modify a little.
Focus on things that we can do instead of what we cannot. If our “bad“ knees don’t allow us to run – walk. If we have fear of heights – switch from downhill skiing to cross-country (I did).
Downplay our weaknesses, and celebrate our strengths. People don’t need to know how many times a day you visit the bathroom. But they will love the dinner you cook for them.
Manage and minimize the stress in our life. We will sleep better, feel better in the morning, and may even keep our hair and skin in better condition.
Take care of our body with appropriate fitness and nutrition programs. Regardless of our health situation, we still need to keep our muscles strong, our joints mobile and flexible, and we need to provide the right nutrition for our bodies. (I learned first-hand a couple of years ago: when faced with an unpleasant and debilitating illness, I was able to recover quicker thanks to good general health and decent fitness level.)
And let’s talk about our problems with close friends and family – but just to get their support, advice, and encouragement.
To your fitness & health!
Partner, Strand Fitness