My kids tell me I am an old man and my wife still thinks of me as a young man, so that can only mean that I have entered into middle age and there is no turning back. Middle age is not so bad. I can look back on the vast majority of my adult life and enjoy all of the memories of my kids growing up and my wife and I growing closer every day. I can face adversity with confidence and I can perform much more valid self-assessments than I could twenty, or even ten, years ago.
When I look back on my twenties and thirties, I recognize that I made a lot of mistakes and still achieved a lot of wonderful things. I nearly flunked out of college as a freshman, but rebounded to graduate and advanced to graduate with honors from a prestigious law school. I made one horrible career decision that could have ruined me, but I realized the error of my ways within a few months and quickly got back onto the career path that I wanted. Life seemed to go that way for a number of years with my mistakes never actually causing me – or, more importantly, my family – any real harm.
A few years ago, however, after increasing concern from my wife forced the issue, I looked in the mirror. I was a good dad, a good husband, a good provider, and a total mess. I had completely gone to seed and I was clearly not taking care of myself. Reluctantly, I admitted that I had not been to a doctor or a real dentist in years. I was overweight and my skin was grey and I knew that if I did not do something soon, I would not live very deep into middle age and I would not make it to old age.
I did go to the doctor and to the dentist. In brief, I was 100 pounds overweight, diabetic and had high cholesterol. I also had a pre-melanoma which, if left untreated, would eventually turn into skin cancer. My gums were receding and I had the first cavity of my life. I was shocked to the point of action and the sad reality was that I had brought all of my problems on myself by ignoring the care of my own body. In the end, my mistakes may ultimately cost me time on this planet, and they certainly cost me a lot of money as the dozens of medical and dental appointments that I have had in the past 4 years all come with costs.
Not all medical conditions can be avoided through behavioral change, but for adult men, behavior can help to prevent a lot of preventable conditions and the earlier in life healthy habits are adopted, the more money a man can save and the more time a man can preserve. If you are a man, you should seriously consider the following advice. If you are a woman, you should encourage the men you love to consider the following. I wish I had done so at an earlier age.
See Your General Practitioner at Least Annually
As a child, my parents took me to see Dr. McDonald every August before school started. For some reason, when I turned 16, I was set free from that obligation, but no one suggested that I should find an adult doctor. I was fine for a number of years. Before I got married, I had ample time to ride my bike. I stayed slim. After I got married and graduated from law school, however, my weight began rising at an alarming rate. From 1995 to 2003, I grew from 205 pounds to 275 pounds. Had someone tattooed “Goodyear” on my torso, it would have been quite appropriate.
In 2003, I went for a long overdue physical. Thanks to my weight, I was diabetic and I had high cholesterol. I also had lower back pain which was associated with my weight. I began to diet and exercise and, after four years of effort, finally had lost 80 pounds. My medical conditions were substantially in check, thanks to the weight loss and changes in my diet. I hope they will stay that way.
Despite my improved health now, I still have to kick myself for letting my health go in the first place. I was very healthy 15 years ago. If I am less so now, it is because I did not take care of myself and allowed my body to get seriously overweight. I was also foolish to stay away from the doctor for so long, because regular blood tests might have alerted me to my decline much earlier.
Had I paid attention to my health much earlier in life, I would have avoided a huge number of co-payments for doctors and prescriptions and I would have found myself to be a much healthier man in middle age. Ultimately, my laziness cost me a lot of money. I can only hope that it did not cost me years off of my life expectancy.
Wear Sunscreen and have your Body Checked for Skin Cancer Annually
I have a dark complexion. My mother is French and English. My father’s family left Lebanon sometime around 1900. (According to family tradition, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather eloped on a camel across the desert to begin their trek to America.) In any event, I was convinced that with that background, I did not have to worry about skin cancer. No one in my family had ever had skin cancer and I was not going to break that tradition.
I was wrong. After years of walking around without sunscreen or wearing protective clothing, I unexpectedly found myself at a dermatologist’s office. The dermatologist suggested he give me a quick check for any strange marks. I said sure. He paused at 5 strange markings on my body and circled them. He then took tissue samples and had them biopsied. Four of the biopsies were negative. The 5th indicated a pre-melanoma. If I did not have it excised, I would have skin cancer in about ten years, maybe less.
I now have a scar on my shoulder where the pre-melanoma was removed. It is a good reminder whenever I take off my shirt. It tells me to wear sunscreen and to try to wear a hat when I go outside. My other reminder is the co-pay that I shall have to pay every six months for the rest of my life when I go to the dermatologist for a semi-annual screening.
I do not know that I could have avoided getting a pre-melanoma. I never will know for sure. That said, I do know that by using sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing when I go out in the sun, I might have prevented it.
Go the Dentist at Least Twice per Year
My dad retired as a dentist in 1989. I did not go to a dentist again until 2005. Don’t get me wrong – I still brushed my teeth twice a day (most days) and I used a lot of mouthwash. I also drank about 16,000 gallons of tea and coffee. My teeth were yellowing and plaque was building up. When I finally went to the dentist, I had to go for two cleanings in one week. I then had to go back for a filling and other procedures. I have my mouth under control now but I came within a few years of losing a lot of my teeth to gum disease. It does not take much effort to go to the dentist. If I had not exerted that effort when I did, my smile would have shown a lot of artificial teeth by now! (And it goes without saying, brush twice a day and floss regularly!)
See the Specialists You Need to See
The first doctor that I finally went to see was a colon and rectal surgeon because my family has a history of colon cancer. I had my first colonoscopy in 2003 and more than a dozen polyps (benign) were removed. Since then I have had three more colonoscopies and each time, more polyps have been taken out. If you know that you have a family history of colon cancer, go to a colon and rectal surgeon (or a gastroenterologist) early in your adulthood so that you can plan for how you will police your own colon. If you have family members with other conditions that you might share, go see the specialist that can treat that condition as well. Medical science can keep you healthy for a long time but your doctors cannot help you if you do not go to see them.
There are a lot of reasons that I found not to exercise when my kids were young. I found still more when my kids were teens. When I finally started to have time, in my mind, to exercise, I was brittle and less agile than my father who was in his 80’s at the time. I have since resumed exercising and, although I will never recover the form of my youth, I do find that I can pedal my bike a good distance and not lose my breath and I can lift weights without fear of tearing a muscle.
Of course, if I had taken 30 minutes a day to exercise during all of the years that I found excuses, I probably would never have gained all of the weight that I gained and I would not have brought on the various medical conditions that I faced. I do get exercise now and I feel better for it. I only regret that I did not ride my bike or go to the gym for all of my adult life.
I have been a vegetarian since I was 16. Nevertheless, I managed to pack on pounds without difficulty. Pizza and ice cream have no meat in them (at least not of necessity) but they add carbohydrates that went straight to my midsection. As a friend once commented to me, they feed livestock grain to fatten them so it stands to reason that the same would apply to me.
I also drank far too much caffeine. Last year, after I thought I had corrected all of my bad habits, my doctor asked me about caffeine intake. I told him how much coffee and tea I was drinking and he was stunned. After a pause he told me that I was drinking enough caffeine each day that it would be a lethal dose for a lot of people. Among other things, I learned that my caffeine was probably increasing my diabetic condition.
Now I drink decaffeinated coffee and tea (unless I really, really need to wake myself up) and I eat a lot of fruits (instead of bread products). I know the fruits have sugars but they fill me up faster and leave me feeling full longer, so I eat less.
Use Common Sense
Health columns often go off the deep end when they explain the ways that you can be healthy. If you try to follow all of the advice that you receive, you will either give up in frustration or lose your mind. All of the years that I was not taking care of myself, I knew it. I did not need a magazine to tell me what I was doing wrong. Neither do you.
You know what you should be doing so you just need to start doing what you know is best. You will be happier for it and you will save a lot of money in trips to the doctor that you do not need to take. You will also be able to take your vacation days for R&R and not for medical procedures that could have been avoided. In addition, you will cut down on your health insurance costs. More importantly, you will feel better and live longer.
Image courtesy of BostonTx