I flinched as the nurse slid that long needle into my arm. She smiled and said, “OK, we’re done. The doctor will have the lab results tomorrow before your physical exam.”
I walked out of the office with a pink strap holding a piece of gauze against my wounded vein. I was confident that I would get a clean bill of health when I followed up with the doctor the next day.
For years, I’d led an active lifestyle — running or cycling four or five days a week, eating sensibly and taking pride in the fact that compared to other 60-year-olds, I was in great shape.
During my visit with my doctor, he opened my lab results on his computer and scrolled up and down for a few moments while studying the list of test results. He turned in his chair and furrowed his brow, “Tres,” he began, “what’s happened to you? Your blood pressure is 160/98, way too high. Your HDL’s are too low and your LDL’s are much higher than they should be. What’s going on? You are normally in great shape.”
We reviewed where my numbers should be and what I needed to do to reverse where they currently were. He looked at me and said, “You’ve got three months to get things in order or we’ll need to start you on some medication.” The thought of taking pills to achieve something that had always been a by-product of a healthy lifestyle was appalling to me.
I walked out of the office stunned. High blood pressure? High cholesterol? My life had been too busy and stressful during the year: long hours in the clinic, teaching two nights a week at a nearby university and I had just finished the edits on a book that was to be published in a few months. It had all taken a toll on my health.
After thinking it over, I realized that without being aware I had let things slip. Exercise, which had been a regular part of my routine, was relegated to no more than two days a week for about an hour. My eating habits had suffered as well. What had been a conscious effort to eat proper portions of healthy food had been replaced by “grab something fast and eat it before I had something else to do.”
Winter time had taken the greatest toll on my health. When it’s cold outside, it’s hard to ride a bike or get out and run. Living in Utah, the weather inversions we have each winter make the air unhealthy to breathe, especially when you are gulping down a lungful during exercise. Sitting on a trainer or stationary bike indoors for two or three hours at a time is at best an exercise in drudgery.
So it’s a new year and a new plan. I haven’t been teaching night classes this year. I’ve been pretty good with exercise so far: three days a week for one to two hours on my bike, keeping my heart rate elevated and riding hard.
My diet is better now that I don’t have to dash off to class in the evenings. I’m drinking a smoothie every day for breakfast and lunch followed by a Clif Bar, which holds me until I get home for an early dinner and a healthy snack before bed. I checked my blood pressure last week, it was 116/72, much better. I'm sure my family will be glad that I'm healthier and able to be around longer.
If you find yourself wanting to do something to improve your health, register for a walk, race or ride. It doesn’t have to be long if you are just getting started, but let it be enough of a challenge to keep you motivated during the short days and cold nights of winter. And if anyone is asking, yes, I think being fit is worth the sweat.