Andersen: Aging with health in mind
“How do you define good health?” the nurse asked while checking my blood pressure, heart rate, temperature and weight. It’s not the usual question you get at a doctor’s office, but then, I don’t go to my doctor because he’s usual.
Good health is holistic, I answered. Good health is strength in body, mind and spirit. Good health is balance.
“That’s a good answer,” she said, noting that my vital signs are strong for a guy just three weeks shy of 64.
“I want to keep it that way,” I vowed, pledging to myself to allow vitality, thriving and elation into my life by fueling a burning spirit with eagerness for living.
My doctor sees health in much the same way. During a checkup, he studies me with a practiced appraisal, like a used-car dealer evaluating a vintage model with a knowing glance at the body and a look under the hood.
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I was seeing my doctor because of high cholesterol that showed up in my blood work at a recent senior health fair. If you are cavalier about your health, go to a senior health fair for a glimpse of mortality; a look at “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
As the years pass, more and more of the aged are my peers, and they are not the only ones aging. If I ever have any doubts about that, a glance in the mirror sets me straight.
My cholesterol was borderline high-risk, so I met with my doctor, Glenn Kotz, to take a decisive course of action. As a physician who practices holistic, integrated medicine, and as a professional athlete, I knew Kotz would give me the best set of options. I had already taken a major first step: I stopped eating chocolate cake.
Despite a lifelong craving for double-chocolate layer cake with creamy frosting, I quit. I also stopped eating potato chips, bacon, sausage, burgers, pizza and other comfort foods that were no longer giving me comfort.
I hadn’t been gorging like Jabba the Hut, but I was enjoying these temptations of the American diet a little too much, and I did so with a cavalier attitude of invulnerability.
It had long been my assumption that a rigorous, active life would burn up a cheeseburger and fries like an industrial incinerator. Wrongo! Cholesterol accrues over time, like bad debts.
I had reason for complacency based on a carotid arterial scan done four years ago that revealed I had the arteries of a 38-year-old. At that time I was 60, and I saw myself living a vital life to 100. I thought I could have my chocolate cake and eat it, too.
Kotz promptly ordered a new arterial scan, which I feared would picture my carotid artery like a kitchen drain choked with grease. There’s no Drano for the arterial system, and I didn’t want a life sentence on meds from Big Pharma, so I was a bit anxious about the results.
To my relief, the new scan gave me another a clean bill of health — no blockage, no plaque. It said I have the arteries of a 41-year-old. So I shook the doctor’s hand, ran out to the closest burger joint, gorged on a huge combination plate, washed it down with a malt and followed up with a huge wedge of chocolate cake — nawwww!
Instead, my doctor and I talked about long-term strategies for sustainable vitality, for the kind of fitness I want to maintain well into my 70s, for a safety valve on stress and for a conscious life of self-directed health — sans meds.
I’m still completely medication-free because my doctor prefers not to prescribe for symptoms but rather to proactively address causes, most of which I hope to control on my own.
I left my appointment feeling more healthy than ever, not just because of a good report and healthy vitals but because of a definition of good health that includes appropriate choices, personal commitment and a doctor who cares.
Now if I can just avoid getting run down by a bus I might just make that centennial birthday.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Monday. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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