Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All we have to fear is fear ...

A few years before I became a senior citizen (I detest that term), I thought about all the times I would read tips to prevent diseases that target the elderly (a term I detest even more). Each article made me feel more guilty because I wasn’t eating right, exercising enough—or at all—or sleeping the recommended seven or eight hours. “I’ll start soon,” I told myself. “I’ll make sure I change my habits when I get old enough to worry about them.”

And then more birthdays came and went. I knew I couldn’t postpone my lifestyle makeover any longer. Almost overnight, I made changes—motivated not by common sense, but by fear: Fear of a heart attack, stroke, sudden death, or—shudder—dementia. The fact that my bad cholesterol level and blood pressure began rising was a strong motivator too.

I cut back on saturated fats, even completely eliminated trans fats before the onslaught of products touting “No trans fats!” hit the shelves. I started reading the sodium content on nutrition labels and could no longer buy a can of soup with over 500 mg. I joined a gym and manage to go there twice a week. I added some whole grains to my meals and am slowly getting used to them. (Buckwheat pancakes are an exception.) Besides sticking my tongue out at The Grim Reaper, I lost 12 pounds and dropped a pants size!

Practically, I know that if I had started this regimen earlier, I would have gained that much more of an advantage over the evils of senior ailments. But I didn’t, and I can’t look back. No, the fear of getting something labeled “usually striking people over 65,” has not disappeared. It still pokes me occasionally, especially when I read an obituary for someone my age or hear about a friend of a friend who’s had a massive stroke. But now I can tell myself that I’m (usually) doing the best I can to prevent it. That’s a relief. Except when I have a strange shooting pain in the middle of the night…

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