For all the miracles of creation and the marvels of bioengineering they represent, our bodies collude with the laws of physics to kill us.
Gravity drags us down, and our bodies sag and creak and wear out the padding from between our bony joints. Our skin joyfully produces vitamin D in response to sunlight, and then turns on us by wrinkling and cancering. We wear and tear like vintage cars, only the replacement parts are far more expensive and more painful to fix.
The U.S. Census Bureau says middle age is 45 to 54, so I’m smack in the midst of it. That means the conspiracy of time and the elements is just getting cranked up.
A little more than a year ago, after long practicing an exercise regimen that consisted of weekday television and weekend yard work, I received a reality check from a very sweet technician at Shepeard Community Blood Center.
As I was preparing to donate blood, something I’d done enough times to earn multiple-gallon pins, she checked my blood pressure and told me it was too high.
That was puzzling. I’d never had problems with blood pressure before. Maybe it’s just a temporary thing, she said; extra stress? (always); rushed to come in from the hot parking lot? (probably). Just get a cool drink, sit over there a few minutes and we’ll check again, she said.
It didn’t help. After a recheck, it was still far too high to allow me to donate. “You should probably go to the doctor,” she suggested.
It was embarrassing to slink out the door with my arm unpunctured, leaving behind the free Chick-Fil-A lunch they offered me as a consolation.
Soon I got a physical, with the doctor confirming my dangerously high blood pressure along with warning signs of heart damage. He put me on medicine to control it; I didn’t like the idea of that long-term and asked if losing weight would help. Absolutely, he said, and gave me a simple weight-loss trick.
It’s the secret all you frustrated dieters have been looking for:
Eat less. Exercise more.
Miraculous, simple and effective.
But your body continues to conspire against you. Lose weight too quickly, as my doctor pointed out after I dropped 10 pounds in about three weeks, and your body will go into survival mode and slow its metabolism. That makes weight gain rebound more likely. Instead, he said, lose no more than a couple of pounds per week.
Even then, your body still has tricks to play. A recent study showed that for weight loss to be effective, you need to keep the weight off for more than a year. Otherwise, your body never readjusts to the new weight, and will just load the pounds back on as soon as your habits slack off.
Done and done. A year has passed since that failure at the blood drive, and I’ve since managed to take off enough weight that my doctor told me I don’t need to lose more. Along with that, I dialed up the exercise level from sedentary to steady, and now run 3 to 5 miles three times per week.
It’s nice to now hear my doctor tell me I’m in better health than in at least 10 years. So why am I now recuperating at home from surgery?
Among the ticking time bombs our bodies carry, one is a common weakness of men’s abdominal muscles. We get a tear, our intestines pop out of the hole, we die. Or something similar.
To prevent that from happening, a surgeon cuts a few holes and arthroscopically feeds in a piece of plastic mesh to seal the tear. Then he sews up the holes he made to feed in the instruments, stitches you up and sends you home with instructions to lie still for a few days.
That “lie still” part for me probably will be harder than the healing – especially now that I’m near-phobic about returning to a sedentary lifestyle. Hopefully my scheming body won’t take the forced rest as a cue to lull me into slow death by TV remote.
Even so, I’m taking all of this as good news, for two reasons:
1. Despite my minor setback, I have friends with health challenges far more serious than anything I’ve ever remotely faced. I’m getting a hernia stitched; they’re worried about cancer and heart transplants. I wouldn’t dare think of complaining.
2. Once everything’s done I’ll be able to donate blood again, which in turn will help those people with far more serious health challenges.
If you’ve got wealth, share it by donating to causes that help those in need. Likewise, if you have health, share it by donating blood for those who must have it.
Meanwhile, it’s time to recuperate. There are many more miles to run before the conspiracy, ultimately, succeeds.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)