53 Is The New 38

belly photo“Middle Age is where your broad mind and your narrow waist begin to change places.” – John Crossman

I never really took a regular medication for a condition before I was in my forties. My mother did not believe in pills. She was one part Christian Scientist and two parts Inuit Darwinist subscribing to the notion that sick children, like old people, should be just set outside the igloo at night and if they were still alive in the morning, they were allowed to rejoin the family. Illness and chronic conditions were things that plagued other people, like old man Norton who lived across the street. At 85, he suffered from heart failure and diabetes and it seemed like every other week they were lopping off one of his appendages as a sort of burnt offering to his disease. It was a preview of a movie I hoped to never see.

As a kid, you averted your eyes from the vagaries of aging, not so much out of denial but out of some misguided sense that old age only happened to other people. Deep down, you knew it would be waiting for you, like that German Shepherd that sometimes chased you on your bike.  On sunny afternoons, I occasionally glimpsed Mr. Norton and he would wave to me from his wheel chair – all two arms, one foot and a half leg. It freaked me out and I made a pact that I would never succumb to old age. I would cheat it and commit to a life either so reckless or physically vigorous that chronic disease would simply shrug and pass me by. I would go out in a flash, perhaps spontaneously combusting on a rock and roll stage or slowly asphyxiating on the side of Mount Everest after rescuing a dozen Sherpas trapped inside a crevasse on the Khombu Icefall.

Despite my best efforts to remain a juvenile, middle age finally collared me. I am now bemused by my own denial – a self deception that seeps in like lugubrious fog obscuring moments of self reflection. I prefer to see myself in a certain light and favor friendships with people who conserve electricity — their “energy-saver” bulbs have a sort of muted Blanche Dubois quality that fails to expose my true age. I prefer pleats, spandex, “comfortable” levis, and larger versions of everything. I wear my shirt outside my pants and tend to avoid stripes which turn me into a large Faberge egg. My wedding day 33” inch waist has eroded like a Florida sinkhole, widening to 38”, a metric that is really only meant to define the circumference of old trees and an athlete’s vertical leap at a football combine. A protective shell has formed near the top of my solar plexus. It feels like a muscle but I am being told it is fat — presumably being stored in the event the Food Emporium ever goes on strike.

Global warming has begun. The canard that only women get hot flashes could not be less accurate. When you are large and in charge, you feel warm all the time. In a single winter day, you are both sweating and freezing as you go from windy, frigid streets to offices hotter than an Indian sweat lodge. In summer, you advocate the notion that thermometers should be calibrated by weight not by temperature as you would prefer to set the air conditioner to a cool 235 pounds each night instead of the balmy 105, favored by your wife who has not gained a pound across three children, two continents and a quarter century.

You start driving a nice sports car because it reminds you of a time when you could sit comfortably in the middle seat of an airplane and not feel like a human smore. People start to whisper when they see your new ride, “Tsk, tsk. He’s having a middle-aged crisis”. Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that in 1986 when I did look good enough to actually drive my own convertible, I did not have two dimes to rub together and drove a puke green Renault Alliance that not unlike the French, would routinely sit down in the middle of a job and go on strike. We sports car drivers are not compensating for anything. We’re just enjoying the fruits of our hard labor and perhaps hoping not to be as invisible as we feel.

At 53, the body starts paying you back. The knees went first. Years of sports and running coupled with a pathetic version of stretching that involved making one effort to briefly touch my toes, gave me a bulging disc and hamstrings as tight as a cat-gut mandolin. The shoulders followed. Years in the weight room with poor technique, a mediocre baseball career as well as annual trips to the emergency room after countless injuries in Turkey Bowl football games, rewarded me with clicking joints reminiscent of a playing card hitting the spokes of a bicycle tire.

The latest manifestation of mortal decline occurred at Halloween while sucking on one of the many Tootsie Pops that I appropriated from my youngest son informing him that he must pay “a toll to the troll’.   He might as well get used to being taxed now. As I succumbed to the inevitable urge to bite the hard candy, my right molar broke off like the Antarctic Ice Shelf. It would turn out to be an $1100 piece of candy and the birth place of my first crown. Thinking back, I’m sure old man Norton had his fair share of crowns but I had always assumed my teeth would be indestructible – at least I thought so in college when we opened beer bottles with them.

Middle Age now means moderation – another profane word. The whole diet thing is a touchy subject in any marriage where there is a weight imbalance. Yet, she tolerates me and often travels great verbal distances to find just the right word for self improvement. I listen in amusement wondering how my spouse might segue from ISIS to my losing ten pounds. It’s diplomatic genius. She ought to work in the UN. She uses code words to hint at lack of restraint – patronizing placeholders like “ healthy”, “balanced” and my favorite “portion control”.

Gratefully, the dog does not seem perturbed by my slow disintegration. He moves at my speed – an adoring shadow that has fallen in love with my insides and considers my outsides, merely a coat of extra fur. The dog and I agree on the true definition of “portion control”: eat until you are going to be sick. Normally, when he overeats, he goes outside, munches on some grass, returns and throws it all up on a nice rug. I just lie down and moan, informing my wife that I think I have the stomach flu. Meanwhile my son comes in the room to incredulously ask, “who ate all the cupcakes?” I try to blame the dog but he is in the other room throwing up grass.

I am suddenly noticing now that everything in the fridge is “low fat”. I search for sweets at midnight and the cupboards are filled with healthy things like nuts, dates and dried apricots. This is no longer my house, it’s a spice market in Baghdad. I search her favorite hiding places including the most clever default– the microwave. I am mildly insulted at our passive aggressive war of weight and wits – but hey, game on. She is Holmes and I am her arch enemy Professor More For Me. The dinners are very healthy with portions smaller than a French restaurant. Like Oliver Twist, I keep waiting for seconds but she has cleverly prepared only enough for one serving. “More? You want…more?!”

It’s not like I don’t try. The problem is the majority of calories I consume occur between 7PM and midnight. Night eating is a problem. It hits every man — the day arrives where you go to bed on a full stomach and wake up coughing with the sensation of napalm in your throat. My first thought was I was turning into a dragon and that perhaps I just needed to light a match to give birth to the fire in my esophagus. The next thing I know I am exchanging proton pump inhibitors like Zantac and Nexium with another middle aged stranger in a late night diner like a couple of crack heads.

Family photos also become an issue. It’s always subtle – one of your kids or your wife will say, “Here’s a good one of you, Dad!” with profound encouragement. This is code for you look like the Hindenburg or a human manatee in most of these shots but this photo (where we can’t see your face), may meet your denial criteria. I now find myself fighting over Christmas photos more than the kids. “Jesus, if you are going to use that one, at least tell everyone my due date.” “Oh great, we don’t need to tell them where this was taken because from this angle, I look like Asia Minor.” In the end, we decide to feature only kids and I finally concede to one couples photo that will be on the inside of the card. She looks great and in this one I look young enough that at least anyone who does not know us will assume she is my second wife and not my daughter.

I can almost hear the Christmas Card comments, “Wow, she looks great!” Pause. “ And he looks…um, prosperous!” The absence of praise should be construed as criticism. Yes, 53 has become the new 38. 38’s are everywhere: 38” waists, a maximum of 38 push-ups, 38 minutes jogging before the knee feels like you have been swatted by Malaysian riot police, 38 ways to hear someone say, “I would not wear that if I were you.”

Life has turned quickly from “do’s” to “don’ts”. The new regulations: Don’t eat fatty foods. Don’t eat after 7pm. Don’t eat meat, Don’t eat fat. Don’t eat refined sugar. Don’t eat gluten. ( I’d actually like an extra helping of gluten please, waitress and can you fry it into a little fritter so I can drizzle honey on it?”

It’s a losing battle in a three front war – with those who conspire to fix me, with my own lack of restraint and with Father Time. Winter is coming and the stakes are increasing.

Did someone say, “steaks”?

Sullen, dreary, dark shadow afternoons. Cold front door mornings that slap like a locker room towel and the endless layers of clothes thick enough to hide a rocket launcher. Comfort foods abound and whisper – hearty soups, breads, pastas, cookies — a universe of simple and complex carbohydrates designed to raise your blood sugar and your mood. It is a never ending battle between good and non fat.

At 53, my superhero outfit is a little tight. I think I popped a button off my lederhosen but its my job to be a “roll” model for other middle aged manatees. You want us on that wall. You need us on that wall. We just all can’t climb up on it at the same time or it might break. We have our purpose. We make the skinny people feel good and aren’t afraid to be the “before” picture in some ad touting self improvement. But inside our 38’s, we’re 33’s busting to get out. We need a little more restraint, a little more sunshine, a vanity based event like a wedding, reunion or family vacation where posing for a photo or removing one’s shirt is a requirement to keep us on the straight and calorie free path. It’s not too late. You may be middle aged but inside your fifty-three is a thirty-eight and underneath that it is a thirty-three. You know, sort of like a burrito. Yeah, that’s it.

Man, I’m hungry.

Walking Before You Run

Walking Before You Run

 

I like to run.  I suppose it is really jogging since two guys pushing a car once actually passed me on Weed Street.  Suffice to say, it is movement beyond walking.  My gait resembles a hobbled horse and at night, my hulking silhouette sometimes causes oncoming cars to swerve. “Good God, Sue, what the hell was that?”  For all I know, I could have been mistaken for the bear haunting the hollows of Lost District last year. 

 

While my “prosperous” physique seems inconsistent with my exercise regimen, the fact is jogging has been an important thread in the fabric of my life.  The fact that I even admit this is quite the revelation since the first 20 years of my life had me gravitating toward any activity that involved the least amount of physical exertion possible.  In Southern California, there were no curling teams or chess clubs so I chose baseball as it seemed a sport with a lot of standing, sitting and the occasional ninety foot run if you were lucky enough to hit the ball.  Players like Boog Powell, Willie Stargell and Tony Gwynn waddled their ways around the bases and into the Hall of Fame. These beefy bombers were my heroes.  They clearly preferred Sprites over sprints.

 

In a weak moment of bravado, I consented to play Pop Warner football. It was Dante’s Inferno – each day a virtual Bataan Death March with two a day practices in smog and heat that would have me literally dry heaving – – before even arriving at practice.  No place was safe from activity.  In school PE, we had a day a week where we had to run a timed mile.  24 hours prior to the weekly “600s”, I developed a series of mysterious ailments that would defy logic, my parents and our pediatrician.  Within 48 hours, the symptoms would lift miraculously as if I had drank water from the grotto at Lourdes.  There were times when I simply could not avoid the hell run hosted by our PE teacher “Herr” Stebben, whose Leroy Neiman moustache would twitch with sadistic anticipation as the herd of shuffling seventh graders moved in a great dust cloud for the first of three 600 yard laps around the school.  At the far end of the baseball field was an equipment/scorer shack where the running rejects would hide like Christians in the catacombs bonded by a physical aversion to exercise. Like Rosie Ruiz, our plan was to rejoin the third and final lap and claim victory.  It was in this dingy garret that my blood brothers in lethargy and I would tell whopping lies about our prowess in sports and with girls. 

 

Baseball eventually betrayed me and became more physically taxing in high school.  I was so optimistic with the advent of the designated hitter.  No fielding, just hitting and sitting.  Unfortunately, our coach was a fan of the National League.  We ran wind sprints and engaged in endless base stealing drills.  Given that I had the mobility of a house plant, I played first base.  This carried to college where I was switched to third, an equally immobile position, and dubbed “The Turtle “ for my cat like reflexes.  I remained inspired by such physically fit pro players as a young David Wells, Cecil Fielder and Gorman Thomas.

 

Upon graduation I met and fell in love with a woman who had run practically every day of her life since the age of 12.  Her father had calves the size of Popeye and a six miler was routine to start a Saturday.  On our first date she suggested we run a few miles and I eagerly agreed without any hesitation.  Within a half mile, my lips were purple and I had gone five shades of gray.  “Are you ok?”,she asked putting a hand on my shoulder. 

“Fine” was all I could chirp for fear of hurling my breakfast all over her. Another mile and I suggested we stop while I use the bathroom where I promptly threw up.  I awoke the next day with sensations not unlike the bubonic plague and knots in my hamstrings like the rubber bands on a wooden glider. Yet, I kept with it and running became my primary means of exercise as I traveled on work and vacation.  I dropped 30lbs and started to run 10Ks and half marathons.  Ever the balanced, moderate person, I would get up at 4am to be sure I could get in my run.  I would feel so alive, intoxicated by endorphins, as I navigated dimly lit residential streets dodging dogs, trash collectors and the occasional flying newspaper.  I had become what I used to despise – – a runner. 

 

While living in Europe, jogging gave me a deeper appreciation for the cities where I was conducting business.  I had a favorite running route in Barcelona down the Rambla and across the marina to the beachfront and on to the Olympic Village.  The route returned through narrow alleys and ancient streets through the Jewish quarter and spilled onto the Plaza Catalunya.  Madrid’s Parque Retiro was lined with great shaded elms and a sanctuary to jog at dusk as generations of family members would walk arm in arm.  The pace of Spain reminded you that you need not always be in such a hurry.  Rome was a death defying chaotic ballet as you navigated Vespas, cars and trucks, swirling like mosquitoes.  You course through the bucolic Villa Borghese, winding down to the Spanish Steps and finish triumphant at the Forum.  Paris is remembered as a chilled winter jog across the Trocadero and down to stand under the Tour Eiffel, watching steam rise from your body as the colored lights danced up and down the great Tower. Istanbul was a cacophony of honking horns, traffic, staring people and motorcycles.  It always felt as if I was wearing a giant sandwich board saying, “ Hi, I am soooo foreign. I would make a great hostage”. 

 

In London, the short winter days had me running at night and invariably, into the wild, Wimbledon Common that transformed from peaceful oasis by day to malevolent woods after dark.  A particularly gruesome murder had occurred years back on the Common and its memory lingered like a black fog and became the stuff of local legend. The suspect who was identified but never convicted was rumored to still be living in a flat adjacent to the running trails.  I remember jumping about ten feet in the air whenever a spectral squirrel or sinister rabbit would cut across my path.  I am ashamed to admit that on one highly paranoid night, I grabbed a six foot branch and ran with it like a jousting ram ( I assume in hopes that a would be pursuer might actually attempt to assault me from the front and in doing so, I could skewer them)   After running a half mile with the medieval weapon, I fell out of the woods exhausted near the Fox and Grapes pub where three young men looked at me as I stumbled, gasping for air holding my giant stick.  “Right” was all they said.

 

These days, my jogs are half runs and the occasionally bout of walking.  Spies routinely report me to my spouse by innocently saying, “I saw your husband out walking today”.  “Walking?” she would say and then I get that disappointed “you lazy man” look. Alas, my cadence has changed from thoroughbred to Clydesdale.  Yet, there are times, when the knees stop hurting and the hip is not acting up, when I find myself in that perfect zone.  A song by Blind Melon comes on the old iPod and I am suddenly flying along narrow country roads lined by ancient stone walls and sequined ponds.  The wind whips up and hints that something exciting is on its way.  I stop and soak it all in – – walking slowly, breathing deeply and enjoying the moment.  A car approaches from the west and veers slightly to pass as I stroll basking in my solitude.  The driver recognizes me and honks a greeting.  

 

Shoot!  I think they saw me walking….  

The Hulk

The Hulk

 

At a prepubescent 10 years old, I happily still sported baby fat and had no issues with my body image.  My innocent lack of self consciousness was shattered one fateful summer afternoon at the local community pool when it became very obvious to me that my breasts were larger than the 16 year old female lifeguard who I secretly admired.  Like Adam and Eve after eating the apple, I was suddenly aware of my pear-like physique. I could not deny other signs of my flagging vitality. The annual Presidential Fitness Test that was visited upon elementary school coach potatoes each fall was an embarrassing reminder that I did not possess the ” right stuff”.  The test revealed in a very public setting my most carefully guarded secret : I could not do a pull up. My inability to hoist my 130 lb, 5′ body over a metal bar that was less than 18 inches above my chin, was devastating.

 

My thirst for strength and fitness led me into an amusing phase of self obsession.  I became keenly aware of physically fit athletes.  I  marvelled at Olympian weight lifters.  I obsessed over the Mr Universe contests as Austrian Schwartzenegger and American Lou Ferrigno competed for the most perfect body.   I worshipped NFL defensive giants Deacon Jones, Mean Joe Greene and Dick Butkis as they prowled offensive backfields breaking quarterbacks like dry kindling.  In Pro Wrestling, Freddy Blassy epitomized the brash bravado that came with pectoral muscles.  He denounced all “pencil neck geeks” and made it clear that no bully would kick sand in your face if you were sporting biceps that could crush walnuts.

 

As with many seemingly benign adolescent obsessions, there was a dark secret leavened in with my enthusiasm, energy and determination. This closet shame led me to develop a secret gymnasium in our garage – fashioning weights from paint cans and broken rakes, dumbbells from sledgehammers and a pull up bar from a spare curtain rod.  My first workout was a train wreck as my 50lb bench press of paint cans slid off my makeshift bar and dented my Mom’s Ford Pinto.  I attempted a bicep curl with the hammer and dropped it over my back, barely missing my dog Max who had come to watch my covert self improvement with confused amusement.  He fled the garage yelping.  The final indignity was taking the spare curtain rod and fixing it between the beams of the garage rafters.  The wooden ladder creaked mockingly as I climbed to attempt my private chin up.   I grasped the narrow rod and hung for a moment in the air.  I squeezed every ounce of energy from my arms, arching my back  whipping my legs for momentum.  The rod bowed for a moment and then slowly lifted me to eye ball level.  My first pull up was within my grasp. I strained and heaved. I did not notice the strain on the metal until it snapped, catapulting me into a lawnmower which ripped a foot long tear in my new levis. The mower’s leaf catch was crumpled beyond repair as was my fragile ego. I was convinced that I was forever ” fat boy”.

 

Years later, despite stretching to 6′ 2″ and playing competitive sports at all levels, I still winced at those memories like a loose rock in my shoe.  Like so many paintings in the private galleries of our lives, we sometimes circle back to complete unfinished works.  At 43, I decided to reattempt body building in hopes of defying nature, gravity and Kelloggs food products.  As with all my obsessions, I attacked my new regimen with relentless gusto. I did not realize it but excessive weight lifting does odd things to a person’s body.  New muscles appear in unintended places.  The odd hump forms on your right shoulder.  Success is very uneven. New undiagnosed aches and pains play tricks on your mind.  Clothes do not fit.  Buttons pop off pants and dress shirts at an alarming rate. Yet, despite the Kafkaesque symptoms, everything feels a little more in control.  Your inner twenty-something begins to stir but struggles to escape its forty something prison of padding.

 

I found myself at the Fitness Club of New Canaan every day. I bought a lycra garment that squeezed me tighter than an English sausage.  I fell deeper into the abyss of self obsession. On business trips I found myself asking if the hotel fitness center had free weights.  On vacation, I would scour the area for the only gym within 100 miles the way others drive for hours trying to find an espresso drink in the Adirondacks. I was hooked.

 

I began to feed the obsession buying shirts one size too small. This fashion detour caused my spouse to wince with embarrassment. “It’s just a phase,” she kept repeating.  Despite my promotion back to size LG shirts, she continued to buy me XL clothing.  Did she not see what was happening to me ?  The guns ?  The pecs? The hump on my back ? I sensed her distain for my new found passion but ignored it figuring it could be worse.  I just knew that if I kept up my routine, it would be impossible for her to mock me with here black belt diminutives.  I was not lifting “little” weights at a “little gym”.  I was no longer a “little” obsessed. Nothing about weight lifting is small.  It is big.  You are big.  Everyone should be big.

  

I wanted to be even bigger. I was too afraid to try steroids as they were a) illegal, b) known to cause severe health problems and c) drive you insane once you run out of things to lift.  All I could think about was what were these exercise leviathans in Flex magazine eating and where could I get some of it.  If I could replicate their diets, I would be flexing well into my 90’s. It was on a routine visit to a fitness club retail store that I got my answer and had my eyes opened to a vast universe of nutritional supplements. As I walked the aisle of power powders and amino aids. I was confronted with grand promises and testimonials to the ultimate power of these products.

 

The first row of items trumpeted the amazing powers of whey.  What the heck was whey ? Didn’t Little Miss Muffet eat the stuff ?  Perhaps, if she had just eaten “Mega Isolate High Performance Whey” or Whebolic” she would have smashed that intrepid anachronid while in a whey rage and then followed his drooping silk thread back to wipe out his 2000 other family members.  There was an entire shelf of items that should be regulated  by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Musl Blast clearly targeted extreme athletes and soldiers of fortune. After two scoops of their powdered stimulant I could be a rippling machine of destruction,  climbing Mt Everest in the morning and perhaps toppling an Asian junta in the afternoon.

 

Nitro protein drink should be illegal in 12 countries.  It’s explosive combination of natural and synthetic supplements can transform even the meekest of weaklings into a time bomb of testosterone. This lean muscle maximizer utilizes Chernobyl strength doses of protein and induces anabolic insulin production for maximum creatine saturation.  Wow! I want that. Each serving is the nutritional equivalent of eating nine bison. Freak Fix, Pit Bull and Anabolic OD were my favorites.  I mean we’re all adults here. You are a freak and you need a fix. Drink this and go personally move your house to that new lot on Weed Street or get picked up by the police for chasing a UPS delivery truck. It’s your life.

 

At this point, I was becoming a supplement junkie in a creatine haze. I then had my moment of clarity.  The obsession with weights stemmed from my inability to do one stupid, lousy pull up.  I drove home and grabbed the chin bar that regularly bumped my head as I entered my son’s room.  I hung low and hesitated.  My body started to raise. The biceps strained and my back arched. My chin rose above the metal finish line and a lifetime of “fatboys” fell away.

 

Somewhere in the weightlifter universe, the Force shuddered.  Another potential “juicer” had just gone to the Dark Side.

 

The Bulge

The Bulge

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.  ~Doug Larson

About two years ago, I experienced a series of humiliating encounters that forced me to come to grips with my expanding waistline and my highly evolved denial of middle age.  I chronicled my battle of the bulge in an early 2007 column figuring that if I publically declared myself on a diet, it would be harder to enter a Dunkin Donuts without someone ratting me out to my spouse.  The first dose of reality came in the form of attempting to squeeze into one of my “thin guy “ suits that I kept in my closet in hopes that a case of giardia or lock jaw might shrink me back to the days of a 34 inch waist.  The futile effort to be thin backfired when later that day the waist button shot off my pants and almost put out someone’s eye.  Instead of accepting my need to diet, I chose to blame my tailor for shoddy alteration work.  A week later on a business trip, I split the seat of my pants to create a hole bigger than the Lincoln Tunnel.  The loss of dignity trying to buy a new pair of pants in Buckhead, Atlanta at 8am while my BVDs were smiling at everyone was priceless.  The final rock shattering my glass house of denial involved breaking several pieces of furniture including a chaissez lounge and a toilet seat. I promptly tried to blame the broken seat on the kids, then on the cat and finally the manufacturer.  If Church had actually followed through on their promise of offering “The Best Seat in the House”, I’d probably still be feasting on cookie dough, ignoring my spouse’s and doctor’s strong suggestions for exercise and diet.

I was leading a double life.  As a healthcare executive, I was busy chiding America for its lack of personal responsibility around health.  The fact is that America is fat and I had become one of those middle aged round mounds of  rebound.  I was the average Joe with a waist size that had grown in just two decades from an average of 34 inches in 1988 to a squishy 38 inches in 2008.  My theory was you never knew when the next great famine was going to hit and I had to be ready.  60 million other Americans agreed with me and were an average of 30 lbs overweight.  The sad truth was that each pound increased the likelihood that I might fall prey to any number of infinitely preventable chronic illnesses.  Obesity drives a host of little nasties such as diabetes, various forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease – -sometimes one hits the trifecta and develops all three.  By day, I expounded the virtues of exercise, diet and moderation.  By night, I was marching through our pantry like Sherman through Georgia, eliciting alarming cries from the local citizenry such as “Mom, who ate the Oreos?” or “ I did not even get a Pop Tart!”. My spouse had long since suspected my nocturnal activities.  I was not sure if there was a hidden camera but I do recall one night coming home late from a business trip and to my delight, I spied some brownies covered in foil on the counter.  As I descended on them, I noticed a note attached to the foil that read, “Don’t even think about it.”

I then had my moment of clarity. It started like any other morning with no breakfast and several cups of coffee.  It proved to be a stressful day of contiguous meetings, no lunch and a race through Friday night traffic to get to my son’s travel basketball game in Danbury by 7PM. I was stuck on a conference call while driving through an unfamiliar industrial park looking for a gymnasium the size of a card board box.  Suddenly, my heart started doing the conga and I pulled over to the side of road.  I sat there waiting for the drum solo to pass and suddenly felt like Red Foxx in Sanford & Son.  “It’s the big one Elizabeth!  I’m coming!”  The fact I had not eaten anything in twelve hours and was more jacked up on Columbian Marching Water than Will Ferrell in “Kicking and Screaming”, was lost on me.  For the next few days, my heart would occasionally launch into a break dance.  I would quietly administer myself last rites and confide in my spouse who assumed it was yet another of my numerous psychosomatic episodes.  I turned myself into my GP, the wise Dr P, who gave me the same look as my wife did.  My lab results revealed HDL, LDL, and Triglycerides of a person who works in a bakery sampling cheese danish.  My Oreo party was over.

It was at this precise moment that I was also introduced to Dr. Mehmet Oz, a noted author, cardiovascular surgeon and talk show personality.  Dr. Oz and I were sharing the speaking duties at a conference on issues plaguing the US healthcare system.  As I listened to Dr Oz discuss his latest book, You: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty, I carefully recorded what I must do to achieve a prolonged higher quality of life.  Oz helped me focus on those highest impact areas that might determine whether my golden years were a high water mark of vitality or a tidal wave overwhelming me with frailty and chronic illness.

Oz makes it clear, that your body, like an automobile, can travel several hundred thousand miles with some committed maintenance.  His advice includes:

1)    Waist Not, Want Not – the waist line is the number one area to manage – Forget the preoccupation with the buns and legs.  The omentum is one of the main storage depots for fat in the body.  It sits within the belly and stores fat within the waist and inner stomach.  Excessive omentary fat is what we see in beer bellies and tummy “pooches”.  It is more damaging than any other fat source on one’s body.  It interferes with insulin production and wreaks havoc on our internal organs.  Keeping your waist measurements at least one half of your height will give you a fighting chance to hit your eighties and still be able to tango.

2)    An Ounce of Prevention – for men and women, we avoid these annual tests rationalizing that no symptoms, mean all is well.  Early detection is essential to catching and beating many diseases.  Delaying that pap smear, mammography, PSA test, colorectal or endoscopy only increases your risk.

3)    Out with Meat, In with Fish – Fish is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and low in saturated fats.  Saturated fats cause inflammation and cholesterol problems. Omega 3’s are credited with joint lubrication, reduced blood clotting, ameliorated menopausal symptoms, and improved memory.  The down side of popping those fish oil pills is smelling as if you are having an affair with a rock cod.

4)    Go For Color – Eat red, blue and yellow fruits and veggies.  Consider the healing effects of blueberries, tomatoes, peppers and yellow squash. These foods are rich in antioxidants and fight free radicals that damage cells and encourage you to vote for a single payer health care system.

5)    Fight The White – Start reducing sugar and white flour products.  This one is hard to police but it is essential to reducing the diseases which plague countries that consume large amounts of processed foods.  Whole grains and fiber will make you help you age gracefully and ensure you know the location of every public restroom in Fairfield County.

6)  Look at the Dog – A wise person once said, “If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise.” You need to maintain muscles, bone density and proper body chemistry that can only come with moving the old body.

Remember, it’s all for you so you can live a life as rich on the back end as it has been on the front.  You can even join me in 2050 as we take a group out for a little tango.  However, if I show up claiming to be Fred Astaire and dancing with a mannequin, just humor me…..