I had my annual physical the other day. I was all excited thinking I was going to ace it. Boy was I wrong.
A couple of months go I realized I was getting a little flabby. Around the same time I watched this HBO documentary called The Weight of The Nation. The movie chronicled all the health issues facing our country, which is now two-thirds overweight. I wondered just how flabby I was getting. The next morning, I woke up and then lurched onto my bathroom scale. When saw the numbers 187.6 laughing at me from the bathroom scale below my feet I realized that I had become part of the two-thirds of overweight Americans. It was time for a change.
My wife and I started exercising by walking around our neighborhood, and I decided to reduce my caloric intake. There’s this great iPad or iPhone app called My Fitness Pal (it’s free) that helps you set goals and track how many calories you eat. I went on a 1,500 calorie diet. Most days I stayed under my goal, and I stayed under 2,200 calories every day. I lost ten pounds this way – a little exercise and a little less food. This was going to be my best physical ever.
The morning before my physical, I drove my slightly thinner behind down to the lab for some blood work. The technician was training a new lady that day, so he was showing off a bit. He deftly jabbed the needle into one of my veins, all the while explaining what he was doing to his understudy, and he drained two vials of my blood from my body. The technician promised to have the results to my doctor in time for my physical the next day.
The next day at my examination the doctor said he had to talk to me about my lab results. This was the kind of, “We need to talk,” moment that you get when you’ve upset your significant other. The doctor broke the news that my fasting glucose count was one hundred and three – which is considered pre-diabetic. On top of that, my triglycerides were high and my HDL, or good cholesterol, was low. I heard the doctor say these things to me, but I was either in denial or having a moment of shock, because none of the information actually registered in my mind. I was just knocked into a sort of daze. I went through the rest of the exam not noticing what was going on around me, even the whole turning my head and coughing bit. It was like I was in a daydream. Pre-diabetic. I was just like those fat schlubs in the HBO movie – on a one way street to diabetes, heart disease and an early grave!
“You can get dressed now,” said the doctor interrupting my daydream. “I’ll be back in a minute to discuss how we can clean up your blood work.”
When he came back in the room, the doctor explained how insulin takes sugar molecules from my blood stream to other cells in my body that burn the sugar to do whatever that cell was supposed to do. When all the insulin is gone, the remaining sugar stays in my blood stream and can cause all kinds of health problems for me. My sugar levels were high and trending in the wrong direction when compared to prior years. He asked, “Do you eat a lot of carbs?”
“Define a lot,” I said with a guilty look on my face. I felt like I was in the principals office. I told him I eat pasta at least once eat week, and that I regularly eat sandwiches, bananas, oatmeal, potatoes, toast, croutons, and, every now and again I eat the most delicious food in the world – pizza. “Is that a lot?”
The doctor went on to explain to me that a crushed up teaspoon of dried pasta has the same effect on my blood as a teaspoon of sugar. I was putting way too much sugar into my bloodstream every day, more than my body needs, and more than my insulin could remove.
The doctor also told me there are three different types of exercise. There are muscle building exercises like lifting weights. There are muscle toning exercise like walking, Pilates, and yoga. And there are aerobic exercises, that increase the heart rate over one hundred twenty beats per minute, like running, biking, or interval training. Of the three types, only one — aerobic exercises — improves sugar and cholesterol levels in the blood.
So I need to limit my carbohydrate intake to one hundred grams per day, and I need to raise my heart rate over one hundred twenty beats per minute for thirty minutes three times per week. I also need to lose five pounds, and my wife thinks I need to do a better job managing stress. She’s probably right.
I was depressed for days after my physical. “Why me?” I wondered feeling rather sorry for myself. Then I went to the Internet. I read how people who are pre-diabetic are twice as likely to develop type two diabetes. I read all about the increased risk for heart attacks and strokes and I imagined that they would have to chop my feet off someday, or something along those lines.
Then I read this sad article called “Dying Words,” by Jerome Groopman about how oncologists have to break the bad news to terminal cancer patients. The author tells a story of how he explained a prognosis to a terminal patient. The patient’s illness was treatable, and a sort of temporary remission was possible, but a cure was not. In my depressed state I thought how we all have the same prognosis ultimately. None of us will live forever. Boy, was I bummed out.
Lucky for me I have a pretty good wife that saved me from my misery. We started jogging around the neighborhood instead of walking. She stocked up on low-carb and healthy foods for me. She recommended that I join a flag football team (Today was the first practice. I can barely walk after three hours of intense practice. It was a blast). And my lovely wife reminded me of one key difference between the poor cancer patient in article mentioned above, and the rest of us, who could have much more time before the end of our lives. I have the ability to change my habits and get myself healthy for another fifty or sixty or more years. It’s up to me to listen to my doctor and make a change.