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Ep. 60 – Anticipating changes in health

You may know the expression, “Adapt, Innovate, Improvise, and Overcome” but Dr. Chet Zelasko recently decided to add “anticipate” to the phrase. He’ll explain - on this edition of the Straight Talk on Health podcast

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health. I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. Straight Talk on Health is a joint production with WGVU in Grand Rapids MI. I examine the world of health. Nutrition. Exercise. Diet. Supplementation. If there’s something new, I look at the science behind them, and let you know whether it’s real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website Drchet.com and sign up for my free emails.

Have you ever heard the expression “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.” It’s usually said by someone to make a comedic point. The problem is that there is really nothing funny about it. No matter your age right this moment, you can examine your health and probably find a few things you can improve upon. I’ll come back to this.

One of my all-time favorite group of words is Adapt. Innovate. Improvise. Overcome. But when it comes to health, there is one more thing you have to do: anticipate. Here’s an example that deals with driving. I was running out Peach Street in Atlanta years ago when I saw a car run a red light and broadside another car on Peach. It was a major intersection and I’m sure the driver on Peach, early on a Sunday morning, never thought someone would run the red light. I reported the accident, there didn’t seem to be any injuries—how I’m not sure—and thought about that a lot during that run and afterward. I’ve never been an aggressive driver but that made me conservative early in the morning and late at night. I anticipate someone might run the red light and slow down just a bit until I can see if there are any cars coming. Drives Riley a little nuts. Grandpa – why are you slowing down? Just being cautious because not all drivers pay attention or follow traffic rules, I tell him. I rarely do that during heavy traffic because it rarely happens.

Okay. What does that have to do with health? The body you have today won’t always be that body. You may gain weight or lose weight. You may not maintain your fitness level. Your hormone levels will change as will your vision, your hearing, and on and on. You don’t have to fear change because it’s going to happen. But you should be able to anticipate how your body may change and do what you can right now to delay or avoid what changes may happen.

Adapt. Innovate. Improvise. Overcome. That’s a group of words I put together years ago about how to respond when faced with challenges. The approach works in the present. When it comes to changes in health that are associated with aging, we don’t know exactly what they will be. Therefore, we should anticipate what might happen. Your age today doesn’t matter. I’m probably guilty of watching too many home renovation shows. If I’ve heard the expression “This is my (or our) forever home, I’ve heard it a couple of hundred times. The problem is that health can change over time. Let’s take a look at some things to consider.

In my opinion, what we value the most is our independence. But whether you like it or not, your body will change. You may see changes in strength, balance, vision, joint health, mental acuity, or fitness. That doesn’t count any new conditions or diseases. It also doesn’t account for accidents that can happen as I began with, that can impact any part of your body. I’ll give you a personal example.

About 15 years ago, Paula and I spent over a month, about a week at a time during the spring and summer, helping our son build his shop. It was a pole barn construction. Because I spend so much time reading, writing, and talking, I enjoy doing physical tasks. I was 25 feet in the air installing a metal roof. Driving a backhoe removing and transplanting trees. The final task was installing the sliding door on the front. Matthew builds boats so the door had to be huge. It was also made of pressure treated wood sheathed in metal. To say it was heavy was an understatement. It was the ultimate barn door.

Our strategy was to have Paula and my daughter in law anchor the bottom while Matt and I lifted the top to get it perpendicular to the ground. Up to the thighs—hard but doable. As we started to lift it up to our chest and up, I felt a sucking sound in my right shoulder joint. We were able to get it up and move it below the bracket. Lifting each side one at a time, we got it installed. That sucking feeling? I had torn the long head of my bicep. I thought I had dislocated my shoulder. Now 15 years later? I have a Popeye muscle and it has definitely limited my ability to lift objects above my head. Just to make things even more challenging, I sipped on the ice a damaged my shoulder even more last year. Net effect? Getting objects to high storage is difficult if not impossible. Even throwing snowballs with Riley is impacted. Didn’t see that one coming when I was 30 or 40 but it has impacted my life today.

How about other things that really impact independence. Should you continue to drive? That would be about the last thing I’d want to give up, but glaucoma may have a say in it. Do you have a family history of macular degeneration? Reaction time declines with age. Which abilities can you work to improve? What alternatives can you prepare for?

Having a two-story home with a basement is great. Will you always have the capacity to go up and down the stairs to do laundry or to retrieve stored items? Would moving to a ranch home with everything on one level be a better choice?

Going up and down a ladder to clean gutters could become a problem. Heck, getting the extension ladder out of the garage could be an issue. Plan for gutter covers. That’s one change I made when I could do it myself. I could still clean them, but now I don’t need to.

What about cooking? Cleaning? Snow shoveling? Lawn maintenance? Anticipate what you really want to do yourself and what you’re willing to let someone else do. Then work to that end.

Understand this. This is not about giving up; far from it. This is making a conscious decision to anticipate that you will have to adapt to new circumstances. Your body will change and will be different from what it used to be. Doesn't matter whether you're 30 or 40 now, or 50 or 60 or over 70—your body doesn’t have the same capabilities, and it will differ even more in 10, 20, or 50 years. You must adapt to it, or you’re going to end up frustrated all the time. Because believe me, you're not going to be able to do everything that you used to do in the same way.

Anticipate the changes that may occur. If you start preparing for that now while you may not need it, you'll be ready for it if you do. The choices of what you will and will not be able to do are going to be different for every person, but we can probably all stand to simplify our lives.

Anticipate. Adapt. Innovate. Improvise. And you will overcome.

Let me stress this again. Now is a good time to think about the changes I’ve talked about. Most of us are not good at anticipating what our bodies will do, but I can virtually guarantee one thing: the less body mass you have, the easier it will be to do everything. The research and my experience supports that. What you can do starting now is methodically get to a normal body weight for your height, stay active, and work on your strength and stamina. I’ll continue to provide you with research-based actions you can take to age with a vengeance. Nobody ever said you have to go quietly. Our time is up so I’m out of here. This is Dr. Chet Zelasko saying health is a choice. Choose wisely today and every day.

Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.
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