Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How To Motivate Yourself Into Living A Healthier Lifestyle

Motivation.  What would it take to motivate you to make changes that will improve your health and increase your life expectancy?  Maybe you are already motivated.  Good for you!  If so, how do you stay motivated?

Me, finishing a 5k race in April.
I lived for 56 of my 58 years with little motivation regarding my health.  More precisely, I really just didn't think about whether or not I could or should change. Hey, I was already eating whole grain Cheerios and taking the stairs. Why would I need to do anything else?  Besides, the slowly creeping gains of one or two pounds per year just weren't apparent to me.  Does that sound familiar?

And, what kind of "changes" in lifestyle am I talking about, anyway?

Big ones. Paradigm shifts.  Richter scale stuff.

My personal story

(I don't like talking about myself. But, I do need to let my readers know how I got to a point in my life that caused me want to make major changes in my lifestyle).

So, what lit a fire under my butt that got it off the couch and onto the running track?  It was a trip to the doctor's office.  But, it wasn't my doctor's advice that motivated me. Rather, it was his lack of advice that got my attention.

For most of my life I had marginally high blood pressure, but not too bad (or so I thought).  Genetics.  When I had a check-up a few years ago, I was advised to get a colonoscopy.  I needed to have my heart checked before the "procedure" could proceed, so I also had an ultrasound examination of my heart and a stress test.  My first scare came when I was told that my unchecked high blood pressure had damaged my heart by thickening the walls, and that this could shorten my life.  I was put on a medication (beta blocker) to reduce my HBP.

A year later, my BP was still too high, so my doctor added another medication.  Another medication?  Are you freakin' kidding?  I don't even like to take aspirin!  At that examination I weighed in at 238 pounds, a personal record for me! Not the good kind, either. My heaviest weight ever!  Yet my doctor said nothing to me about losing weight. He just wrote out another prescription.  He meant well, but here was his opportunity to motivate me, and he missed it.  Good thing I am a self-motivator!

As I drove home, I realized that my health was headed down the toilet, and fast.  I could just see myself in the near/distant future with an oxygen mask attached to oxygen tanks that were sitting in the basket of my Hoveround, wearing a polyester warm-up suit and buying burial insurance from Alex Trebek.  This was my "rock bottom" moment.  As I drove along, I realized that if I didn't change my lifestyle right then, I would never do it and I would regret it to the end of my shortened life!

When I got home, I announced to my wife that I was a changed man. I was going to eat a salad every day (I hated salads - tolerate them now).  I was going to start exercising regularly.  I was going to get fit.

And I did!  That was 18 months ago. Today I run 3 to 6 miles, three to four times per week. I lift weights twice per week. I have learned to read food labels, avoid processed foods, and cook the low-sodium way.  I even make my own low-sodium breakfast sausage and granola.  And, I have lost 50 pounds.  My "man boobs" are now pectoral muscles, and my waist has dropped from 42 inches to 33 inches.  My blood pressure is almost "normal" with no medications at all.  Best of all, I have found that I love my new lifestyle.  I never want to go back to the old me. I have more energy and I look and feel years younger.

There is nothing magical about my transformation.  Anyone can do it.  Many already have.  It just feels good to know I have finally joined them.

What motivates you?

There is an old joke. How does a psychiatrist change a light bulb? He can't. The light bulb has to want to change.  The joke is based on the fact that real change begins within.  I hope you are already living a healthy lifestyle.  If not, and you want to change, the motivation will have to come from within.

In the book The 100 Year Lifestyle, author Eric Plasker discusses the process of changing one's lifestyle to promote life extension. He says "Change is easy. Thinking about change is hard."  He says that the hardest part of changing is just making the commitment to change.  I think he is right. You just have to find your motivation to make that commitment.

Do you eat right?  Do you exercise regularly and effectively?  How do you know if you need to do more?  These are all topics I will explore in future posts.

What are your reasons for improving your health?  Do you want to live longer so that you can be a bigger part of your children's and grandchildren's lives? Do you have a bucket list that you really want to complete? Do you want to bring passion back into your life (sex is a good motivator)?  Find your personal motivators.  Use them to motivate yourself to be the person you want to be.

No Time To Kill

We don't have time to waste. I love that song by Clint Black called "No Time To Kill".  I have noticed that time seems to pass more quickly as I get older. Other folks tell me they experience the same thing.  Why wait any longer to make changes you know you need to make?

This has been a rather serious post.  Most of my future posts will be more uplifting, but we really need to set the stage.  What motivates you? Please feel free to share how you have taken control of your health. Or, if you haven't yet, share with us what it is that holds you back.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Growing Older (But Not Up)

A comfortable mountain bike!
You may recognize that title from a Jimmy Buffet song.  It has special significance to me. Here is why.

It is no secret to my friends and relatives that I am fighting the aging process, tooth and nail.  I know I can't win, but at the same time, I have seen real improvement in my overall health and happiness as a result of this effort.  I am encouraged and inspired, yet still frightened and alarmed at how fast the days go by.

There is a television commercial that has been showing lately that features a young woman, sitting in front of her computer, explaining how her parents were getting older and weren't living life to its fullest. Unlike her, they had very few friends on Facebook. Cut away and we see her parents riding their mountain bikes through the woods with another couple and then stopping at their new car.  Why do I bring this up?

Yesterday I bought a mountain bike. Well, technically, my wife bought it for me for my upcoming 58th birthday.  Of course, it has a "comfortable saddle" and an upright stance, to minimize the aches and pains!  In the first 24 hours that I had it home, I put nearly 15 miles on it (all road miles, so far), despite the awful heat and humidity that enveloped the Florida Panhandle.  I am not bragging - just letting you know that it is a new toy I intend to use!

Yes, I know we have no mountains here, but that's not the point.  Instead, the point I wish to make is this: life after 50 is very different for boomers than it was for our parents.  My father probably never rode a bike after age 30!  I don't want to live like that, and I hope you don't either.  And that is what this blog will be about: being active and healthy as we gracefully age.

When I went to the newsstand today to pick out a magazine about biking or running, the pages were full of photos of much younger people enjoying the hardcore aspects of their sport.  The old timers had their own columns about the good old days, or were giving advice, but the publications were certainly not aimed at my demographic.  So, out of frustration, I started this blog.

Many of my fellow boomers are living healthy lifestyles.  They may be a bit slower than they were in their younger days, but they are indeed worthy of consideration.  Perhaps you are one of them. If not, perhaps you can be!

So, why do I care?  For me, my wake-up call was a health crisis.  Nothing too serious, but enough to get my attention.  I will blog about that at a later date.  For now I will just lay out the general theme I hope to follow with this electronic journal.

Topics I will be addressing...
  • Is there really life after XX? If so, how does its quality compare to life before XX? (Are our best years really behind us? I doubt it.)
  • What can you do to improve your health, from here on?  What is possible? 
  • Getting and staying active.  Can exercise really slow the aging process? What kind is best? How much and how often? Awe, do I really have to?
  • How can we improve our social lives?  Loneliness is a major cause of depression and poor health!
  • Can technology help us stay fit? I'll review interesting gadgets and apps that could help.
  • Healthy eating - I love to cook, and maybe we can share some recipes and strategies for eating better.
  • Whatever else interests me and my readers.
It's odd. Me, publishing a blog.  Thanks for reading.

Mark Horrell
About me...

I am Mark Horrell, Ph.D.  I am not selling anything. I am not a fitness expert or guru.  I am a college science professor who woke up one day to find I had high blood pressure, a slightly damaged heart, and was 50 pounds overweight.  A real couch potato.  I realized that my lifestyle was shortening the length and reducing the quality of whatever time I have left.  Over the past year and a half, I have turned my health around by improving my diet and exercising regularly.  I have lost those 50 pounds, added muscle mass, lowered my blood pressure, and dramatically improved my endurance. As a scientist, I approached this transformation like a research project, and I have learned a lot that I hope you will allow me to share with you. I also hope to learn from those of you who have had your own successes (and failures too).