There’s something important you need to think about before time runs out.
Today would have been my dad’s 71st birthday. Sadly, he passed away of a sudden heart attack at the age of only 58 over a dozen years ago.
If you’re thinking this is one of those “my dad wasn’t in good shape, died early, and that’s why I’m so passionate about health and fitness” stories, you’d be wrong. My dad was an athlete all his life, a downhill skier in his youth and a marathoner (with the occasional 10K, duathlon, and triathlon thrown in) in later years. He gave up running in his late 40s (I think) and focussed on weights and karate. For relaxation, he meditated, did tai chi, and studied Buddhism and Japanese.
With my dad in one of the few photos we have together (this was before digital was common!)
My dad was teaching a karate class for kids when he stopped the sparring session to take a drink. That’s when he collapsed and we’re told his heart stopped. At the time we were told that it was bad genetics and the coroner actually told me that if he didn’t take care of himself as well as he did (eating well and exercising), he might have been gone at 48, rather than 58.
It turns out that the story was a bit more complicated than that.
My dad suffered from ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a form of arthritis and an autoimmune disease that primarily attacks the lower spine and eventually causes spinal fusion. But AS also causes a general inflammatory state in the body and increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The heart’s blood supply is blocked by a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries (the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart). The result, in my dad’s case, was a fatal heart attack.
We didn’t know any of this at the time; it just seemed inexplicable that a man like my dad who appeared to be so healthy and basically had a 6-pack late into his 50s could have a heart attack and die. Does it make me feel better to know that there was an underlying cause to his early death? Not particularly. I’d much rather still have him around to spend time with his grandkids. Still, as a health professional I find it interesting that there are so many things that can be affecting the state of your body.
It’s important to take care of yourself on a day-to-day basis. Eat the right quantity and quality of food, get to a healthy weight, exercise regularly, sleep adequately, and destress as needed. Deal with any medical issues you have and don’t leave any suspicious ailments uninvestigated. There’s no guarantee that you’ll live to be 70, 80, 90, or 100 years old, even if you do all the “right” things.
One thing I do know is that if you do follow all those practices, you’ll feel better and look better for whatever amount of years that you’re on this earth. Living an active, energetic life is its own reward. Being able to run around with your kids without getting winded or play the same sport you did in high school with energy and enthusiasm is what a satisfying life is all about. Maybe it means that you finally get your act together, eat right, do weight training regularly, and build the body you’ve always wanted.
Many people grumble about getting older, but it’s a gift to be able to grow older, outpacing other people your age (and even those much younger!) with your energy, strength, and youthful vigor. I’m a big believer in sucking all the juice out of life that’s possible. Run, jump, play, travel, and discover new things.
When you start on a fitness journey, it’s often about the initial result you get with your body. You want to be leaner and look better. Maybe you appreciate being stronger or having bigger biceps. Eating well, with plenty of protein and vegetables, and strength training 3-6 days a week is the key to building the amazing body that you want. The added benefit is that you feel stronger and more energetic and able to conquer the inevitable challenges that you face in your daily life.
Yes, you’ll be healthier and probably live a bit longer. What’s more important than adding years to your life through a healthy lifestyle is having a lot more life in your years.
That’s one thing that my dad knew a lot about.
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