This medical laissez-faire attitude served us well through our teens, 20s, and even our 30s. Late-night parties, round-the-clock studying, brutal contact sports, the occasional cold, the infrequent bout of flu, a couple of broken bones, lots of cuts, scrapes, bumps, and bruises, and the all-too-infamous hangovers never lasted long or seemed to have any permanent impact on our hectic, meteoric lives. For the vast majority of us, our bodies back then ran lean, mean, and smooth – we hardly even heard what was going on under the hood. In fact, to use another analogy, we were practically bullet- proof well into our 40s.
Then came the 50s.
Now, we creak a lot. We read at arm’s length. We’re stiff and we ache in places we never knew existed. Muscles are vanishing nearly as fast as our hair. If we lose a couple hours of sleep, we’re not worth much the next day. Even our special friend seems to be slowing down a bit – although we’re definitely not prepared to acknowledge that fact just yet. And why is it we don’t have the same stamina we had 20 years ago?
All in all the 50s seem to embrace us with a vengeance, like the long-lost cousin we picked on when we were kids but who’s a giant now. Some might say the 50s decade – like that cousin – is in pay- back mode.
That’s an apt description. The sins of our misspent youth are definitely catching up with us. All those pizzas and beer, cigarettes and drugs (if we were into those), and the general physical punishment, or benign neglect, we put our bodies through are coming back to haunt us. And these ghosts are materializing not in the form of spooky holograms but in far scarier sights – love handles, beer guts, lack of stamina, and painful joints, tendons, and ligaments. To make matters worse, exercise for many of us is like most high school buddies – long gone and little remembered.
Action Equals Good Health
The good news – yep, there’s definitely lots of good news –
is that men in their 50s can still have a major impact on:
* Blunting the consequences of problems from the past.
* Drastically improving how we’re feeling now.
* Significantly increasing the odds (not the certainty) of negotiating our senior years in good health.
* Stopping – and sometimes even reversing – what seem at times to be unstoppable forces of
How can we pull off such "miracles"?
With knowledge used as a fuel for action. Former surgeon general Dr. C. Everett Koop was right when he said, "the best prescription is knowledge." We men need to know the basics of how our bodies act, react, and change with age, or we’re going to end up being old before our time – or just dead before our time.
Why the 50s Are So Important
The fifth decade is a particularly critical one for males because this is when:
* Heart disease – the number one killer in America – begins to rear its ugly head.
* Joints, tendons, and ligaments start reaching the breaking point.
* Certain cancers first establish beachheads – many of them not generating symptoms or visible
signs until years later when the chances of a cure are greatly diminished.
It’s no wonder the medical community has determined that 50 is the critical year to start having numerous periodic tests, exams, and screenings.
To top it all off, 50 is fast becoming the new middle age for Americans. With huge advances in science and technology, greater medical education and awareness, and an increase in the number of people wanting to actively improve their health, there will be more baby boomers reaching 100 than the world has ever seen.
The big caveat, though, is that it’s up to each individual whether or not that magical 100-year mark will be reached in the midst of good health, or in the ravages of decrepitude. That’s the rub, of course: are you going to live to be 100? which means you should take care of yourself now, or are you going to live to be only 59? which means you don’t need to bother.
Then there’s an additional element which really muddies the water – the health category of "Shit Happens." It’s conceivable, though not statistically likely, that a person can do everything right in the way of diet, exercise, and regular checkups and still be killed by an out-of-the-blue disease, accident, or illness. This is what strikes fear – and subsequent inaction – into the hearts of many stout fellows.
Stacking the Odds in Your Favor
So why bother with any health efforts? Why not just let Fate run its course?
Because of odds. Nearly everything in life, every decision we make, is a calculated assessment of the odds. And many times we don’t even know we’re working the numbers. A simple analogy: if you need something for dinner, you think nothing of getting in your car, driving to the supermarket, then driving home. But what if the street is coated with ice? The odds of an accident-free trip suddenly become very different. You might think, well, I’ve got something here at home I can eat instead. It all comes down to: is the reward great enough to outweigh the risks?
The same kind of calculation applies to your health. Starting with the harshest of realities, we should face the fact that none of us is getting out of this life alive. We’re not supposed to. But it’s also true that while we’re living, it makes good sense to stack the odds in our favor regarding health. The rewards of good health definitely outweigh the "risks" of a little sweat, a little dietary restraint, and a little preventive effort.
For prevention, two good examples of stacking the odds in your favor are: 1. taking 81 milligrams of aspirin (a "baby" aspirin) daily; and 2. taking 400 IU (international units) of vitamin E daily (both mentioned later in greater detail). How likely is it that taking aspirin will cause a problem for most people? Not very. How likely is it that taking vitamin E will cause a problem for anyone? Not likely. But both help to significantly reduce the risk of a 50s male suffering a heart attack or stroke. In these two cases, the benefits far outweigh the effort and effects of taking the pills.
But even these two seemingly simple preventive measures have pitfalls. Those with a propensity for stomach ulcers should not take aspirin, while taking more than 1,000 IU of vitamin E a day can possibly cause bleeding. Additionally, some recent studies seem to indicate that an aspirin a day for a person who has not had heart trouble might increase the risk of stroke or bleeding. Other new studies on vitamin E seem to show that it is not actually as helpful as once thought, in preventing coronary disease (which can cause heart attacks and strokes).
In the face of such contradictory findings, what’s the average guy to do?
Good Health Care and Maintenance Need a Partnership
The taking of aspirin and vitamin E are good examples of why it’s critical that proper health care be a partnership between yourself and a licensed health care professional. Besides the usual diagnoses and treatments of minor and major ailments, a doctor can help put the tremendous amount of health care information – much of it confusing, highly technical, and/or contradictory – into proper perspective. And a doctor can help with such life-changing situations as quitting smoking or developing a diet and exercise plan that will work for you.
The problem is finding – and staying with – the right partner. As many know, in the current environment of managed care and health insurance panels, people are rarely given the opportunity to form a long-term relationship with a doctor. You get the feeling (as implied in some governmental policies and insurance plans) that doctors are interchangeable, that they’re like airline pilots – when you board an airplane you don’t know who the pilot is, but you assume there’s a minimal level of competence there.
It’s true that medical education, standards, and practices are so strictly regulated that, generally speaking, all doctors do have a certain degree of competence. But what cannot be denied, or over stressed, is the tremendous health benefit that comes from having a long-term relationship with a doctor to whom you can talk openly, one who is understanding of your particular medical background and needs. With no fear of hyperbole, that relationship can definitely add tremendous quality to anyone’s life and could quite literally add years as well.
This is not to say that the doctor controls your health. He or she is more the knowledgeable guidance counselor, especially when it comes to preventive measures. You are the true master of your own health – a doctor can’t make you stop smoking, can’t make you take that pill, can’t make you eat right or exercise. In the end, it’s all up to you. This is borne out by the fact that only 30 percent of your general health is attributable to genetics (family history), while a whopping 70 percent is directly related to what you do or don’t do in your life.
Being the master of your own health doesn’t mean, however, that you can or should do everything when it comes to your health. It’s important to know when you need professional help and when you don’t. Facing Your Fifties answers that all-important question and many others.
Time to Put Up or Shut Up
When it comes to health issues and being sick, our female counterparts have always seen us as big babies, whiners who can’t stop complaining about this ache or pain, that ailment or illness. They say men believe that every health problem – no matter how small – seems to be the harbinger of life-threatening illnesses.
Maybe there is a small grain of truth in what they say (although they’d sure feel bad if that hangnail did turn out to be a brain tumor). But, happily, our bad rap as complainers is diminishing as we take more and more personal responsibility for our bodies and what happens to them. While we are renowned for not wanting to know about our health, weren’t we the ones who began the running craze? And aren’t we now flocking to gyms, wellness centers, and aerobics classes? We’re also reading men’s health and fitness magazines, trying spa treatments, and working on our diets. We’ve even found ourselves watching an occasional Oprah TV show and enjoying it.
No doubt about it, we’re changing. We’re making strides that get bigger and bigger every day. And the best part is that as we change – as we learn about our health and take action to improve it – we’re actually feeling better, looking better, and becoming generally happier in the process.
We’re finally realizing one of life’s great truths: a good life starts with a healthy life. And the beauty of it all is that we have the power to create that healthy life – it only takes a little motivation, a little self-discipline, and a little effort.
How To Use Facing Your Fifties
Facing Your Fifties is a down-to-earth, practical, quick-reference guide for the average 50s male and/or his significant other. No unexplained medical jargon, no trivial details, and no extreme measures that few would ever follow.
Look at it as a kind of first-consult book that can quickly provide a general assessment of your problem so you’ll know if you should stop worrying, start doing something specific, or get to a doctor. While not an encyclopedia (especially for those already familiar with any long-term problems), Facing Your Fifties does give extensive detail about specific ailments that males in this age group might experience. The entire book is dedicated to explaining and outlining the watch words that all 50s males should have imprinted in their brains:
* Awareness – of potential medical dangers and changes your 50s body will experience.
* Early-warning testing – most notably for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prostate cancer,
and colon cancer, as well as annual general checkups.
* Preventive actions – that include watching your diet and alcohol consumption, exercising, not
smoking, and wearing sunscreen.
Facing Your Fifties, as a quick-reference guide, can be consulted when something starts going wrong ("Hey, my shoulder’s hurting, I’ll see what they say about shoulders"), but the book’s real value comes when it’s read cover-to-cover. There is a natural progression within the book’s organization that starts with an assessment chapter to help you determine where you stand on the overall health scale. Then, the body is broken down into logical parts that are explained in separate chapters. These chapters contain:
* Basic background information critical to understanding the specifics of your health.
* A breakout of specific ailments men face, with an emphasis on those faced by 50s men.
* Treatment and prevention options for every ailment mentioned.
* Real life stories about men who have faced particular medical situations.
* Descriptions of pertinent drugs, their benefits, and side effects.
* A summary of the good news within the chapter.
Facing Your Fifties then details in three chapters the all-important issues of:
1. Sex, energy, and male menopause.
2. Mental state and changing patterns.
Ending on a positive note, Facing Your Fifties has an extensive chapter on what you can do to improve your health. This last chapter fully explains exercise and diet, outlining positive choices that make a difference, as well as how to stop smoking.
It should be noted that this book can only go so far in identifying and treating specific ailments. Because each person is different – and there are numerous medical factors that are affected and/or altered by the individuality of patients and ailments – it is critical that treatments mentioned in Facing Your Fifties be presented to your own doctor for review before trying them yourself. Additionally, the burgeoning field of alternative, or complementary, medicine (which could take up an entire book), is only referred to with items that have been scientifically proven.
For those interested in finding medical information in other places, an excellent source for drug information is The Physician’s Desk Reference which is available in two versions, one for physicians (found in any library) and an inexpensive consumer edition published in paperback. As for seeking advice on the Internet, care should be taken to consult only established medical sites.