What if I told you that you could achieve a BB in a martial art at 40; be slim and fit at 50; run races, hike mountains or take up road biking at 60 while significantly decreasing the chances of developing the diseases that plague your parents and caused misery for your grandparents? Live a healthy life well into your ’80’s and ’90’s or even beyond? Establish a new family health legacy that you have the privilege to pass on to your children and grandchildren?
Would you believe me? No if’s, and’s or but’s?
What is your waist to height ratio? You can learn how to calculate it here:
This is a vital measurement for our health. Waist to height ratio is a strong predictor of cardiovascular risk and mortality.
Our Family Health Legacy
I have been lean all of my life. A percentage of that must be genetics, I assume. However, considering my family genetics on both sides, it was more likely that I would have become overweight than stayed lean. No matter how much I loved these women, it could not be denied that my mother, both of my grandmothers, and my aunts were overweight all of their lives. That is a fact.
However, being lean does not preclude me from other factors in my familial health legacy – for things like heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and dementia.
In my teens, I began looking at health and nutrition in a manner that was contrary to my cultural norm. I remember reading books and being influenced by inspirational folks on TV to a degree, but in the ’70’s those books and inspiring folks were not plentiful. The only athletes I recognized in real life were some of the kids in my school. Those kids were not part of my tribe.
Athletes who excelled in sports came into our home only through the television set, on the Wide World of Sports and Hockey Night in Canada. As a spectator, those people were as foreign to me as was our Prime Minister. Growing up, I had a bike and played outside a lot, but never once considered what healthy activity or clean eating would look like. That conversation didn’t happen in our home, our school, or our community.
Mom and Dad both worked, so coming home from school we ate from cans, TV dinners, or prepackaged frozen fish sticks or triangles and fries, unless my Gram, who lived across the road, prepared our meal. Vegetables were eaten mashed. I didn’t eat an iceberg lettuce, celery, and tomato salad until my teens. I remember it vividly – Dad prepared it.
“Boughten” white bread and sweets, canned vegetables, big brand peanut butter and processed cheeze “food,” soda pop, chocolate bars, and deli meats were staples. We ate weiners right out of the package and plastic wrapped cheeze slices by the dozen. Mayo and butter spread naturally on every sandwich. Peanut butter was best consumed with a spoon right out of the jar. When we went to our country store, our regular “treat” (I am shaking my head at that oxymoron) was a bottle of pop, a chocolate bar, and a bag of chips. Every time.
Our family outings revolved around dining at a take-out, or “canteen,” as we described our fast food places prior to the arrival of Dixie Lee Fried Chicken, MacDonalds, and KFC in our small town. Dixie Lee Fried Chicken was the first franchise in town and we embraced it as a gastronomic delight.
By the time I was 14 I was a skinny, weak kid with a face full of acne. There were many just like me. I watched friends and classmates struggle with extreme body issues and acne so severe it scarred them for life…and not just physically. I shared their pain in my own private, unique way. My tribe suffered.
It was as a young adult that I first began to try some alternative foods to the meat-and-potatoes fare served to me by family and neighbors. Before that, rice was served with cow’s milk and sugar. Pizza came from a box. Pasta was macaroni. Green peas were grey/brown in real life, and came from a can, sometimes mixed with carrot bits. Juice was orange-flavored sugar that came from a package wrapped in plastic.
Perhaps you recognize some of your own childhood in this post. My family was no different than any other family on the Cassilis road where I grew up, or anywhere on the Miramichi River. Most likely, it was the same for most small town folks.
Somewhere along the way, I began to notice these practices in every household in my community. Every celebration and ritual and holiday revolved around the same types of foodstuffs, prepared in the same way. And we cannot forget the other ritualized part of our culture – our celebrations that revolved around drinking large quantities of alcohol. We also embraced that with gusto.
When we look at the way our great grandparents, or grandparents died; or consider the misery and disease with which our parents are living right now; or assess our personal state of health in a realistic manner, we have two choices:
- Give up and continue to do the same.
- Do something about it right now.
Consider this statement: What if you have never known what feeling good feels like?
As a young adult, I became determined to figure out a way that my family’s health legacy wouldn’t be my own. When I began my research into healthy eating and well-being I had no clue what I would find when I made changes to my diet, but one day it dawned on me that I actually felt good. Energetic. Mentally sharp. Healthy.
That was when I began to speculate on the idea that I had been so used to feeling a certain way that I didn’t know there was any other way to feel.
Our bodies adapt to whatever we throw at them, or dump into them. In our natural youth and strength, we are at our most resilient and bounce back rapidly from our self-imposed bodily insults. However, by the time we reach our late-30’s the results of our lifestyle have truly begun to take its toll. Recovery time is longer. We no longer have the flexibility of youth. Our girth expands. We sit more and complain more. Still, our bodies adapt in the most efficient way possible.
It is entirely possible that you have been gifted with the genetics to live a healthy and happy old age. It is also entirely possible that you have been doing your best to sabotage that gift of health most of your life.
This was true for me. However, losing 15 friends and family members in a little over a decade was a wake-up call. It was now or never.
I was forced to get real with myself – I saw the awful ways that my loved ones were dying – crippled up and tormented by arthritis, eaten away by cancer, consuming a handful of pills to keep their heart beating and their blood flowing in a way that did not blow the top of their head off. I also saw the deep, devastating sadness and resignation with which we who were left to mourn, said goodbye.
That was scary crap!
Is this the way that I would be in my 60’s & 70’s? Wracked with pain and struggling to live another day? It didn’t slip by me that only one person in my family, to that point, had lived beyond their 70’s.
The census profile gathered in 2016 for my hometown area of Miramichi, NB, indicates something interesting…at the time of the census 23.8 % of the population were 65 and over. 2.8 % of the population were 85 and over, with the majority being female.
What good is all of the longevity research and breakthroughs going to do for me if this was my future? That was, and is, simply not acceptable.
Something was, and is, so obviously wrong with this picture.
Do You Treat Your Body Like a DUMP SITE?
We cannot predict when we will die or how we will die. Nobody wants to die young or die in pain. It stands to reason that most people if given the opportunity would make changes right now to lessen their odds of dying young or in pain from something that was preventable.
Here’s an experiment for any of you who have elderly parents: Try introducing something new. Begin with a new food that you know they have never tasted before. Is it too different? Is it too spicy? Is it too crunchy, or mushy, or not salty enough? Try something as simple as multi-grain bread…
Are you shaking your head at the idea of even making the introduction?
Now let’s consider what happens when you go to a foreign land, let’s say to the Carribean. Do you enjoy trying new foods? Or do you look for what you know is familiar and complain if it doesn’t taste like home?
Has your mind already begun to calcify? Is rigor mortis already setting in? Is that you?
We purchase healthy foods for our children and grandchildren and try to coax them to eat it while we scoff down burgers, grease-soaked fries, and TV dinners.
Our dogs and cats eat organic, grain-free, high-quality food rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthy oils. We give them the best food that our money can buy, while we shop for our food in the convenient, prepackaged, fast food aisles.
We feed our pets better than we feed ourselves, and then we wonder why we feel sluggish and defeated and old.
I am no different than you are. I have struggled with these things. I like the occasional burger and fries and more than the occasional pizza. However, I believe that my family’s health legacy does not have to be mine.
We who were raised eating what has been called the SAD diet (Standard American Diet, as in North American), are already at a distinct disadvantage. Our bodies are built on sub-standard nourishment. Many of us were reared as infants on canned evaporated cow’s milk. As we age we are feeling the effects of this degraded food supply even more potently – in obesity, diabetes, strokes, and the new norm…dementia. Dementia is on the increase, with 76,000 new cases diagnosed each year in Canada.
I don’t think any of us want to be part of those statistics.
What is the alternative? What can I do today?
First and foremost, change your mind. Resist the calcification that hardens into becoming a stubborn old complainer.
Change your diet. Up your nutrition, promote digestion, lose the belly fat. This will reduce the inflammation that leads to disease. Eat clean and green.
Change your exercise. Walk for exercise, regardless of the weather. Do resistance training. Work on your balance.
Keep in mind the computer acronym GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.
Consider your family health legacy:
What do you have to lose?
What do you have to gain?
What could be different if you gave it a go?
Do the research. Find a new tribe who lives like that and supports you.
Could be epic.