Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Balancing Act

     A well-balanced life is important. You know, both work and play, activity and rest, dessert and more dessert – that sort of thing.
     But having a body that can balance itself is important, too. The older we get, the harder it is to balance. Older people tend to fall. A lot. Some break hips (although it’s sort of a tossup whether you fall and break a hip or the hip breaks and you fall). None of that is good.
     So while you still have a sense of balance, it’s smart to exercise it. You’ll need it later. Trust me.
     I’ve never had much of a sense of balance. I’m just extremely fortunate that I’ve never been pulled over at a DUI checkpoint and asked to balance. Walk a straight line? Not that easy. Stand on one foot? Never happen. And that’s when I’m completely sober.
     Balance stems from a few things: a healthy inner ear, legs strong enough to keep the body balanced, and good feet to anchor the process. (I blame my feet for my problems – misshapen toes don’t always work all that well.). I’ve already written about the value of keeping your legs exercised. When those muscles go, you’re in trouble in so many ways. The inner ear? Everyone’s is a little different, but all benefit from overall good health. Eat, sleep and exercise well and most ears will see you though.
     There also are some easy exercises to do to keep your sense of balance working.
     1.  Stand next to a wall that you can use to steady yourself if necessary. Place one foot in front of the other, heel to toe. Hold that position for a count of 10. Then reverse feet and do it all over again. (It helps if you focus your gaze on a fixed point in front of you.)
When you get so good at this that the 10-count seems easy, then try it with your eyes closed. (You won’t have that fixed point to look at, but if you can keep one in your mind’s eye, it helps.)
     2.  Stand on one foot, lift the other off the ground, and hold that for a count of 10. Reverse feet and count again. Then follow the same eyes-closed routine when you get good. (It helps to have your feet on solid, level ground or flooring, not on carpet. Especially not on padded carpet, unless you relish a challenge.)
     3.  The Wii video game has a nifty variation on the stand-on-foot routine that involves rhythmically lifting the other leg and opposite arm, then reversing. My wife Geri is really good at this. I can only gaze in awe.
     Do those exercises regularly, and I think they’ll serve you well as you age. Critics still may call you unbalanced. But you’ll know better.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Breasts and Beards

     Funny things, hormones.
     When you’re adolescent, they kick in big time – and we can’t wait for them to do their stuff. Boys check the mirror each morning in search of whiskers to shave. Girls anticipate the hormones’ arrival with the lyric best expressed in “A Chorus Line” – “tits, when am I gonna grow tits?”
     The bodily changes happen and things pretty much stay the same through middle age. But as we get older, something strange occurs. The hormones are back. But the second time around, their effects are reversed.
     Women start getting a little more testosterone, perhaps to give them a hand with increased assertive behavior when they outlive their mates (as most women do) and have to run the show on their own. But with testosterone comes those whiskers the teenage boys were longing for. Older women become more hirsute. You may have noticed this when you kissed your grandmother and got whisker burn. The electric shaver becomes one of an older woman’s best friends.
     Men start getting more progesterone, perhaps to finally get us more in touch with our feminine side. We tear up in movies more easily, and don’t care who knows it. We seem to be more empathetic. And those tits? Yes, men start getting them, too.
     I didn’t notice at first that it was happening to me, because I was working out, lifting weights. “Man, look at those pecs!” I’d marvel. The weights must really be working.. But then I began working out less. My biceps and triceps pretty much returned to their pre-workout size. But the “pecs” stayed as is.
     Fortunately, I’m pretty lean of build so my man-boobs aren’t all that big. If you’re a heavier guy, though, you may want to consider slimming down some before your polo shirts start looking  as though they were designed for Dolly Parton.
     As I said, funny things, hormones. And funny thing, life. We start out in diapers. Boys grow whiskers. Girls grow breasts. Then women grow whiskers. Men grow breasts. And we ultimately end up in diapers again.
     All you can do is laugh.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Say What?

     I was going to write today about a couple of aspects of aging that few people talk about: breasts on men and whiskers on women. And then I started thinking. There are things that also aren’t being written, most specifically comments from you about this blog.
     Now a lot of you have said you enjoy what you’re been reading here. But you say it in emails to me or messages on Facebook or in our occasional face-to-face encounters. But actual comments from you on this Boomerometer blog? Not so much.
     Why is that? Under each posting there’s space for your comments. All it requires are a few keystrokes on your keyboard (or thumbstrokes if you’re using a smartphone). Couldn’t get much easier to express yourself. I wish you would.
     It’s not that I’m looking for praise, although I never turn that down. I actually can take criticism, too. That’s the nice thing about electronic communication. Nobody can see you sob until you pull yourself together.
     But what I’d really like to hear are your opinions on what I’ve written. What you’re thinking about on this journey through life together. What subjects you’d like to have me explore. What subjects you’d prefer that I keep my big nose out of. What’s up in general – have an actual online back-and-forth about your concerns. That would mean a lot to me. It might even be meaningful for you.
     And next week, I’ll get back to man-boobs and bearded ladies.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Testing 1-2-3

     It’s a darn good thing that we’re old enough to learn patience. If we weren’t, the constant, conflicting health recommendations from experts would drive us nuts.
     I’m thinking here about the recent guideline controversies regarding pap smears and PSA tests. I can’t speak from direct personal experience regarding pap smears. Their frequency has been called into question by people who fear we’re being over-tested and, as a result, made overly anxious. I just tend to think that I’d want as much information as possible about possible threats to my health.
     I can speak directly about the PSA tests that screen for prostate cancer, though. As readers of this blog know, I’ve had the tests. I’ve had prostate cancer. I don’t have it any more because I got treatment. You can figure that I take this a little personally. But please don’t discount what I’m about to say because of my perceived bias or conflict-of-interest. Use that patience thing.
     The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says it’s no longer recommending routine PSA tests for seemingly healthy men. It isn’t entirely clear, the task force says, whether the test leads to life-saving treatment. Many prostate cancers are extremely slow-growing. Something else may kill you first. Biopsies to determine if a guy actually has prostate cancer are medical procedures, and any medical procedure carries risks. Spikes in PSA readings can be caused by common things: a vigorous bike ride, an infection, recent sexual activity. And there’s that over-testing concern.
     Here’s my take: Don’t test seemingly healthy men? Prostate cancer exhibits no symptoms until it’s further along than you’d like. Prostate cancers can be slow growing? What if they’re not? What if they’re aggressive enough cause a spike in your PSA test? What if sex caused the spike in your reading? Ask for another blood test and stay out of the bedroom beforehand.
     And those over-testing concerns? It sure beats over-dying at the other end of that scale.