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.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Relax, dudes

     I had planned to post this Sunday. Didn’t get it done. And that’s OK.
     What I was planning on writing about was learning to relax. So I did – relax, that is. And if that means missing a self-imposed deadline, so be it.
     I’d never miss a work deadline, of course. If other people are counting on you to come through, you must. Reliability and responsibility are important parts of life.
     But so, too, is learning to relax, especially as we get older. Time tends to rush by much faster than it did when we were young. Remember how long summer vacation used to seem? But now, it’s one thing right after another – fast, fast, fast – and developing an ability to relax a bit becomes an important part of survival. Stress is harmful, both mentally and physically. So make it a point to just step back, whenever you can, take a deep breath or two, and just let go. Realize that you shouldn’t sweat the petty stuff, and that much of life (with the exception of loved ones, serious illness and death) is petty stuff.
     That’s why I let this week’s deadline slide for a bit. I’m sorry if you were disappointed, but it’s more likely that you didn’t even notice. And I had a few more hours of relaxation as a result.
     Some experts recommend that everyone should spend at least five minutes each day in meditation, consciously relaxing. Sit quietly and clear your mind. I do that and I fall asleep. Guess I must be doing the relaxation thing really well.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hello, Sunshine!

     I got a reminder last week about the importance of sunscreen.
     It was at my dermatologist’s office, but she didn’t have to remind me verbally. All she had to do was pull out her little liquid-nitrogen blowtorch and set to work freezing off all the incipient skin cancers on my face and body.
     Not fun. It hurts (although not nearly as bad as would letting those little blemishes turn into full-blown skin cancers). But it does give one pause.
     The cancers-in-the-making, as I’ve noted here previously, are caused by exposure to sunshine. You may have been exposed years and years ago, but the results pop up only now. And pop up. And will pop up again. I see the dermatologist twice a year as a result.
     When I was doing the George Hamilton tan dude routine all those years ago, not enough of us knew (or cared) about sun damage. I didn’t start using sunscreen until much later in life. I’m using it now, though, and how. Wouldn’t want this year’s sun damage to show up when I’m 90. And no, that’s not too old to care.
     Yes, doctors say we all need our Vitamin D, and that the best way to get it is from sunshine. I get my Vitamin D mostly from enriched milk, thank you. In warmer weather, I wear shorts and let my legs be exposed to sunshine – but briefly. And only the legs. They bear far less evidence of earlier sun damage than my face, ears, shoulders and the backs of my hands. And my nose. It must have been a real sun-magnet in my youth.
     Today, even if it’s cloudy, that schnoz is protected by sunscreen. Or, better yet, sunblock. (Neutrogena makes one with an SPF 55.)
     No more reminders needed.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hard To Swallow

     Boy, do we love pills. Too bad there aren’t any pills to make us smarter.
     Instead, we pop pills to lose weight, to grow hair, to get healthier without having to exercise or improve our diets, to do just about anything we can dream of. The problem is: Unintended consequences.
     Take me, for instance. I’d seen the ads and commercials for glucosamine. Helps the joints, they promised. My joints are getting a little creaky so I started taking glucosamine. And the next time I went in for my annual checkup, my blood test showed a spike in my glucose level. Not quite diabetes territory, but heading in that direction – a direction I’d never headed before.
     And then I began to think: Glucose. Glucosamine. Pretty similar. Could there be a connection? I checked with my doctor (which I should have done more carefully before), and stopped popping the glucosamine pills. Another blood test, and my glucose levels were back to what’s more normal for me.
     Lesson learned? Not entirely.
     I’d also read and heard a lot about Omega-3 fatty acids – how good they are for heart health and all that. These fatty acids are found in salmon and sardines, among other things. I like both fish, but I don’t eat them daily. Would a daily fish-oil pill do a better job? My doctor didn’t say no, so I started taking them.
     And then, last February, I had the hemorrhagic stroke I’ve written about here previously. In the absence of other causes, the doctors guessed that the prescription blood-thinners I’d been taking for hypertension and incipient heart disease may have contributed to the stroke. My super-thinned blood had leaked right through a small vein, causing a pool of blood inside my skull that, in turn, caused the stroke. And guess what: Fish-oil pills also act as blood thinners. I’d been exacerbating the process.
     So I’m not taking glucosamine or fish-oil pills any more. I’m not even that high on taking a daily multi-vitamin pill. Eating a well-balanced diet should be sufficient for most people’s needs. The vitamins and minerals in vitamin pills are extracted from natural sources, removed from the other source materials that could be making them work better if they were all left together.
     Self-prescribed pills are major industry. They’ve become a part of our “I want it now” culture.
     I’m just no longer on the bandwagon. Unless someone comes up with that make-you-smarter pill.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

To Your Health!

     Here’s a toast to the miracle health liquid you’d do well to drink a lot of: water.
     That’s right, just plain water. We’re fortunate enough to live in a country where good, clean water is as close as your tap, and it’s the best thing you can swallow to keep everything in your body working right. Our bodies are more than 90 percent water anyway, and it’s wise to keep your tank topped up.
     I’ve discovered that as I age, I need to pay more attention to hydration. I don’t recall thinking much about drinking sufficient water when I was younger, but in those days I wasn’t really thinking all that much about my health anyway. When everything is working, you take it for granted. But when you start developing the aches and pains of old age, you tend to smarten up. And drinking water is smart.
     Our bodies need sufficient water intake to keep the kidneys working properly, flushing out all the stuff that needs flushing. Take in too little water, and you can suffer dehydration, often more quickly than you think. The brain can get wobbly. The digestive system doesn’t work as well as it should. Some people have been known to become light-headed or pass out. We’ve all read of performers canceling shows because they were dehydrated – too loopy and dried out to physically perform. They were working too hard, being too busy, to think about keeping up their water intake, and they paid the price.
     I drink a big glass – 16 ounces -- of water every morning upon awakening. After all, my body has gone without the stuff for the previous eight hours or so. Then I make sure to drink another big glass during the morning, and another in the course of the afternoon. (Those ubiquitous plastic bottles of water can be handy, even though I dislike their effect on the environment, if you’re out and about without easy access to glasses; the bottles provide the measured amount you need.)
     That’s all it takes. No need to shell out for expensive potions or pills to “remove your toxins.” Three glasses of water, or their equivalent, every day do everything you need to accomplish that end. Oh, sure, you’ll need to keep a sharp eye on where the nearest toilets are. You’ll be peeing regularly. But you’ll be doing that more as you age anyway. Might as well have a good reason for it.
   So here’s to those three daily glasses, minimum. And if you want to have a little more water at the end of the day, with a dash of Scotch in it, that’s fine, too.