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Lack of discipline now, heart attack & diabetes later
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I didn’t give a hoot about diet and health in my 20’s and 30’s.

The older I get, the more exercise and diet are at the forefront of my mind.

The change came around 1999 (age 38) when I noticed a thumping in my carotid artery as I walked the half block from the old Courier office to the Valero station for a soda. I feared the throbs were telling me that my arteries were being clogged from my poor diet and lack of exercise. Walking a block, by the way, was tops as far as my exercise regimen.

Back then I rarely saw a doctor because I didn’t have insurance. But it seemed like common sense that greasy burgers and fries had to go, and that I needed to burn more calories, so I ran.

As I turn 52 this year, I feel fit as a fiddle. I chock that up to eating better, running, and muscle toning with weights. I’ve run a half marathon and routinely run a 3-mile distance. But there’s room for improvement; I eat far too much fast-food, but try to pick better options when I do. Fries are my substitute for salads.

My son, Bret, came down for the weekend and clicked on Netflix and showed “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary about how eating a plant-based diet is better than eating animals. I admit I’m not sold but there is compelling evidence to stick with vegetables, salads and the like to help fight cancer and unwanted pounds. I’m still a chicken and turkey meat guy. But I’ve grown to appreciate almonds, which our area abundantly produces, and their health benefits, including their ability to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Each of us must live our own lives. But there are consequences to choices, both good and bad. We are what we eat. And we are what we do to our bodies. It’s obvious that most Americans are too content to live with little food disciplines. Exercise, what’s that? Doesn’t getting up from the couch to walk to the refrigerator and back constitute aerobic exercise? If that’s the attitude then don’t blame anyone but yourself if you wake up and find yourself at 40 with a body as lumpy as a sack of potatoes and the inner workings of a dietary time bomb.

Gosh, that sounds mighty harsh. But reality is harsh. No one else controls our own eating and exercise habits.
I’m not passing judgment but I recall feeling concerned each time Ceres Vice Mayor Rob Phipps walked into the Courier office to chat. Rob seemed to enjoy excesses in life, including food, but he was a heart attack waiting to happen. And then it did. The morning after the Ceres Christmas Festival in December 2007, Rob died of a massive heart attack at age 44.

Certainly, being “fit” doesn’t guarantee anyone against heart failure. That’s why regular check-ups and blood tests are essential to find out what’s going on inside. As the result of a blood test showing my cholesterol was too high and that I needed to bring down my triglyceride, I had to intensify my food disciplines – including curbing my sugar intake. If I couldn’t do it on my own, my doctor threatened, my arteries would present heart attack probabilities and Lipitor would be in my future. I felt ‘why take a drug when I should better watch what I eat?’

Obviously it’s better to prevent diseases beforehand. Some researchers suggest that diet and exercise play a key role in boosting the immune system and thus prevent us from getting cancer. There’s even hint that leukemia cells can hide in fat cells.

It’s no secret that Stanislaus County has a collective weight issue. (Next time you’re out, take a visual survey of those around you.) An estimated 60 percent of county residents are overweight and in 2010 the county was the third fattest in the state (with 31.9 percent of adults classified as obese.) We were only beaten by Imperial County (40 percent) and Merced (34.3 percent). The Bay Area, on the other hand, is classified as the slimmest with an 18.8 percent obesity rate. Approximately 27,000 people here have diabetes. While it’s true that low-income people tend to suffer obesity more than high-income earners, it may have more to do with the latter being more educated and making more intelligent choices.

Before anyone suggests that it’s because the Bay Area has more recreational opportunities, anyone can put on a pair of sneakers and run around any block, park or canal bank in Ceres so spare me of that nonsensical excuse. Or that the problem is better access to healthy foods? How true can that be when anyone can walk into any grocery store in Ceres and buy broccoli, kale, asparagus, squash, green beans, carrots, cauliflower and peas? If anything, Stanislaus County has greater access to fruits and vegetables than the Bay Area because we live where they are grown and they’re sold at roadside stands, at farmers markets and at flea markets.

It all comes down to discipline over excuses. Imagine the discipline exercised by 24-year-old Harvard grad Kelcey Harrison when she ran from New York City to San Francisco during a four-month run that ended on Dec. 1. That’s what I call discipline.

I realize there are emotional reasons why people overeat and they have to be faced. And I realize it is easier to sit and avoid physical exercise. But we simply can’t escape the laws of consequences. Those who don’t have to deal with heart disease, obesity, diabetes, Viagra, Lipitor, and often then Grim Reaper.

How do you feel? Let Jeff know at