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Lifestyle Health Investment: Family

Why to invest in your health

I frequently bring you ideas and activities that when applied consistently to your life can help rebuild your health foundation and expand vitality. But this time I would like to explore more of the “why” we should do the daily work of maintaining our health.

As a warning, this is a bit personal, but I suspect it will likely resonate with a lot of you.

This past few years has been particularly hard on my father. His health has declined drastically in ways that are difficult to watch. As I have shared in the past my Dad started having heart problems in his early 40’s. His health issues, like a lot of folks are due to a combination of bad genes coupled with bad lifestyle choices.

Imagine life from Dad’s perspective. He is only 74- which isn’t young, but its not that old either. His wife is healthy and fully functional and able to do a lot of things Dad just can’t keep up with anymore. He has spent his life being able to do what he wanted, and now all that is gone. Recently we planned a summer trip out of the country with some of our kids and asked Mom and Dad if they wanted to come along. Initially they were very excited and enthusiastically agreed to come. But then they started to think about the reality of travel. Dad needs oxygen, he needs a lot of rest breaks, he’s been hospitalized 2-3 times recently. The more they thought about all his needs, the less like a vacation and the more like a series of challenges and frustrations it seemed. In the end, they changed their minds and opted out. He really wanted to go, but that just isn’t going to happen for him. How frustrating is that?

Now think about all of this from my Mom’s perspective. She is a healthy 70 year old who can wrangle five or six toddlers single handedly with out breaking a sweat. But her playmate of 55 years can’t play. A lot of Mom’s energy now goes to helping Dad through the day and making sure he stays out of trouble. She doesn’t complain, she’s a retired nurse after all, but I don’t think this is how she would choose to spend her last years with Dad. A few years ago, Elizabeth and I were mountain climbing in New Zealand with a couple in their early 70’s. They were having the time of their life! I don’t think just because Mom and Dad are in their 70’s they don’t have aspirations and things they still want to do that have immense importance to them. Dad’s health just won’t allow it.

Now think about all this from the perspective of Dads kids, grand kids and great grandchildren. When Dad was in his mid-50’s, I wrote him a letter asking him to consider quitting smoking. Something he had been doing for 40 years by that point. In the letter, I mentioned that I had grown up never knowing my grandfathers, and how I thought it would be sad for his grandkids to not get to know him. I asked him, implored him to make some changes and take care of himself. He later told me he thought the letter was touching and he kept it, but he didn’t quit smoking for another 14 years. By then his heart and lungs were ruined.

So here we are, watching a good man declining before his time, not able to play, not able to travel, not able to take advantage of what life has to offer. All of the medications and trips to the hospital help to keep him alive, for which I am grateful, but they don’t offer him any ability to regain his vitality, he’s just...stuck.

This story, though it may be my family’s story, is pretty similar to many peoples story. This happens all the time. If you don’t do the work of maintaining your health it will slip away. If the habits you have fallen prey to squander your health quickly, then you will run out of health before you run out of life. When that happens you and your family will be…stuck. Stuck in a situation that is frustrating and not fixable.

Doing the work of maintaining your health is a lot of small decisions done over and over again. Many people see that kind of dedication to the long game as a chore, maybe an unpleasant task to be avoided if possible. I don’t. I see it as an investment in my ability to be a world traveler in my 80’s. I see those efforts as a great gift for my wife and playmate who will want me to be healthy and by her side. Finally, I think about my kids and my grand kids, and those to come. I want them to remember a robust, funny, sometimes wise grandpa who was there to show them how to take care of themselves and be there for their family.

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