Updated: Mar 7, 2022
“I feel like my body is betraying me” said Mr. Smith, a 65 year old man who came to me for his regular check up. Mr Smith had been been diagnosed with many health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure, and peripheral vascular disease, a general term for a condition characterized by damage to the vessels, limiting blood flow. He had smoked at least 2 packs per day for over 50 years giving him what we calculate as a “100 pack year” history of smoking. He smelled strongly of cigarettes, and had a pack of his faithful friends in his dress shirt pocket. “My body is betraying me” Mr. Smith and I met about 2 years ago in this same place and he seemed to be content with his life, if not exactly happy. He had accepted that his chronic conditions would forever be a part of his life and at the time he was both aware of the choices that contributed to his health and did not have the desire to make any changes. He’d say, “everyone has to die of something”. He’s not wrong, I guess. The thing that intrigued me this time was that he seemed to be making a shift. He was not so content anymore. In addition he had found the culprit—the entity responsible for causing his misery—his body. I probed a bit, wondering why he thought his body had decided to betray him. He said he was a lot more tired than usual, he was having trouble breathing, and it seemed as if he could do less and less without having to stop and rest. Sometimes he didn’t feel like doing anything at all. Between his legs hurting when he walked and his lungs hurting when he breathed, it hardly seemed worth the effort. I asked him if he thought there was anything he could do to help his body. He paused, thought hard for a few moments, then shrugged and said, “I don’t know. Maybe.” It was definitely a start. I would like for Mr. Smith’s story to remind you of your daily choices. I’m reminded of a well-known story I recently read in which a master carpenter was asked by his long-time boss to build a dream house. He seemed a little annoyed with the request and quite reluctant to complete the task as he was nearing retirement and having visions of the beach. However, out of respect and because his boss was funding the entire project, he finally relented. Unfortunately, the carpenter’s heart was not in it. He was not detail-oriented with his planning and even less meticulous with his measurements. He took the easier route of buying cheaper materials so that he could stash some of that money away for retirement. The house was completed on time and was definitely up to code. The carpenter knew it wasn’t his best work, but he was glad to be done. So imagine his surprise when his boss handed him a thank you card and the deed and keys to the house he had just completed! “This looks amazing! Nice work. This is your dream home”, he said. “I hope you enjoy it”. The carpenter’s heart sank. Had he but known he’d have to live in the house, he would have done a better job. He knew that although the home looked beautiful on the outside, it’s structural integrity was in question. Your body is your home and you are building it daily. It’s where you will live until you pass away. Proper nutrition and exercise are what give you body its structural integrity—or lack thereof. If your workmanship is shoddy, it will begin to show. You won’t want to live there. What kind of materials are you using? Is there anything you can do to help your body? Pause, think hard. Maybe you’ll come up with the same answer as Mr Smith. It’s definitely a start.