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Healthy Aging

Is Being Healthy a Choice?

By Sheryl Kraft

Created: 06/15/2010
Last Updated: 07/02/2019

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It's scary what a little knowledge can do. After spending a week away and attending eye-opening lectures like The Biology of Weight Control, Belly Fat and Metabolic Syndrome and Aging: How to Enhance your Quality of Life, I'm so enthusiastic I want to share what I’ve learned with the world. Fresh from some pretty astounding new-found knowledge, I'm brimming with greater understanding of this thing called health. While writing, researching and reading are good teachers, I think there's nothing like experiencing it firsthand for all the pieces to finally click into place and make sense.

I'd been somewhat protected in the environment of ultimate health and wellness for a full week. Exercise equipment and trainers to field any questions at my disposal. Each meal prepared and beautifully served. While some might have found the conversation with my various meal companions each night excruciatingly boring and a big yawn, each time we sat down  together to break bread (that is the closest we ever got bread, trust me), the conversation included, but was not limited to, health. Sure, we talked about all kinds of things (after all, the crowd was filled with people of all ages, from all walks of life). But inevitably we enthusiastically shared a tip of what we learned that day, an aha moment, what we would change when we got home, what we've changed just by being there, how we were going to incorporate the changes into our lives once home What we all had in common was wanting to improve our health and tap into new ways to get healthier.

Come Saturday I left (sadly, I might add) - with a boxed lunch lovingly packed up for me by the chef. Inside the bag held the secret to continued success: a veggie burger in whole wheat pita and a big plastic bag of cut-up carrots and cherry tomatoes. "Where's my cookie?" I teasingly asked the waiter who handed it to me.

And then when I arrived at the airport, there it was….the moment I walked through the doors, I could smell it.

Real life.

AKA Cinnabon (just how can you ignore that drool-inducing odor?). To boot, there was pizza, sushi, chocolate confections, ice cream and frozen yogurt, candy, burgers, hot dogs…everything. I'd lie if I told you it didn't tempt me – a little. But I kept on walking, knowing that I'd just worked really hard at detoxing my body, and if there was anything to test my will, this was it. (If you know me, you'll assume I stopped for a cup of coffee – the first after a week of coffee-deprivation. But I didn't. Honest.)

Once the plane was airborne and I got comfortable in my aisle seat, I laid out my lunch. The Asian woman sitting next to me glanced over. "Oh, you're so healthy," she exclaimed, as I munched on my carrot sticks. "I have high blood pressure," she continued, frowning.  It was fate! She was here so that I could tell her all about what to do for her blood pressure. But I demurred, not wanting to sound like a know-it-all. Although, I must admit, I snuck in the "do you eat a lot of salt?" to which she replied "oh, yes…Chinese food is full of salt." She knew, yet accepted the blood pressure as her fate, adding, "but I'm 60 years old…it happens."

Next to her sat a woman eating an oozing, acrid sandwich of something-or-other, washed down by three cans of Coke in the course of one hour. I kid you not– three. (Not diet Coke, either, but the high-test, original kind.  The kind that removes rust and rots teeth.) I felt sorry for the poor flight attendant who kept running over each time the passenger repeatedly rang that overhead buzzer, demanding more.

Ah, real life. Temptations abound.

This Matters> But the way I see it is this: we all have choices. The way we run our lives is in our hands. Even if you choose to turn a deaf ear to the healthy messages out there.

What healthy – or unhealthy – choices have you made lately?


Wow, Sheryl, it sounds like such a fun and eye opening experience!! I've found that as I make real choices in my life, when faced with the old way, it's just not as appealing. Of course, I can never give up coffee or dessert, but the way I eat it is much more respectful to myself. It's not a gorgefest, but a time when i sit down and savor every bite or sip. Can't wait to hear more!!

I like the term, "respectful to myself." That sums it up so well. Savoring every bite or sip is such a wonderful way to appreciate and be mindful of what you are eating.

Not to eat potato chips. That's 1. Not to splurge on ice cream. That's 2. Exercise by walking at the beach at least twice a week. That's 3. I am also very concerned about the health of my grandchildren, so have taken to imploring close friends to call their representatives in Congress regarding the pending Toxic Chemicals Act. We will all be so much more healthy if toxic substances are eliminated from our lives. That woman who drank the three Cokes? She got a nice dose of BPA and God knows what else in the "secret" recipe for Coke. We have choices, you are right. But it would help if the EPA was given teeth and could stop the chemical companies' toxic tendencies ....

Sounds like you're on the right track, Alexandra. Both for yourself and your grandchildren.Good for you for working hard to protect our future generations!

Sheryl, I have really appreciated your posts before, during and now after your week in this healthy, contained environment. Count me in for reading your post all about blood pressure, please! I don't have it, but it runs in my family and I know I can make choices so that I do *not* get it. Being healthy is a choice, but it's not always easy, right? Otherwise, everyone would do it. I went to a doctor on Monday, thinking I had an ear infection causing migraines. Nope. It was an issue with muscles and I need to do the work to get the tension out. It was one of those rare times when I wished I had a doctor who'd just prescribe a pill. But I don't -- I deliberately choose a doctor who would treat with eating and exercise or supplements and acupuncture long before he'd try medication. (Don't get me wrong, I do have a prescription for migraines for the ones that are utterly debilitating; my doctor isn't cruel.)

Jesaka, Appreciate your comment very much. You are so right about being proactive with your blood pressure and educating yourself so you do not have to follow in your family's footsteps. Good luck!

Sheryl, I'm going back to your original question, "Is Being Healthy a Choice?" You asked it on an important day in my life. You see, today I turn 60. This focus on a baby boomer milestone has caused me to reflect. If I want to continue to travel and enjoy the soft adventure that I've experienced in my fifties, then being healthy is not a choice for me. It is a must.

My healthy choice for the week? I increased my time on the eliptical and treadmill. Sure wish my body was accustomed to it but that will come.

Happy 60th, Donna~! Everyone I know who turned 60 recently feels the same way.

Here's to your "must have" health - and continued success on your healthy choices!

The problem is being healthy is not one choice. It is 400 choices made every single day, over and over and that is where the challenge comes in!

So true...choices surround us. We have to have constant reminder, I think, to stay on the straight and narrow. But I do think that with practice it becomes more natural to gravitate in a certain direction.

We are experimenting with water-bath sous vide cooking. Lots of flavour, low fat cooking. I'm thinking sous vide chicken tonight!

Not familiar with that method; would love to hear more!

It's also funny how certain choices one day can be so simple, yet making the same healthy choice the next can feel challenging.

Ah, so true, Meredith. I guess it depends on your personal resolve that day - and what the particular temptations are!

I'm with you - I think it's largely a matter of choice (and some genetics/luck, too). I admit I ate a cookie with my salad for lunch, and I cut my workout short this morning, because I was worried about getting everything done. But hopefully I'll be able to make up that time tomorrow.

Susan, I think that's the trick: if you deviate one day and eat *poorly,* make sure you're mindful of what you're doing the following day. So many people feel they "fall off the wagon" and it's hard for them to get focused after that.

Cheese...what about cheese? that's what I want to know!

Do you really want to hear the answer to that??
(Hint: you won't like the answer if you love cheese. I love it to - um, used to love it).

Well, when on the way home from a lovely weekend with the family (where I ate more than usual, but also exercised WAY more than usual) we stopped at a cafe with terrific salad meals. So far so good. But on the way out, I bought one of their giant cinnamon buns to munch on the way home!

Oh, no, Vera! Well, I guess you have to look at it this way: at least you didn't have TWO bad things from the restaurant...

We are so bombarded in our culture with unhealthy stuff at every turn. At home I can control what my kids and I eat but when we are out (we just got back from a trip) it is SO MUCH harder. From white bread to pesticide-laden fruits, our culture is sick. We need to change. NOW! All of us. So we can all make healthy choices easily because the options will be there for everyone.

I know just what you mean ,Jennifer. We are heading to go away for a few days and I am bringing a big cooler with me, filled with cut-up fruits and veggies. It's sad we have to search so hard for healthy options, many times in vain.

As a health and nutrition writer, I definitely think there are many good choices we can make to enhance our health: Keep our weight down, exercise, eat lots of produce and whole grains, reduce the sugar, etc.

My parents are both 80 and it's a "hard 80"--they're incredibly unhealthy, have a poor quality of life because they're overweight and can hardly move around. It's eye-opening, since we have good genetic stock on both sides of the family. I've vowed not to be like them!

Still...I want my occasional cookie. What's the point of a long life if you don't enjoy it?

I see that too, Nancy, in many of my elderly relatives. Perhaps it is an indication of that generation - things were so different and there was so little awareness and much less knowledge than there is today. HOpefully the more we learn, the more we will be able to make healthy choices. (Although, I must admit with the current obesity epidemic, does that disprove what I just said?)

Excellent post! Very inspiring for me. I haven't made good choices lately, but this inspires me to. The closest I've gotten was leafing through a raw food cookbook, because I think this is something I am interested in trying to do. I met a woman who had been raw for 7 years and she raved about it! I probably eat worst of all my family right now and that has got to change.

So glad you're feeling inspired, Christine. I wish you much success going forward in your quest to eat more healthfully.

It always makes me frustrates when I see people throw away their perfectly good health, when others like me have to fight to live our day to day lives. I have the healthiest diet of almost anyone people I know, and I still battle health issues every day. And I'm only in my 30s.

It makes me sad to see people refuse to live healthy until they're so sick that they're putting their life in immediate danger by continuing their lifestyle. I mean, seriously! Treat your body well when it's in good shape!

I couldn't agree more,Stephanie. Lots of people take their health for granted and abuse their bodies. Yes, unfair for sure.

here's the thing: i eat well & before my recent health woes, exercised like a maniac. but i do a terrible job staving off stress and getting enough sleep, so i'm my own worst enemy at times. that and a sweet tooth, can sabotage an otherwise healthy regimen, i know.

Well, Sarah, you sound like you're off to a good start with the exercise. I agree that stress and sleep are two big, big challenges, as is a sweet tooth. Hopefully the exercise helps alleviate some of your stress and helps you sleep better. Who knows what it would be like without it? As for the sweet tooth, I have a huge sweet tooth myself. I find that eating a lot of fruit helps with that, somewhat.

I started an ejercice plan. I'm reading a lot about yoga and practising some poses. little by little I'm gettin there.

Good for you for starting an exercise plan. Little by little is the way to get there...good luck!

Your week of immersion in a healthy-living atmosphere actually sounds super cool. And I had to laugh when you mentioned the smell of real life: Cinnabons. That smell really *does* grab you!

As for me, I love to cook, and I love to use fresh ingredients, but I definitely overdo the pasta (I keep telling myself that if I load the pasta up with lots of veggies, it will all be okay...). I'm not a huge meat eater, but I'm at a loss as to what I should replace it with! Oy... I need a week away with a nutritionist.

Yes, it's something about that smell...can't get it out of your nose (or mind) once it hits.

Pasta is okay - whole wheat, or course - but why not try using a greater ratio of veggies to the pasta, so you're filling up but eating less pasta? Nothing wrong with that! I think you're definitely on the right track by mixing it with veggies, for sure.

Hi Sheryl - fascinating piece. The challenge, as you found out when confronted with that Cinnabon aroma (!) is that there is such a big difference between the "choices" we face when we're at a healthful retreat - and those we face in our average real life!

As a heart attack survivor, I've been thinking of this very topic a lot lately, as I've been researching which countries have the highest - and lowest - rates of heart disease, for my blog HEART SISTERS. The facts are stunning.

For example, although the French smoke more and eat more unhealthy fats than the British do, the French have the lowest heart death rate in the European Union – only about one-quarter of the British rate. This is the notorious “French Paradox“, which epidemiologists have puzzled over for decades. Although French hearts appear to be the healthiest and best preserved in Europe, they are certainly among the worst on the risk factors of diet and smoking.

The Spaniards, Finns, Italians, and Portuguese all smoke less, eat less harmful fat, and consume more fruit and vegetables than the French – yet die in proportionately greater numbers from heart disease.

How can this be? Talk about making unhealthy choices.

Life is so unfair! :-)


Thanks for writing, Carolyn. And congratulations on surviving your heart attack. You pose a very interesting - and confusing - question. Sometimes, yes, life is so unfair. Some people who do all the *wrong* things end up healthy; those who try to follow the health letters of the law end up sick. Like finding a cure for the common cold, I think the question of these paradoxes will be around for a very long time.

Controlling the life in a healthy way keeps the women in the world of happiness and good relation. Women must be healthy until the end of their life. Because they are the mother of the nature. As far as considering the women, health is an important factor.


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