My mentor Jim Rohn stated: ” We all must suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons”.
My medical career has shown me the power of this statement so often. The person who waited too long to lose weight, stop smoking, stop excess drinking, get some exercise, take their prescribed medication or reduce stress and get some rest ending up with a serious disease event or early death.
We can’t control everything about our health but we can alter the direction of our health. That can be dramatic. We currently know of about 100 Determinant Genes. Those are genes that if you have them, you will get the disease associated with them. Diseases like Huntington’s Disease, Sickle Cell Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Marfan Syndrome, Hemochromatosis, Fragile X Syndrome, and Thalassemias are Single Gene disorders. A single gene is responsible for inheritance of the disease.
There are multifactorial or multigenic disorders which require several or many genes to be present for the disorder and often the more of the “negative” genes we get the easier it is to develop the disease. These disorders include Heart Disease, Obesity, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Alzheimer’s Disease, Arthritis, and Cancer. Other inheritances in this category include non-diseases like eye color, hair and skin color, and fingerprint patterns. These multifactorial disorders are genetically determinant, but whether we get the disease can be altered by us.
We currently cannot control getting the single gene disorders, though treatments are available. We can, however, alter the likelihood of acquiring multifactorial genetic disorders. What we eat, our activity, our sleep patterns, our stress levels, and overall care of our body greatly contribute to reducing the effect of multigenic disorders.
This is where regret comes along. If we know we can alter the course of these diseases and beat the genetic pattern we were born with, but fail to do so, the negative health effects and subsequent regret later in life can be devastating.
With Obesity, Heart Disease, and Diabetes, regret will occur when our body is in the latter phases of these diseases. We will know longer be able to be active and will be relegated to a wheelchair or scooter. We will have difficulty with even our usual habits of care such as bathing, toileting, dressing, and moving about. We will struggle with events such as Heart attack and stroke of which 30% die instantly and the other 70% are left with varying degrees of disability. The cost of healthcare and medications or procedures may be greater than our insurance coverage or finances allow.
The nursing and rehab facilities are full of people who never intended to end up disabled or needing others to assist them with every daily need. When I ask my elderly patients what their greatest fear is, it’s not dying. It’s ending up in a long term care facility and being forced to leave their home.
I just saw the latest Clint Eastwood movie, Cry Macho. What amazed me even more than the movie itself was that Clint, at 91 years of age, was in every scene, danced, drove, threw a punch, and rode a horse. ( Though the magic of movies portrayed him on a bucking broncho by a double ). I suspect Clint Eastwood has both good genetics and has taken good care of himself throughout the majority of his life. Maybe we’ll even see another feature film from this Icon in the next 5 or10 years.
The point is, we have a great deal of control in what our older selves will be like. We can avoid and avert certain disease processes even if we have the bad genes. We can choose to live healthier, cleaner, and less stressful lives. We can choose to get exercise, eat better, and eliminate bad habits. Is it easy? Of course not. Is living a life of disability easy? Of course not, and when we reach the point of no return with a disease, only palliation and long term assistance is available.
Therein lies regret. The weight of living months or years with others having to care for our daily needs is tons. Discipline or what I like to call getting into a habit of health weighs ounces in comparison. It’s hard. But, isn’t anything worthwhile in life hard? If everything was easy, everybody would do it ,which would actually make it hard, because of the overwhelming competition to do it. Hope that made sense.
Here’s an example: If everyone could rise to the top in athletics, then the top would be meaningless. The very fact that it could be achieved by everyone would make it not worth attempting. Things are hard for a reason. Not everyone is willing to put in the time, effort, money, and persistence to become better. We applaud great musicians, athletes, business icons, and other high achievers, because we all understand the effort and sacrifices it takes to get to the top.
Any of us can reach the top of a field that we have desire and attributes for. Attributes play a role as I was never physically structured at making the NBA, NFL, or other arena requiring height, speed, and razor quick reaction time. That was not in my genetic makeup. Each of us has the ability to be a high chiever in many areas of life. We can all be high achievers when it comes to health and fitness.
We can avoid future regret by taking small steps now and growing those steps to become more fit and healthier over time. Alzheimer’s Disease can be reduced by 72% with daily vigorous exercise. Heart attack and stroke damage and effects can be reduced by 50% with moderate exercise 150 minutes a week. In fact, death from any cause can be reduced 47% by 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly.
We have our lives in our own hands. Whether we live a long active life like Mr. Eastwood, or check out early or spend our latter life being cared for, is up to us.
What exactly do I need to do to live that long active life?
1. Get to your best body weight
2. Eat smaller portions and include plants often
3. Daily exercise and work up to 150 minutes of sweating weekly
4. Get plenty of clean water intake
5. Get 8 hours of sleep nightly
6. Avoid toxic habits (Alcohol, Drugs, Smoking)
7. Have strong relationships and if alone, get a pet
8. Have purpose in your life, no matter what age
These are the most common things that allow people to optimize their health and live active and lengthy lives. These are the things that will help to dramatically reduce or even eliminate the weight of regret in our senior years. No one is perfect and some of the fun things in life are not always healthy; but, if we are better at the things that make us healthy more often than those things that make us unhealthy, we can beat some bad genetics.
Getting healthy is not about doing everything needed on day one and becoming obsessively miserable working at it. Getting healthy is about the little things. Eating better today. Doing something physical today. Breaking a bad habit starting now. Getting an extra hour of sleep and an extra glass of water today. Over time the little things add up to become big things. These are the things that will allow us to live without regret.