Real battle is with our minds


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Category: Health Care 19 Jul 09

He was 47 years old. He was gentlemanly; beautifully spoken; jovial; overweight in a jolly way. I really couldnít imagine him slumped in his living room just two days later. I couldnít imagine the grieving wife and shocked girl child next to her.

I was thinking of the steady stream of jokes he was telling to cut the tedium of a long graduation ceremony in central Trinidad of 11-year-olds who were still waiting for their results. He was the head of the PTA, but kept slipping into daddy mode, gesticulating above the noise, that there was his 11-year-old daughter, there she was. Three days later, his wife called. He was dead. As I spoke to his grieving widow, heard the mixture of steely stoicism and despair in her voice, I remembered a statistic: about two-thirds of adults in the United States are overweight, and almost one-third are obese.

Obesity carries with it a near-death sentence, putting men and women at increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, (we have among the highest incidence of diabetes in the worldóall that sugar, in everything from juice to chicken) breathing difficulties during sleep, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis. Statistics are easier to deal with than young fathers who when, their children need them the most, when their wives are still young women, collapse and die. I think of a newspaper itemóa schoolgirl found her father dead in the car. In this day, a simple blood test can check cholesterol, sugar, liver damage, cancer. Ninety per cent of ill-health is preventable, brought upon ourselves with our lifestyle. Self-neglect is the quietest suicide you can imagine. It happens every day.

Sodís law

The Brits call it Sodís Law. Itís called kicking you when you are down. Just as you are the busiest in your lifeómortgage, career, childrenójust when your responsibilities burgeon to care for older members of the family, just when you have the least time and disposable funds to take care of yourself, when exercise and olive oil and trips to the vegetable stand are a luxury, thatís when your body rebels. Blood tests reveal high cholesterol, bones ache and break, sugar spikes. Men tend to retain the laughter of their youth, with alcohol and boys nights out, with less self-awareness. Women tend to beat up on themselves, feel they have been cheated out of the Cinderella story, and punctuate their juggling responsibilities and growing hurt with binge sessions of sleeping and eating.

More and more, as you enter your mid-thirties, you need sugar and starch just to get you through the day. At that precise point, when your burden is the heaviest, nature conspires with Sodís Law to conjoin with the wires that burden you further. It explains why people age so quickly between 35 and 45. Overnight, pot bellies appear in men; the grey roots remains untouched in women; eyes become somewhat dull; dresses and suits are let out, and a kind of insatiable hunger that temporarily drowns out the vanished years.

Piles of rice, slabs of chocolate, racks of meat, fried chicken and cake allow the brain a quick rush of pleasure, the sort that flooded us the second we woke up when we were very young and the world was ours to explore. Now, food allows us to simply navigate through the land mines of domestic and working lives, chores, projects, housekeeping, car maintenance, traffic jams, lunch kits, doctorís visits, financial concerns. The most insidious part of growing older is becoming jaded. Itís not easier to look at our ageing selves in the mirror.

In our heads, sometimes we are 18 but the mirror shows us strangers. The older we get, the more invisible we get to young people, unless we have the power to give or withhold money or jobs. So we self-destruct: we eat more, and stop looking in the mirror. But the real battle is with our minds. The people in their thirties and forties today run this country, make it work, have children, take care of the elderly. We have to remember that a childís eyes can look very old if he or she has seen too much, and the very old, if they are fulfilled and bubbling with an endless stream of projects, never-ending goals, if they are contributing to the world and live active sociable lives, have the gleam of a 17-year-old.

Dying light

We must fight Sodís Law, and rage against the dying of the light. We canít wait for the Government to care about our health, preventative or curative.
We donít have control over the traffic laws, the service industry, crime and lawlessness. But we have control over our own bodies.

We can decide to be around longer to enjoy our children, our bodies, our world and our lives. No matter how busy our day, we reignite our light by exercising for an hour a day, at home with a video, around the savannah with just a pair of running shoes. We can choose fruit. We can turn away from ice-cream, pizza, chunks of meat. We can fill ourselves with fish and vegetables, avocadoes and yoghurt. As our bodies get fitter, we can carve out a few hours to read, paint, photograph, splash in a waterfall, sign up for a 5k run.

Movement is the best anecdote to gloom and the threat of atrophy, of a future that looks smaller as we age. Many of us are giving in, dying with the fading light, slowly poisoning ourselves with quick fixes, food that clogs up our hearts, drink that ruins our liver leaving behind children who have to grow up too soon. We donít have to slow down. We all have to speed up, to remember a time when endless possibility spread through us like a delicious warmth, and grope our way back to the light.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur