Until recently I tried to avoid thinking about aging. The human body will inevitably break down, but I set a goal to remain as active as possible over my lifetime. My strategy included daily exercise, running, and an abundance of outdoor activities. My eating habits since childhood have generally been exemplary. My father always planted a large garden, and fresh vegetables were always available. I was the rare child that did not need to be prodded to eat my vegetables. I am lactose intolerant, so that eliminates fatty dairy products from my diet, and I elect to avoid red meat on a regular basis.
In 2010 I acquired an iPad, and at the time my weight had ballooned from the 120’s of my twenties to the 155 mark. I would not consider myself overweight, but I began to experience difficulty getting up when I fell on skis, and my impact while running was noticeably heavier. I decided to try a calorie counter app and downloaded FatSecret to my new iPad. I set a goal to finish each day at negative 500 calories. Later I discovered that a cumulative negative 3000 calories over time translates to a loss of one pound of weight. Counting calories was a significant eye opener. Early in the game I discovered some quick hitters to cut my calorie intake. First came sugary beverages. I was amazed at how many calories could be avoided by shifting from Gatorade to water or unsweetened ice tea, so that was an easy move. I regularly ate a whole bagel for breakfast, so I reduced that to one-half, and once again a small change in diet resulted in significantly reduced cumulative calories. While I was still working, I had a small scone along with my cup of tea during a mid-morning break. Can you guess how many calories a small scone has? I stopped buying scones. I am an avowed pretzel lover. Pretzels are actually a relatively healthy snack, but they are a carbohydrate, and they do provide calories. Previously I could binge on a half bag of pretzels at one sitting. Once I understood the calorie impact of my addiction, I limited myself to two servings at snack time.
In the three months after acquiring my iPod I reduced my weight from 155 pounds to 135 pounds. Since that period of time I have been in maintenance mode. I continue to track my calories, but rather than be in a net negative position each day, I target to balance intake and burn. It is not unusual for me to tabulate my position after dinner with the hope that I am negative 800 and, therefore, eligible for an evening snack. Counting calories made me appreciate the value of my running program, as running burns significant calories in a short period of time. Running translated into more snacks for Dave. In addition, running along with cycling and hiking improved my cardiovascular strength and allowed me to enjoy outdoor activities that were out of reach for others my age.
Of course there are no guarantees in the game of life, and in 2016 I faced my first obstacle to a continued active lifestyle. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2015 and survived a prostatectomy in January 2016. The operation and recovery were a bump in the road, but I survived and eventually elevated my fitness back to levels before the operation. The next four years were golden years, as I maintained my weight and fitness and achieved record years in fly fishing accomplishments. I was retired and in good health, and Jane and I maximized our opportunities for travel, hiking, camping, cycling, running and fly fishing. I was living the dream.
My Medicare plan provides for an annual “in home” check up, and during this event in November 2018 the nurse heard a heart murmur. She advised me to confer with my primary care physician, and I followed up with a physical in June 2019. My doctor confirmed the heart murmur and referred me to a cardiologist. In July 2019 an echocardiogram revealed a leaking mitral heart valve, and a TEE procedure in January 2020 refined the diagnosis, and my valve leak was placed in the severe category. In spite of this condition I remained without symptoms, and my cardiologist attributed this to my superb conditioning.
I was reluctant to proactively go from a healthy sixty-nine year old male to a rehabilitating heart patient, but the cardiologist reasoned with me. First there was the chart that showed that the life expectancy of a man with a repaired mitral heart valve was the same as a man without a heart valve condition. On the other hand, the life expectancy curve diverged rather rapidly when comparing a male with no heart valve problem compared to a man who failed to correct the condition. Facing death is always a sobering experience. In addition, I was a candidate for minimally invasive repair, and this procedure is far more desirable than invasive repair or even heart valve replacement. Aging increased the likelihood of the latter developments, and aging also made recovery longer and more difficult. I was convinced and made the decision to undergo minimally invasive heart valve repair. My next post will resume the story from here.