As told to Nicole Audrey Spector
I knew I’d been letting stress get the best of me, particularly when it came to poor eating habits, but I didn’t realize how bad I’d let things get until my work hosted a wellness event and a nurse visited our offices to check our body mass index (BMI),* blood pressure and cholesterol.
My levels were not great, to put it mildly. My blood pressure was high, and my cholesterol was through the roof and my BMI indicated my weight was in an unhealthy range.
After the wellness event was over, I made an appointment with my primary care physician (PCP), who promptly confirmed all the less-than-desirable findings and urgently recommended major life changes.
“You could have a heart attack or a stroke if you don’t change,” the doctor said, stressing that I had to get my weight down and my blood pressure and cholesterol under control. For the latter two, she offered me medication to help.
“No,” I said. “I got myself into this mess, I’ll get myself out. And if I can’t do it on my own, then I’ll take the medication.”
I was deeply disappointed in myself and left the doctor’s office in tears. I know these types of medical issues aren’t always in a person’s control, but I was determined to try to fix mine.
As a former aerobics instructor I knew just how important a balanced diet and exercise are in creating a healthy life. And yet there I was: stress-eating cookies at my desk while the numbers on the scale just kept going up, along with my risk for a heart attack and a stroke. Somewhere along the way I had given up on myself. When had I done this? How? Why?
I didn’t have all the answers, but it didn’t matter. I made up my mind to change and I wasted no time. I immediately overhauled my diet — ditching soda, salty snacks and sweets (I still indulge in my favorite treats, but with more restraint), and sticking to three small meals a day. I also upped my daily exercise routine. I exercise a lot, biking 10 miles on the exercise bike every day and walking 45 minutes with weights, but even just a little bit of physical exercise can be hugely beneficial to your longevity and — more importantly, I believe — your quality of life.
But my changes weren’t all physical. There was a mental component to my health transformation as well.
I’m a painter and I set about creating this new and improved version of me much as I would a fresh masterpiece. I visualized what I wanted to look like and how I wanted to feel. I asked myself, “What would I wear? Where would I go? Who would I be with?”
To help center myself and fully realize my vision of my future self, I brought mindfulness into my daily routine. It’s as easy as it gets: All I do is lie on the bed and observe my thoughts with gratitude and a goal of gaining connection with the present moment. I often fall asleep while doing this, but I find that even if I nod off for a bit, this practice still does the trick in helping me unplug and de-stress, which is crucial, as stress was what was driving me to overeat as well as to eat poorly.
With the combination of workouts, healthy eating, and meditation the weight steadily fell off over time and I’m now at a healthy weight for my body. My blood pressure has also stabilized, as has my cholesterol. My doctor is beyond pleased with me. I promised her I would turn it all around and I did.
I’m pleased, too — but I’m careful not to get smug. Being in amazing shape takes much more work than it did when I was younger. Additionally, I’m enormously lucky to have the ability to be so active and to feel so youthful.
Lately, I’ve been spending time in an assisted living facility with my 95-year-old mother-in-law. She’s there because she has memory issues, but most of the people who live there need to be there because they’ve lost their mobility and can no longer be independent. This is a recurring reminder to me to take nothing I have for granted and to keep moving.
Upending life as I knew it in order to get into shape after 50 was difficult. At first, it was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But once I brought in mindfulness, which helped me release the anger for having landed myself in an unhealthy situation, it got a lot easier.
Now, working out, eating right and meditating are as much a part of my everyday life as snacking and sitting around used to be. The difference is, I’m so much happier and feel so much more alive and present. I’m invested in every day, in every moment, and I can say with absolute certainty: I will never again give up on me.
*Editor’s Note: BMI is just one measure and should not be used to evaluate health without the input of a healthcare professional.
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