Happy 66th birthday to my husband, Rob. So, disclosure, this post is about my terrific spouse, but I promise there will be a nicer birthday gift than just writing about him!
Rob attributes his healthy aging to regular physical activity and being married to a dietitian (smart man!) He has always maintained a healthy weight, but as he has gotten older, his genetic propensity to store fat in his belly was starting to make an appearance. After a trip to Peru last spring, he came home 7 pounds lighter and liked how he looked and felt, so he continued to lose weight…5 additional pounds, for a total 12-pound weight loss in 4 months. His current weight is 158 pounds with a goal to keep his weight under 160 pounds. On his 6’ frame, that makes his body mass index 21.4, a healthy number. (Body Mass Index or BMI is a relationship between height and weight; a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 reduces risk of chronic diseases associated with being overweight or obese. To calculate your BMI use this calculator.
In addition to sharing his father’s body type, he also inherited a high risk for heart disease. Rob’s dad had his first coronary bypass surgery when he was just 55 years old, a second one at 67, and a third cardiac procedure at 79. (He lived to a few months shy of his 90th birthday, so good medical care really paid off for him). Rob took part in a genetic study at an Atlanta area hospital several years ago and found out he got all the bad cardiac genes, while his sister got the good heart genes. So, he sees a cardiologist regularly, participates in aerobic exercise activities, keeps his lipids in a healthy range, and watches his diet. He knew that carrying extra belly fat could increase his already high risk. There is some good news for those of you who think genes are destiny. A 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine on genetic risk, adherence to a healthy lifestyle, and coronary disease caught my attention. Studying over 55,000 men and women and evaluating their genetic risk from more than 50 gene snippets that are related to coronary disease, the researchers also looked at four healthy lifestyle factors: no smoking, healthy body weight, physical activity at least once a week, and eating healthfully (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and dairy and less processed meats, red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, unhealthy fats and sodium). The study end points were heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, or death from heart disease. The researchers found about a 46% lower risk of disease for those in the high genetic risk group when healthy lifestyle factors were present. They concluded that “within any genetic risk category, adherence to a healthy lifestyle was associated with a significantly decreased risk of clinical coronary events.”
This study tells us that even if we didn’t choose our parents carefully we can modify our environment to push the odds in our favor. Each year, over 370,000 people die from coronary disease and 735,000 people in the U.S. will have a heart attack; anything we can do to lower those numbers is worth it.
So, how has Rob maintained his weight loss? He cites the early success and the desire to build on it as motivating factors. He used his fitness watch and associated cell phone app to record his weight every morning and log his food intake each day. “When I saw how many calories were in some my favorite foods, I started making different choices. It is just too easy to overeat without monitoring your intake.” This is big news from a guy who loves dessert; in fact, he used to like pre-dessert, dessert, and post-dessert! Now, he sticks to 100-calorie novelty ice cream bars for a sweet dessert without a lot of calories.
His biggest challenge is eating out. After retirement from a 30-year career in the criminal justice field, the took a consultant position that has him on the road about a week each month. He has been in New York City most recently, and the restaurant options are quite tempting. But, he has learned to eat less on the days he knows he will splurge. For example, in the past, breakfast might have been a ham and cheese omelet and now he opts for scrambled eggs with a slice of lean Canadian bacon; or 1 slice of pizza and a salad versus many slices of pepperoni pizza.
Rob says setting goals have helped him, that and his desire to keep the bad genes in check for as long as he can. “I want to be fit and look fit as I move into my middle 60s so I can travel and do the things like to do, like golf, sail, cycle, swim, and jog. Looking fit makes me feel better.” He also adds that “tracking what I eat takes some effort, but it works for me.”
Happy birthday, Rob!