A Post-40 Tune-Up
I usually see my doctor about 10 minutes a year. I get my blood pressure checked, and when the nurse asks to weigh me, I politely refuse, explaining it’s bad for my mood. After a Pap, the doctor probes around, asks a few questions — yes, I exercise regularly, do breast self-exams, and practice safe sex — and I’m out the door. I ignore her suggestions to get blood tests for cholesterol or insulin resistance because I’m young(ish) and healthy. Right?
But when I turned 45, my health insurance premiums shot up, and I wondered whether I wasn’t being cavalier. Friends my age have had fibroids, hypertension, breast lumps, celiac disease, and even a brain tumor. Physicians say midlife is the time when lifestyle choices start to catch up with you, and the first signs of cardiovascular and cancer risk may appear.
I was due, I realized, for a major tune-up. Better crack open the hood, rev the engine, and run some diagnostics. I felt healthy, but I had no idea if my bones were strong or if I was at increased risk for heart disease or diabetes (which runs in my family). I wanted to look at the whole picture of my health, lifestyle, and nutrition and make whatever changes I could to stay literally young at heart.
I knew where to go: the Cooper Clinic, in Dallas, which specializes in preventive medicine and early detection. I could have done a similar, if less coordinated, midlife body audit with my own doctor, a personal trainer, and a nutritionist, but I’d already had a complete physical at the Cooper Clinic a dozen years ago, so I wanted to return. They had my charts and could compare the old results with the new ones.
The Change: Mid-30s to Mid-40s
Back in 1994, I spent an entire day getting tested: fast-walking on a treadmill to exhaustion, being dunked in a tank of water to determine my body fat, and having an analysis of my blood labs, urine, stool, blood pressure, hearing, vision, lung function, nutrition, and exercise habits. The results, at age 33, showed I was in terrific shape — the "superior" fitness category — even if 13 pounds above my ideal weight.
Unfortunately, my clean bill of health contributed to my feeling ever since that I didn’t need to bother with medical tests: Why get my cholesterol rechecked when I could say it’s a superlow 135? But a lot can change in 12 years. In my case, I’ve gone from being a vegetarian to a serious carnivore, switched from aerobic dancing to swimming and yoga, developed sore joints, and started having to hold wine lists and dessert menus farther away to read them. Did I mention my jeans are snug?
My daylong battery of tests wasn’t the most fun I’ve had (after fasting the evening before, you wake up at six a.m. for an enema), but the results were revealing. In addition to the exams I underwent at 33, I had my first, probably overdue, mammogram, a flexible sigmoidoscopy to check for colon polyps, a bone density test, and an electron beam tomography (EBT) scan, which can show cholesterol plaque and early-stage tumors. I had hour-long sessions with a physician, a nutritionist, and an exercise consultant (all conveniently in cahoots with one another) to get specific advice about how to make my body and lifestyle healthier.
Despite the fact that I’m more likely to tuck into a steak than tofu these days, my cholesterol was still optimal, as were my hearing, blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate, and vision (although reading glasses aren’t far in my future). The results prove either that meditation, yoga, and exercise are doing me some good or that I lucked out in the genetics department — likely both. The mammogram was negative and the EBT revealed no abnormalities. My joint soreness turns out not to be arthritis, just muscle strain. My bones are superdense, and according to my physician, Michele Kettles, my colon is "beautiful," although I’m not likely to brag about that at cocktail parties.