Happy Father's Day Dad!
Monday, July 9, 2018
As the calendar once again turns to Father’s Day, I am remembering my Dad. Thirteen years ago this June, my father passed away. While there was no autopsy, the doctors believe an aneurysm ruptured. He died quickly and suddenly in my mother’s arms but his body had been breaking down for several years. Dad had severe cardiovascular disease. At age 72, he had a cardiac arrest while at work. Co-workers performed CPR while waiting for the ambulance. Once the paramedics arrived, a defibrillator delivered an electric current to the heart and after five tries, the heart beat again. We had six more years with Dad. During that time, he spent more time at doctor offices than he did throughout his whole life combined. Cardiac therapy, medicines, and eventually full-time oxygen became the norm. However, he also continued to go the office (he decided to retire one week before he died), eat out with friends, volunteer, and play Sequence with his grandchildren. He kept a positive attitude and exercised his brain by continuing to learn and read.
Most of his life, my Dad was an active man. He was not an athlete. He never saw the inside of a fitness center. He did not golf, fish, or hunt. Instead, he built houses, repaired houses, and added onto houses. One of my favorite pictures is my son at age 5 “helping” Grandpa lay new bathroom tiles at the family cottage. Dad was 70 at the time. Not one for hobbies, Dad was a project guy. Projects stimulated his brain and provided activities for his muscles.
While not exactly a wellness guru, Dad made several lifestyle decisions that ultimately benefited his years on this earth. Here are a few choices Dad made that make a difference in all our lives.
A pipe smoker for decades. My father quit smoking at age 55. He noticed changes. His sense of taste improved. He breathed easier and as the blood vessels opened up and repaired, his skin tone became rosier. Studies show the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer are cut in half five years after quitting. Ten years after, the risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. Fifteen years later, your risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker. In addition, family members are no longer exposed to second-hand smoke and they, therefore, are healthier.
Drink in moderation or not at all
About eight years after he quit smoking, my father quit drinking alcohol. According to the CDC, men are more likely than women to drink excessively. Alcohol consumption is associated with a variety of short- and long-term health risks, including motor vehicle crashes, violence, sexual risk behaviors, and high blood pressure. Drinking alcohol also increases the risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon cancer in men.
To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, the 2015-2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that if alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men—and only by adults of legal drinking age. The Guidelines do not recommend that individuals who do not drink alcohol start drinking for any reason.
A Rotarian for most of his adult life, my Dad believed strongly in volunteering and giving back to the community. He derived great pleasure from the weekly meetings with his friends. In addition, there was a tremendous sense of purpose and accomplishment as Rotary helped our little town build tennis courts, a new bathhouse at the lake, and more. A 2000 East Carolina Study found that older volunteers, in particular, experience greater life satisfaction and positive changes in their perceived health as a result of volunteer activities. Not only does perceived health improve, studies now show that actual physical health is positively correlated with volunteering. The Assets and Health Dynamics Among the Oldest Old Study found a correlation between volunteering and better health and lower mortality rates. Those who volunteered for at least 100 hours per year were two-thirds as likely as non-volunteers to report bad health, and one-third as likely to die.
Keep the mind engaged
Born in 1928, Dad went to school well before calculators and computers. Attending a one-room schoolhouse as a little boy, he learned mental math and the classics. He could look at a column of three or four-digit numbers and add them together in his head. No calculator needed. As he aged, my father may have used an adding machine here and there but still could add, multiply, divide, and calculate percentages in his head. He also kept sharp by reading, playing games, creating mosaic pictures, and debating his grandchildren.
A 2013 study published in Neurology concludes that frequent mental activity across the life span has an association with slower late-life cognitive decline. Lead author, Robert S. Wilson, states, “We shouldn’t underestimate the effects of everyday activities, such as reading and writing, on our children, ourselves and our parents or grandparents.” Bottom line, Wilson and other researchers, recommend reading, puzzles, and other brain activities from childhood through the elder years in order to keep the brain sharper longer.
Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health. To discuss this article or offer suggestions for future articles, contact Lorraine at firstname.lastname@example.org or (585)335-4327.