Six Months On

Richard Connor

IN EARLY JANUARY, I wrote an article describing my New Year’s resolution. My No. 1 goal was, and still is, to improve my health and fitness. It’s now six months later. Here’s a review of the results so far—the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s start with the good:

  • Weight loss. I’ve shed more than 70 pounds since the beginning of the year. This has improved my life in so many ways.
  • Nutrition. I’ve made major changes over the past five months, including adopting a lower carbohydrate, moderate protein diet. I’m regularly eating more vegetables and salads.
  • Health. I had a six-month checkup with my new doctor. He was very pleased with my progress. Best of all, he’s on board with my desire to scale back my blood pressure medicine.
  • Fitness. This has definitely improved. I’m trying to regularly walk, bike and engage in other exercise. I’m still not where I want to be, but it’s progress.

Next up, we have the bad:

  • Sleep apnea. This spring, I underwent a sleep study and was officially diagnosed with sleep apnea. My wife diagnosed it years ago. I’m likely to be prescribed a CPAP machine. I’m not excited about this, but many friends have said it dramatically improved their sleep, so I’m trying to keep an open mind.
  • Lower back pain. I had lower back surgery in 1995, a microdiscectomy of my L4-5 region, but my back still gives me trouble. Stretching and exercise help a lot, and I’m hoping the weight loss will keep this in check.

What about the ugly? That’s a two-fer:

  • Knee pain. I had a total joint replacement of the right knee in September 2019. That’s worked quite well. At the time, I was offered the opportunity to have both knees done. The left knee was bad, but the right knee was really bad. I chose to do only the right knee. My left knee hasn’t been too bad over the ensuing three years, but it’s started acting up recently. Specifically, I’m having leg pain below the knee. I saw a local orthopedist and he said it’s “referred” pain from the knee, caused by my knee not being straight. This causes the muscles in the lower leg to fire any time I’m standing. I’m now considering having the left knee joint replaced in the fall.
  • Toe pain. For a decade or more, I’ve had a problem with the joint at the base of my left big toe. I thought it might be a bunion, but a podiatrist diagnosed it as a “horribly arthritic joint.” He prescribed loose fitting shoes. A decade later, it has progressed to the point where it hurts a little most of the time and occasionally a lot, depending on my activity level and choice of footwear. I saw a local foot and ankle specialist and he thinks it can be surgically improved. This surgery will require about six weeks of rehab, during which I’ll have limited mobility. I’m considering having this done in January.

 I’m generally pleased with my progress this year. Two things have really helped me. First is a company named Virta that sponsors programs aimed at helping people with diabetes, prediabetes and hypertension. My previous employer offered access to the program through its early retiree health insurance. The program provides dietary guidance and health monitoring. The company also provides the equipment to monitor blood levels, weight and blood pressure, as well as behavior coaching. The best part: It’s fully paid for by my previous employer.

The other thing that has helped enormously is that my wife volunteered to join the Virta program with me. Doing the program together has been great. She has also lost a significant amount of weight and is feeling more energetic. We encourage one another, and collaborate on meals and making sure we stay active and hydrated. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made as much progress if I’d been doing this alone.

In a couple of months, I’ll be signing up for Medicare. Except for my left knee and left foot, I feel healthier than I have in years. I’m encouraged that my increased emphasis on getting and staying healthy will reduce future medical expenses. More important, I’m really hoping it’ll lead to a more active and enjoyable retirement.

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