Motivational Monday: Health’s hidden benefits

© Barbara Helgason |

When you make a point of living a healthy lifestyle, you kind of expect it to be a “get out of jail free” card for any number of lifestyle-related diseases (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.) as well as pesky minor illnesses like colds and flu. Or at least you hope it will be.

I love it that I rarely get colds and can’t remember the last time I had the flu (and I don’t get flu shots). I take mass transit regularly and am in classrooms with coughing, sniffling, hacking students. Doesn’t affect me (of course, I’ve probably just jinxed myself!). I am pleased that my blood pressure is uber-healthy and that I’ve not had to worry about my glucose and cholesterol levels.

But good health can’t prevent all ills. It couldn’t prevent the medical problem that sent me into the operating room a month ago. It would have been so easy to complain that life wasn’t fair…except it turns out that life was fair.

First, I was able to check in for my surgery and hospital stay confident that my risk of picking up a secondary infection in the hospital was about as low as possible. I knew my immune system was humming along nicely (although the round of prophylactic antibiotics in my IV during surgery didn’t hurt, either).

Second, as I mentioned yesterday, my recovery has been smooth as silk. Yes, I was slow and swollen for the first two days home from the hospital. But then things began rapidly improving, with every day notably better than the day before. Being the research junkie that I am, I was well-versed in all the unpleasant things that often follow my type of surgery. Not just problems with healing and warding off infection, but all manner of digestive complaints. The horror stories I read on a few post-surgery support forums would make your hair stand on end.

I was prepared for the worst…but the worst never came. I went back to work (from home) one week post surgery. Three weeks later (last Thursday) my surgeon said I could resume all of my usual exercise, including weight lifting. Oh, what a happy day it was!

So why was I so lucky, I wondered? Yes, I made a point of continuing to eat healthfully. Yes, I made a point of going on daily walks, a little further and/or faster each day. But did those things alone spare me post-surgery complications and discomforts?

Jeff was the one who wondered if my body weight (body fat, really) was the key. And, truth be told, I am quite lean in the torso, so the surgical incision had to go through only the thinnest layer of subcutaneous (under the skin) fat, plus a normal (healthy) amount of visceral fat under the muscle layer. I started doing a little research, and while I couldn’t find much on the subject, I found a few references that excess body fat can be worse for post-surgical healing than diabetes. (Diabetes is notoriously bad in this regard…which is why people with the condition have to be very careful to avoid even things like ingrown toenails and blisters from ill-fitting shoes).

Wow. That was interesting. And explains why so much of the patient-oriented pre-surgery literature encourages eating healthy foods, increasing exercise and losing some weight (if needed). Trouble is, you don’t always have a lot of lead time between deciding to have surgery and actually having the surgery. I had two days. Which is why I am so glad that I was already healthy and in peak condition.

You never know what life will throw at you. The time to get ready for it is before it hits you. Take it from me, you’ll be glad you did.