Good sleep is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. When people think of healthy behavior, diet and exercise usually top the list. But it all starts with sleep. When you are well rested, not only do you feel better, you can handle life’s inevitable ups and downs more easily. You perform better at work or play. Good sleep even helps with weight loss. Poor sleep is associated with higher food intake, unhealthy food choices, and obesity. Lack of sleep changes appetite hormones that make food cravings more likely and when you’re tired you are more likely to succumb to these cravings.
Triathlon, especially the Ironman distance of triathlon, is not for everyone. In my previous post, I wrote about what I think Ironman athletes get right, namely that they love to swim, bike and run. They must love it, or they would not be able to dedicate the amount of time necessary to train for an Ironman. The benefits of exercise increase when you like what you’re doing. Enjoy the process not just the result.
Triathlons, in general, encourage people of all ages to remain active and physically fit. One of the best things about these races is that professional athletes compete next to recreational athletes, otherwise known as age groupers. There are more competitors in the younger age groups, but both men and women are competing into their 60s and 70s. In fact, the oldest competitor was in the 85-89 age group. 85 years old and still swimming, biking and running.
The annual Hawaii Ironman in Kona, Hawaii is this Saturday. I am lucky enough to be here for my husband Scott to compete in the race. You may have seen the televised highlights of the race in the past. It is usually shown a few months after the race and condenses the 8 to 17-hour race into 90 minutes.
Of course, it is incredible to be here. Hawaii is paradise, and I am on vacation. It is blazing hot, so the only thing that makes senses to do is be in the water, either pool or ocean. The ocean water is warm with a reported average temperature of 79 degrees. The snorkeling here is amazing, so we can just float around in the water and look at pretty fish and coral. Hard to imagine competing in any race, much less an Ironman in this heat.
There are many differences between Angelina Jolie and myself. I have breast cancer. She does not. She has the genetic predisposition for breast cancer. I do not. She chose to have a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. I did not. I had a unilateral mastectomy. For me, I could not cut off a healthy breast, but more and more women are making the same choice as Angelina Jolie.
Young women with breast cancer are so concerned about recurrence that they choose to remove both breasts when only one or sometimes none (as with Angelina Jolie) have the disease. Several recent studies have shown that more women are opting for what is called a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy, or removing the normal breast in addition to a diseased breast.
I had breast cancer. With this blog, I hope to inform readers that you can reduce your risk of cancer, but what if you already have it?
Healthy lifestyle behaviors – regular exercise, stress reduction, nutritious diet and restorative sleep- have just as big an impact on your health now, probably even more so, since now the stakes are higher. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of recurrence and increases longevity for cancer survivors.
I look at my lifestyle before my diagnosis, and now, in hindsight, it’s easy to see what I was doing wrong. Even though good things have come from my cancer diagnosis, of course, I wish it had never happened.
Scientific evidence shows that 80% of chronic disease including cancer can be prevented by lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, restorative sleep, stress reduction, and loving supportive relationships.
I am a doctor. I know all about disease. What I didn’t know was how to be healthy and stay healthy. I realized that despite my substantial medical education, I have more to learn. Traditional western medicine has a lot to offer. I spent many years of my life training and practicing in our medical system. I utilized all of the conventional, prescribed treatment options available to me for my breast cancer. Even though I may not have benefitted from chemotherapy, I slogged through and still suffer some consequences of, 16+ weeks of being bald and feeling crappy, because, at my age, it didn’t feel right not to.
I found the lump. I was not looking for it, but I knew something was wrong with my breast. Over a period of several months, I noticed subtle changes in the shape of my breast. At times, it felt heavy and ached. Then an obvious lump appeared. I ignored it at first, convinced it was a cyst and would go away. It didn’t go away. I had never had a mammogram, which may seem remiss for an obstetrician-gynecologist (I’ll save that discussion for another time.) Even with what turned out to be a 4.7 cm tumor, my mammogram was read as essentially normal, just dense breasts. The biopsy, done several days later, was not normal. It was cancer.
I thought I was healthy. I was 44 years old. I enjoy exercise. I swim, bike and run. I ski both downhill and cross country. I do pilates and yoga. I am not overweight, do not smoke, and eat a reasonably healthy diet. And yet, despite all that, in February of 2013, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
How could this happen? I certainly never expected it would happen to me. But it did. While I will always wish that this had never happened, my diagnosis has given me a new perspective. I have been able to look at my lifestyle, make some necessary changes, and reexamine my role as a physician.