What I would tell my 18-year old self about good health

For our focus on healthy living, we asked a Huck House friend to think about what he would tell his 18-year old self about living healthfully. Bill Mechling is a retired attorney and business executive. His commitment to good health is an example from which we all can learn.

There are many lessons a person learns as they proceed through life. As I sit here today at age 61, I can tell you the most important and impactful lesson I have learned is the important role that good nutrition and exercise play in maximizing your enjoyment of your life.

When I was eighteen, I participated in various sports and led a physically active life. I paid little attention, however, to my nutrition. My generation grew up with the advent of fast food, “super sizing” food portions and filing everything we ate with artificial sweeteners and preservatives. These factors became more important to the American diet than the nutrition content of food-to the point where nutrition was not even given a second thought. Besides, when I was eighteen I looked good and felt great-so why worry and why change anything?

It may sound cliché, but life truly does sneak up on you rather quickly. Those teen years rapidly turn into your twenties-then your thirties and beyond- as you are focusing on getting an education, beginning a career and starting a family. And while all of this is happening, biology deals you a cruel blow. Your body begins to change. Gone are the days when you can eat or drink anything without feeling -or seeing-the consequences.

In short, my poor nutrition and lack of exercise made me look bad, feel terrible and was about to take fifteen years off my life…

Bill 1For me, I began to see the ramifications of my poor nutritional habits and an inactive lifestyle in my early thirties. I began to put on weight-going from 185 pounds on my wedding day at age thirty to weighing 250 pounds in my early fifties.  My joints began to deteriorate due to my excess weight, resulting in a scheduled knee replacement. I began to take costly medication to control my high blood pressure and high cholesterol. I had chronic chest pain and digestive problems due to acid reflux. Most importantly, I had become pre-diabetic, which means I had a very high probability of developing type 2 diabetes which is statistically proven to take an average of fifteen years off your life. In short, my poor nutrition and lack of exercise made me look bad, feel terrible and was about to take fifteen years off my life-in addition to hitting me squarely in the pocketbook in order to pay for all of the health care services I was utilizing. These ramifications of my poor health choices severely limited my ability to live a full life, including limiting my physical activity, what I could eat and drink, and even how far I could travel. I felt absolutely terrible for about thirty years of my life!

Your health is not predetermined. You can take control of it…

The essence of what I wish to convey to you today is that you do not need to live your life this way. Your health is not predetermined. You can take control of it by taking two very impactful (yet very easily achieved) steps in order to get everything out of life.

The first step is to maintain good nutrition throughout your life. Many people will tell you that good nutrition is time consuming and expensive. This is simply not true. In my early fifties, I decided I had enough of the ailments that had been tormenting me for years. It was then that I decided that I was going to change how I eat. I did not begin to diet-since all of my research showed that diets were totally ineffective over the long term. Instead, I chose to make a few simple changes in how I eat that I felt I could sustain for the rest of my life. I chose to eliminate the drinking of soda, eliminate refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, as well as eliminate foods with a high level of preservatives. I replaced these items in my diet with fresh vegetables and fruits, natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup and began drinking more water, unsweetened tea and coffee.

In conjunction with my change in eating habits, I began an exercise regimen that I knew I could sustain as well. As a busy attorney and a father of two, I knew my exercise schedule would need to be convenient, efficient from a time perspective and cost effective. I settled on a high intensity/short duration workout on a set of CDs that I could do at home, eliminating the time and cost of going to a gym. These workouts averaged only 30 minutes in length, eliminating any excuse I would have not to do them. The high impact of these exercises dramatically lowered my body fat, increased my testosterone and built lean muscle-while many of my peers in my age group were continuing to put on weight and even dying prematurely in their fifties and sixties due to diabetes related illnesses.

Because of the changes I made, I am now able to enjoy life to its fullest…

Bill 2Within 60 days of changing my nutrition and  beginning my 5-days-a week exercise regimen my body went through a remarkable transformation-even though I was in my fifties! My weight went from 250 pounds to 188 pounds in about 10 weeks. My waist went from 40 inches to 34 inches. I no longer needed blood pressure or cholesterol medication. My scheduled knee replacement was cancelled. My chest pains and acid reflux disappeared. Both my medical bills and food bills dropped dramatically. Best of all, I was no longer pre-diabetic, which statistically meant that I would add fifteen years to my life (which becomes very meaningful when you reach age 61!).

Because of the changes I made in my early fifties, I am now able to enjoy life to its fullest. I am doing things now at age 61, like surfing and scuba diving, that I could not have done at age 41. I feel very lucky that I did not develop diseases that I could not cure before I made these changes-many of my family and friends have not been so lucky.  My biggest regret is that for about 30 years I missed out on so much that life has to offer. Had I known what I know now, I would have taken the steps to maintain a healthy balance of good nutrition and exercise throughout my entire life. You only go around once-make the most of it!