On a recent visit, a former colleague and longtime friend, Assumpta Udoh, told me something I found very profound because of its clarity: “Franco, by the time you are 50, the health problem that will kill you will be before you. How long you live thereafter depends on how you manage it.” Assumpta is very correct, her grandmother was diabetic, but died at age 98. Her 101-year-old father is asthmatic, but still going strong. He played exhibition tennis at 100 in Ikoyi Club, Lagos, last year.
Of course, her statement is based on all things being equal: if you escape being slaughtered in Benue, Plateau and Southern Kaduna, if you do not get killed by Badoo boys in Ikorodu, if you escape the guns of cultists in Rivers, if you escape death in the hands of kidnappers in Edo, Delta and Kogi, if you escape death in the hands of “ritualists” in Ogun, Oyo and Cross Rivers State; if you escape fatal accidents on the death traps we call roads or escape death in the mortuaries we call hospitals.
But there are people whose health situations manifest earlier than 50 years; there are also people blessed with good health. You hear some people 40 years and above say “I have not been ill in the last 20 years,” “I have not been to hospital for 16 years,” I say thank God for your health, but you better go for check up. My father was never ill, only occasional bouts of malaria. His first major illness and he was gone at 62. Since 1974, my mother has been a regular at the hospital. To the glory of God, she is still kicking with all her faculties intact. She will be 85 this year. Do not assume anything when it comes to health.
Once you are 40 years, annual medical checkup becomes a necessity. The checkups recommended by medical practitioners include Physical examination, visual examination, blood sugar level, Lipid profile, Liver function test, electrolyte, full blood count, urinalysis, prostate specific antigen (men above 40yrs), Chest x-ray (Above 40yrs), prostate scan(Men above 50yrs), ECG (Those above 40yrs), colonoscopy (men above 50yrs), mammography (for women above 40yrs and some other tests. Each of these procedures serves a particular purpose. Chest x-ray, for instance, is meant to show the state of your lungs. Chest x-rays can detect heart-related lung problems, cancer, infections like tuberculosis and pneumonia or air collecting in the space around a lung, among others.
Blood sugar level is for all persons 40 years and above, especially people from families where there is a history of diabetes. In fact, such persons should have been doing their checks long before 40 years. Normal blood sugar level is between 70 and 99 fasting (that is when you wake up in the morning) and not more than 140 two hours after a meal at all times. Early detection of high blood sugar can help you stave off diabetes and the attendant complications. Happily, it is one of those tests you can do at home with your test kits.
Like blood sugar, blood pressure can also be easily checked at home. Normal blood pressure is diastolic 80 and systolic 120. Once your systolic is 130 and above, you have high blood pressure. Of course, as people grow older, these figures can be higher and still be okay, but you must consult your doctor if you have blood pressure. Also watch out for symptoms like migraine. The consequences of BP are mostly devastating: stroke which leads to partial or total paralysis and death.
As you hit 40, you also need to adjust your lifestyle to stay healthy. This includes the kind and quantity of food you consume. In your younger days, your metabolism was higher and you could burn off carbohydrates, sugar, etc, easily. Not anymore. You need to cut down on quantity of food to reduce the work of your aging internal organs. The common saying: “eat like a king in the morning, a prince in the afternoon and a pauper in the evening” might not apply to some people in their 50s and above. They simply obey their bodies and eat little and when is necessary.
You also have to be weary of the common saying that “you can never be wrong with fruits.” Unless you understand your body very well, you can go horribly wrong with fruits. People with diabetic tendencies cannot consume “sweet” fruits like bananas, oranges, pineapple, etc., in large volumes. It is either strict moderation or total abstinence. You also need to know what goes well with your body. Some people are allergic to certain fruits.
Finally, in your younger days, sports and exercise was fun and recreation. Once you hit 40, exercising becomes a matter of life and death. For many people, it is no longer fun, because of aching joints and aging internal organs, but you must do exercise or perish slowly. You should understand the whole essence of exercise at this age: keep healthy, give a reasonably good account of yourself in the other room (for men) and shed some weight, if possible. Building muscles should not be a priority of men 40 years and above.
Who are you trying to impress? Your wife of 20 years who is more interested in financial muscles that can give her financial security over time? That is why people above 40 years are advised to walk briskly (not jog) about 30 minutes every day. Beyond your physician, let your personal doctor, your body, be your guide, before you slump and die prematurely. If you go to the National Stadium in Lagos, you will see some sexagenarians and septuagenarians jogging, while people in their 30s are walking.
It is partly because of the instructions from their bodies. Some of those old men jogging have been doing it religiously for over 40 years. Exercise you must, but listen to your bodies. Many young people in their 40s and 50s are dropping dead with alarming rapidity. Please do not swell the number because of your carelessness or negligence.