“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive.
While I was securing my bike to the metal rack outside the fitness center a few mornings ago, a man retrieving his bike next to mine offered a pleasant hello. “How you doing?” he asked.
“Lousy,” I said. I’d just found out that the trivial fender bender I’d had the night before (my fault) would require replacing the entire front bumper of my car at significant cost. I was trying to swallow a dose of my own medicine by reciting the serenity prayer I included in a recent column: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
But it wasn’t working.
“You’ve just become my new best friend,” the man replied. “I’m sick and tired of the standard ‘Great, couldn’t be better,’ response. It’s cool to find someone honest.”
His sentiments reflected the feelings of a lot of us today, caught up in the pandemic, and stressed by the political, environmental, and other existential ills besetting the world.
Later, as I sat down to write this column and calmly reflected on what was important — truly important — I concluded my life was not so bad.
I am in reasonable health — okay, the usual aches and pains — have a spouse and family whom I love and who love me, exercise and eat (mostly) what I preach, am losing weight since I cut way back on my alcohol consumption, don’t smoke or take illicit drugs, and sleep seven or eight hours each night. My blood pressure and cholesterol are under reasonable control (with the help of medications).
I stay creatively busy writing this column and novels, and editing two cardiology journals, and, despite contemporary stresses, remain cautiously optimistic about the future.
In addition to inheriting good genes, which I cannot control, it turns out that these lifestyle features are the ones most likely to contribute to good health and longevity.
They include: a loving relationship (even with animals); sleeping, exercising and eating intelligently; keeping your weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, stresses, and alcohol consumption under control; avoiding bad habits such as smoking and consuming illicit drugs; and staying busy and optimistic by participating in activities meaningful to you.
As I’ve said in the past, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Despite all these attributes, my memory, especially for recent events, is poor. Contemporary science has explored the minute brain changes that underlie the formation and consolidation of new memories. Using mice that experienced a shock to their paws the day before, scientists were able to “erase” that memory, so the mice were no longer afraid of receiving the mild jolt. The investigators found that episodic memory becomes encoded in one part of the brain (hippocampus) and is transferred the next day to other brain regions for storage and stabilization. When the local circuitry for encoding the memory goes awry, the memory gets lost, which explains why the mice are no longer afraid, and why I can’t remember where I ate dinner or the Netflix movie I watched just three nights ago.
And, even after writing this column, I’m still angry at myself for the stupid fender bender. I can only hope that my brain circuitry misfires so that the memory will get lost sometime soon!
Featured image: Shutterstock
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