Remember the days when you could pull an “all-nighter” before a big test, sacrificing sleep in order to cram for an important exam? And after it was over, instead of going to bed, you might have headed to the nearest college bar to celebrate with a quick beer or two? And (for those with naturally pale skin) when you wanted a “little color” before the big dance, you spent the afternoon laying in the sun wearing nothing but a swimming suit and a whole lot of baby oil? One way or another, I think we all took silly risks with our health when we were young enough to get away with it.
But guess what? Those days are over. The last time I went an entire night without sleep was the night my son was born, and believe me, that wasn’t by choice. (Why do babies never seem to enter this world late in the day, so we can get a decent night’s sleep afterwards?) These days, if I’m awake after midnight, it’s a given that I’m going to be a cranky, sleepy mess the whole next day. And I never spend time in the sun anymore without wearing a sunscreen of at least 30 SPF.
We may not like it, but the fact is that our bodies require more care than they used to. We have to be more careful about what we eat, what we drink, how regularly we exercise and how much sleep we get, and that’s the easy stuff. The harder, and certainly less pleasant, part of keeping our middle-aged bodies healthy are the screenings, shots and procedures we have to endure once we reach the wrong side of fifty.
Flu shots aren’t considered optional anymore, and once we turn sixty, neither is being inoculated against shingles. (Well worth it, as anyone who has suffered from shingles will tell you.) And although I understand there is now some debate about how often women over fifty should have a mammogram, I follow my doctor’s advice and go get my breasts squished by an X-ray machine once a year.
Most intrusive, of course, is the colonoscopy, with its dreaded prep routine followed by a procedure that can’t be discussed in polite company. But according to my doctor, colon cancer is absolutely preventable through regular screenings, and colon cancer is often deadly. So it’s pretty hard to justify wimping out and not getting a colonoscopy. I know, because I tried, and it didn’t work.
Staying healthy in our middle age can be complicated and is not always for the faint of heart. But the people who care about us are counting on us to do everything we can to make sure we stick around long enough to enjoy our old age. Which means we really don’t have any choice but to suck it up and do it.