10/15/2012 05:41 EDT | Updated 12/15/2012 05:12 EST

We Know How to Live Healthy, So Why Not Do It?

About a year ago I was standing outside a crowded bar in a famous mid-town Milan high street, crying into my phone. I had just found out my mother had a heart attack and needed to be operated on. Those tears were not flowing because of fear, sorrow or empathy. No. They were hot, stinging streams of anger running down my face.

About a year ago I was standing outside a crowded bar in a famous mid-town Milan high street, crying into my phone.

I had just found out my mother had a heart attack and needed to be operated on.

Those tears were not flowing because of fear, sorrow or empathy.

No. They were hot, stinging streams of anger running down my face. Thousands of kilometres away from my ailing mother, the first emotion I experienced from hearing the news of her ill-health was rage.

She had been living unhealthily for years. She had smoked since she was a teenager, was inactive, had high blood pressure and diabetes, and consumed a diet poor in nutrients and rich in, well, crap. Sound like anyone you know?

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada refers to a lifestyle like this as the antipode of "healthy living."


I am categorically uninterested in the statistics of decline of cardiovascular disease insofar that I know that, with the awareness we already have, it should not be the reason for which approximately 29 per cent of all Canadians die annually. Nor should it be the reason we spend more than $3 million on acute care hospitalizations per year due to a national heart attack rate that is clocked at one every seven minutes.

Despite all of the statistical and clinical information we know to be true, people like my mother are choosing to live in the hemisphere seemingly governed by the force of a rejection of reality: Garbage in, garbage out.

My anger that day came from a compartment deep within my psyche where I had thrown all of my own bad "unhealthy living" habits of denial and conditioning and then quickly and firmly closed the door. This place hadn't been accessed since a decade ago, when I decided to revolutionize my life and "prohabilitate" myself. And although I'm not suggesting that all people uproot, sell everything they own and relocate to another continent (as my path went) in order to restart everything a healthy way, I am saying that each of us needs to be proactive in their health plan and train themselves to live well.

"Prohabilitate" is the invented term of an Ontario chiropractic doctor and wellness coach of sorts who happens to be an ex-athlete and marketing executive.

Dr. Jody Anderson is one of a select team of health professionals I sought out to rehabilitate my mother. Her case ended up being quite complex and her mobility had been severely compromised. Dr. Anderson has been pivotal to her recovery, restoration and reconstruction of independent life.

He created this term, prohabilitation, for what I had already understood to be essential to my own well being. Don't wait until your body shuts you down. Work with it, understand it, move it and assess it. Instead of "rehabilitating" problematic mechanics, "prohabilitate" them. Stay tuned up, only good stuff in, only good stuff out. Think ahead; your body is your first day job, because if it doesn't work, nothing else matters.

But we all know this is what we should do. So why is everyone always concentrating on information that we already know? It's maddening that we have not moved beyond the information stage and into the action one.

That's why I am also uninterested in awareness campaigning about all of these facts, which are simple and clear. I was angry because my mother, like maybe your parents or maybe even you, just chose to ignore their importance.

My rage was actually two-fold. Yes, people being aware and having all the information necessary to make the right choices and then brazenly doing the exact opposite really gets me fired up. But there is another aspect, another matter at hand.

My generation -- we in our mid-thirties and just beyond -- is a selfish one. I admit to being really into myself and my life. It made me angry that I had to stop everything I was doing and leave everything I had chosen to come to the rescue of someone who, as far as I was concerned, seemed to care very little about herself.

I am not writing this to be cruel, but to be honest and to appeal to all the self-absorbed children of baby boomers who will eventually embark on the unglorified task of dealing with aging and ailing parents.

Parents who were activists and dynamically fought for change but who, seemingly one day, just pulled up a lounger on the poolside of life and decided to waste their lives and health away.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, researchers predict that Canada will see an increase of diagnosed diabetes rise to 2.4 million cases by 2016 and the obesity rate in adults is 60 per cent in this country. These are direct results of a sedentary lifestyle, among other environmental factors.

So if we know what the problems are, why oh why are we not prohabilitating ourselves en masse? Why do people need to get a wake up call at all?

Set your alarm. Wake up and do something. Do everything you can.

I'm writing this from my home in Milan, Italy, where I happily returned a short time ago after signing off on my mother's care plan. She is in the best health of her adult life, I believe, and does owe that to me.

It should be said that I am what I am because of her, so in a round about way, she sort of did save herself!

Most importantly, she is prohabilitating all on her own now and I have been able to return to my path. The independence that our parents' generation is accustomed to rates very high on the charts -- physically and economically. We need to wake them up before that call comes in and they are not only sick, but also in a state of utter despair, as they're not used to asking or accepting help.

I passed that mid-town bar just a couple of days ago -- it was just as crowded, but didn't have a high-heeled Canadian sobbing into a phone at its entrance -- and thought back to that Sunday evening last spring when that call came through. I had already been walking for quite some time, but remembered my rage and how I wouldn't want my own child to suffer through any more trauma than necessary during my aging process, so I kept walking.

Briskly and at varying strides, prohabilitating every extra bit that I could.


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