I never knew who Eva Marie Saint was until this morning when I was laid up in bed for the sixth consecutive day after having ACL reconstructive surgery in my right knee. Sean took a much deserved day away from me and the kids to go skiing and our babysitter was here all day so I could simply rest. I put on one of my favorite weekend shows, CBS’s Sunday Morning, and there was a segment about Eva Marie Saint, a famous (Oscar-winning) Hollywood actress from the…oh, I don’t even know what decade. What stuck with me about her had nothing to do with her career, but instead had everything to do with her spunk, particularly her unapologetic attitude about aging. The woman is 89 years old and is still a stunner; furthermore, she’s still active and quick-witted. Basically she’s who I want to be when I’m 89 (minus the Oscar). If I can make it that far, that is.
The last few days have given me plenty of time and also plenty of perspective on the difference between aging gracefully and whatever the opposite of that is…surviving, maybe? I have always had a pretty average to slightly below average attitude about my health. I admittedly have an unhealthy relationship with food – I have moments where I strive to make better choices, eat more raw foods, more whole grains, less dairy and meat, but they are usually fleeting and it doesn’t take much to entice me with a massive nearly-still-breathing New York Strip or a greasy piece of pizza. It should also be noted that portion control has never been my strong suit; I definitely grew up in a “clean your plate” household, but as a 35-year old woman I can certainly make better choices for myself and I simply choose not to. Furthermore, I am not naturally thin, so my weight has been something I think about no less than 10 times a day (even when I’m at my thinnest) and while I wouldn’t say I have ever had an extreme eating disorder (okay, perhaps briefly in 2001 and for the record it wasn’t pretty; I started to look like a bobble-head), it certainly saddens me that I allow so much head space to something so superficial. Because let’s be honest, my obsession with my weight has nothing whatsoever to do with my overall health and everything to do with how pretty I feel and/or look to everyone else. And exercise? Well living in the city for the better part of my adulthood gave me access to every new, fashionable, and worst form of exercise on every corner – the manufactured, marketed and expensive kind. The treadmills, the ellipticals, the personal trainers, the spin bikes, the Dailey Method, the barre and Zumba classes. Every minute I spent doing any of the aforementioned activities was a minute I spent in agony. I was not, am not and never will be a gym rat. The closest I ever came to maintaining a healthy exercise regime in Chicago was in 2006 when I trained for and ran the Chicago Marathon. I did 90% of my training outside along Lake Michigan and while at times it was brutal, it was still the most satisfying exercise routine I’ve ever had. Beyond that, though, I’m a pretty lazy person when it comes to fitness.
The move to Colorado, as I’m sure you’re tired of hearing me say, has been a blessing in so many ways, not least of which is its pleasant year-round climate and all of the best forms of exercise – the ones that can only be done outside. In nature. Skiing (dare I say in my current state), hiking, climbing, rafting, kayaking, cycling, golfing, and on and on and on. Have I taken advantage of the weather and my easy access to beautiful mountain and forest terrain? Yes, absolutely. Am I anywhere nearly as active as I ought to be for achieving optimum health? Not a chance. Now I’m not going to sit here and say that poor choices about my health led me to tear my ACL on ski terrain that, in my opinion, was well within my abilities, but I am hesitant to dismiss the possibility altogether. Had I been putting healthier foods into my body (thereby maintaining a healthier weight) and had I been hiking, walking or doing yoga several times a week (thereby maintaining stronger muscles and ligaments), there is certainly a chance that I could have escaped my current state of inability. Some of you may be thinking, “didn’t you just run a half marathon last month? You must be pretty fit and healthy.” Well see, folks, that’s the thing with me – I always take shortcuts. When I signed up for that race back in October, I did a quick Google search on how to train for a half marathon in 12 weeks, printed off my findings, and promptly ignored them. I basically ran once a week up until the race, increasing my distance by 1 mile per week until I reached 10, at which point I stopped training and figured I’d bank on “race day endorphins” to get me those last 3 miles I’d need to pull off. Sure I finished, but it was painful and thoroughly un-enjoyable, despite being set against the backdrop of beautiful Maui. And whenever I’ve just HAD to lose weight for one reason or another like on my wedding day, for example, there would be no lifestyle changes for this girl. Oh no, I’d just start my two-a-day workouts at the gym with my trainer a month beforehand and do a 14-day cleanse (translation: starvation) the weeks leading up to the big day. I’ll be the first to say it, I looked damned good that day, probably the prettiest and thinnest I’ve ever felt in my life, but I took incredibly painful shortcuts to get there.
At this point in my life and in this last week of reflection, I’ve realized it’s not about being thin or pretty, at least not in that rushed, throw-all-medical-advice-out-the-window type of way. Of course I want to be thin and pretty, that will never change. But at 35 it’s time to take a cold, hard look at my inner health. I believe I’ve come a long, long way in the last year on working toward a healthier state of mind and an inner calm I hadn’t found before, but a positive outlook on life and a compassion for others aren’t going to get me to 89 all on their own. Of course there will always be the threat of cancer or an untimely vehicle malfunction looming out there in the universe to potentially take me, but I owe it to myself and to my loved ones to make the most of what I’ve got. Right now I’ve got a bum knee and the most acute, stabbing case of constipation you could ever imagine, so what better time than now to start thinking about how I’m going to earn the next 35 years of my life. Eva’s advice? Eat whole foods and walk every day. No shortcuts – genius.