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60 at 6060 at 60

"The highest level attainable" is one definition of the word "summit." For pilots, Summit is the pinnacle of aviation information, a concise and collegial meeting, to be held in Hartford, Connecticut, September 22 through 24. In Mark Twain's 1899 classic story, "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," character Hank Morgan suffers a blow to the head and is inexplicably transported to medieval England, the land of my birth, to Camelot. In September, hopefully without brain trauma, the reverse will happen and this native Brit will come to the new Camelot, AOPA Summit, to participate in awe-inspiring events.

Sackier“You’re in excellent health, so shape up because you’re going to live a long time!” Baffling words, don’t you think? This 59-year-old pilot visits his doctor, not for his aviation medical but a solid 2,000-hour TBO. An executive, he travels extensively, working long hours. His family and friends care about him, as do his colleagues, who want to ensure he sticks around so he can do his job—which he does very well. The verdict? Heart, lungs, guts, joints, neurons, and sprogulator all working well. Just one issue—he is carrying unwanted belly ballast.

And now the reveal: This executive is Craig Fuller, president of AOPA. Several readers have written to me concerned for Craig because he has packed on a few since taking the leadership role. We talked about this issue, I tendered some advice, and Craig committed to slimming down. So that a change in appearance would inspire others to follow his lead, Craig suggested we document his efforts. “I am about 60 pounds overweight and as I have just hit the magical birthday, why don’t we call this ‘60 at 60’—and I will change my life and habits to get into shape.”

We equate healthy behaviors with a longer lifespan, but Prof. Michael Thorner, emeritus chair at the University of Virginia and a world-renowned endocrinologist, says it best: “We need to adjust our thinking and aim for healthspan, improving how long we have robust and functional life. Problems such as chronic obesity erode our ability to enjoy the years we have.”

With aging, muscles shrink about two percent each year after 50, so staying active is harder, resulting in waistline padding. Extensive traveling disrupts routines and sleep patterns, making good eating habits harder to maintain, especially if attending events where social customs often lead to excess.

“Over the past year I have traversed America discussing aviation with our members, holding town hall meetings, lobbying Congress, interacting with the various bodies important to all who fly, and, of course, raising money to fund the important work AOPA carries out,” Craig told me. “I was in a hotel room around 107 nights and attended 190 functions, not including ones in Washington, D.C., or near Frederick.” That’s a lot of $100 hamburgers, cooked breakfasts, canapés, and chicken dinners.

Thinning down and improving fitness strikes many with regularity; we embark on a poorly conceived regime, lose some weight, then lose the urge—adding the pounds once again. The cycle repeats itself in the aptly named “rhythm method of girth control.” How does one change this non-productive and vicious cycle? Certainly telling a few of your friends helps—in Craig’s case about half a million of his closest friends now know. Additionally, there are a number of initial steps, literal and metaphorical. Literal first—get moving! One does not have to become an overnight Mr. Universe competitor (sigh of relief from Mr. Fuller); rather, take some steps. If you have a dog, take the lucky fella for a walk, then two walks per day. Use the stairs, not the elevator; walk to and from lunch or to run errands, gradually increasing the distances. Certainly obtain your doctor’s approval before embarking on an exercise regime. With time, commence formal workouts, either at a health club or with a home-based program. If traveling, choose a hotel with a gym or pool—and use it! Again, try stretching your legs rather than driving—with gas at $4 a gallon, that should provide even more encouragement.

AOPA Aviation Summit

Join Dr. Jonathan M. Sackier at AOPA Aviation Summit September 22 through 24 in Hartford, Connecticut, for health-related discussions.

Other simple steps: Buy smaller plates to enable portion control, aiming to leave something on your plate at the end of the meal. Boy, your dog is going to be one happy camper—walks and snacks! Avoid the all-American habit of cutting everything into bite-sized chunks, discarding your knife and vacuuming all the food down; try slicing one chunk at a time, replace your eating irons, and chew thoroughly. This practice allows the food to stimulate your stomach’s satiety sensors, telling you when you’ve had enough. Do not eat watching TV; rather, sit with family and friends, taking time to enjoy conversation—a surefire way to eat less. Drink water before each meal and frequently during the day, thereby decreasing appetite.

You will notice that I have not identified any particular diet; the general principle is more important. Certainly, reducing carbohydrate intake is no bad thing; at a restaurant ask for the bread at the end of the meal rather than prior to food. You will eat less, if any. Eat more fruits and vegetables and start the day with a high-fiber, low-fat breakfast.

We will follow Craig’s progress in this column and, if you see him at an event, please provide your encouragement—but let me know if he is eating his bran, or biscuits and gravy! Maybe some of you might follow our leader, aiming for a longer healthspan—if so, good luck!

Email the author at [email protected].

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