Mark was a smoker when we met 19 years ago, and he's smoked ever since. I wish he didn't, but I can't convince him to stop.
The first boy I ever fell for, at 17, was also a smoker. It went along with his scruffy, adorable "bad boy" vibe. I loved those smoky kisses. When Steve lit up, I snuggled closer.
Now I'm 59, and what was irresistibly edgy in a 17-year-old boy seems idiotic and self-destructive in a man pushing 60. When Mark smokes, I glower at him. If he wants to kiss me, he has to brush his teeth. When he lights up, I move away.
I can forgive myself for falling for a smoker at 17. Who has any sense at that age? And at 17, lung cancer, if it's going to happen, is in the distant future.
At 59, it could be right around the corner.
I was 40 when I met Mark. I wasn't crazy about the fact that he smoked, but he was so dear and funny and good to me that I overlooked it.
Soon, I stopped overlooking it and began to nag. Over the years, loving a smoker has turned me into quite the kvetch. But I have yet to find the magic words to make him quit.
A few years ago, Mark's mother, also a smoker, died of lung cancer. You'd think that going through that might finally make him stop. It didn't even slow him down.
My father, a psychoanalyst, never smoked cigarettes, but he did enjoy the occasional cigar. (Insert your own joke here.) Although Mom loathed smoking, she tolerated Dad's infrequent cigars, as long as he smoked them in his office, with the door shut. The rest of the house was off limits.
I'm less tolerant than my mother. If Mark wants to smoke, he smokes outside. It's partly the smell. But beyond the fact that the man I love smells like an ashtray, I hate to see him slowly killing himself.
And when I protest, he just jokes about it.
"Are you about to light up another cancer stick?" I'll ask as he heads outside, cigarette in hand.
"I prefer the term "coffin nail," he'll say mildly.
Mark's 21-year-old daughter is a smoker. "Would you be more likely to quit if your dad didn't smoke?" I asked her once.
"Of course," she said.
When I repeated this conversation to Mark, it made him very unhappy. But he kept right on smoking.
Recently, I decided to just give up. I couldn't get Mark to quit smoking. But I could quit nagging. I resolved to accept Mark for who he was and finally let him be.
Not a single friend or family member supported me in this decision. "You've got to keep trying," everyone insisted. Even Mark didn't want me to stop. "You do it because you love me," he said.
When I was growing up, Alvia, our nanny, smoked. (I adored Alvia. Could this be why I've always been drawn to smokers?) My sister and I guilt-tripped her relentlessly. We told her she'd get cancer. We hid her cigarettes. We tore them up and threw them in the toilet.
Despite our best efforts, Alvia smoked -- a lot -- for the 11 years she took care of us.
When I gave birth to my son 25 years ago, Alvia offered to visit for a week to help me care for him. I wanted this so much that I resolved not to say a word about her smoking. She could rock the baby's cradle with one hand and hold a lit cigarette in the other. Having her there would be worth it.
But when Alvia arrived, she told me she'd decided to quit. She regretted smoking for the many years she'd taken care of me, and didn't want my son to spend the first weeks of his life with a smoker. So when the baby was born, she stopped. Cold turkey. She hasn't touched a cigarette since.
Smokers quit when they are ready to quit. And not before. But there's always hope.
All I can do is continue to nag. And kvetch. And push Mark out the door whenever he lights up, even if it's ten below outside.
And hope for the best.
(This piece first appeared on Womens Voices For Change.)
Over the years, there's been a lot of debate related to diet and longevity. But most experts agree that a diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates is best. And some studies show that eating a traditional Mediterranean diet can add years to your life.
Just like high blood pressure, high cholesterol can also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore it's a good idea to have your cholesterol checked to see whether you need to undergo certain lifestyle changes or even possibly take some kind of cholesterol-lowering medication. For more information about cholesterol and saturated fats, go here. Eating certain foods, such as beans, which are rich in fiber and antioxidants, can help lower cholesterol.
Even drinking wine with dinner and then taking prescription sleep aides can be a lethal combination. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found 5.8 percent of people age 50 to 59 used illicit drugs in 2010, up from 2.7 percent in 2002.
The number of Americans with Type 2 diabetes is expected to rise from 30 million today to 46 million by 2030, when one of every four boomers -- 14 million -- will be living with this chronic disease, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and clogged arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes. The test to determine whether you are diabetic is a simple blood test; you should remind your doctor to include it in your annual physical.
More than one out of every three boomers -- more than 21 million -- will be considered obese by 2030. Already, we are the demographic with the highest and fastest-growing rate of obesity. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we burn fewer calories -- if we don't alter our eating and exercise patterns, weight gain is inevitable. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight has health benefits, so consider that as a goal.
No chest pain doesn't mean no heart attack. Women having heart attacks frequently report experiencing a feeling of indigestion and extreme fatigue, while some men say they feel a fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest, which may spread to the neck, shoulder or jaw. When a diabetic has a heart attack, the pain is often displaced to other areas such as the lower back.
Try as you might, you just can't stay asleep, right? You pass out before "60 Minutes" is over, but then wake up around midnight and count sheep until the alarm goes off. If that sounds like you, you aren't alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that boomers report not getting enough sleep between one and 13 nights each month. Is it life-threatening? In itself, no. But as soon as you slip behind the wheel bleary-eyed, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Your reflexes are slower, you pay less attention and you could become one of the more than 100,000 Americans who fall asleep at the wheel and crash each year. And the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that's a conservative estimate, by the way. Driver fatigue results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
AARP says the minimum you need to stay healthy are muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week, plus 2.5 hours a week of moderate activity like walking or 75 minutes a week of a more intense activity like jogging. Exercise is also good for your memory: Just one year of walking three times a week can increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that's key to memory.
We're talking about stress with a capital S. Boomers are the sandwich generation, caught in the middle of caring for our parents and our children. We were deeply affected by the recession and boomers have the highest rates of depression by age demographic. Unless we unload, we are going to implode.
It isn't just our extra weight; it's where we carry it. An excess of visceral fat causes our abdomens to protrude excessively. We call it a "pot belly" or "beer belly" or if the visceral fat is on our hips and buttocks, we say we are "apple shaped." Cute names aside, scientists now say that body fat, instead of body weight, is the key to evaluating obesity. And guess what? It's all bad.
Gallup found that baby boomers between the ages of 44 and 54 reported higher levels of smoking than those immediately younger or those who are older. Hard to imagine that they haven't gotten the word yet about the risks cigarettes carry.
Follow Roz Warren on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WriterRozWarren