Haunted by Health and Lifestyle Mistakes

On the evening of my 21st birthday, I drank far too much. I was a college student at the time, and that’s what many of us did. I was also a college athlete who had some belief in my invincibility. 

Having become very drunk, we sat around in an apartment. A girl sitting next to me asked me to give her a cigarette from the pack sitting a few feet away from me, and I did. I also grabbed one for myself. I was one of those who smoked on occasion when I drank, but I did not consider myself to be a smoker.

I was, as I liked to remind myself, a college athlete.

The next day, I woke up with an awful hangover. At the age of 21 years and one day, I felt like having another cigarette. I told my roommate, and he felt the same way. We drove to a convenience store, and I used my credit card to buy a pack of cigarettes. 

I wouldn’t quit smoking permanently for another 10 years. It took 14 years before I no longer used tobacco products.

That also wasn’t the last time I used my credit card. By the time I stopped using tobacco, my total debt had grown to more than $136,000. That figure did not include the mortgage on my house.

At the age of 35, this former college athlete tried to play a tennis match with someone more than 10 years younger than him. I barely lasted more than a set and had to quit while I was leading the match. I blamed it on heat stroke. The fact was that I was so out of shape I couldn’t do anything athletically.

My diet wasn’t helping matters. Although I could cook--and my wife and kids enjoyed my cooking--I enjoyed McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King far too much.

I didn’t enjoy my weight. When I smoked that cigarette on my 21st birthday, I weighed 180. By the time I played that tennis match 14 years later, I weighed 220.

In sum, I was a heart attack waiting to happen. I was well aware that my grandfather died of a heart attack at the age of 54. My father had triple bypass surgery, also at the age of 54. I was less than 20 years away but making good progress towards having my own heart problems at age 54.

Turning Back the Clock

That isn’t me at 41 today. I haven’t touched a tobacco product in six years and haven’t smoked a cigarette in ten years. I eliminated all of my debt except for my mortgage, and I did not use debt relief or debt consolidation to do so. I am in better shape now than I was when I competed as a college athlete. And while I eat out, I avoid the likes of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King like the plague.

It is very possible to feel the same at 41 as you did at 21, and you are going to far wiser than when your body recovered more easily. Whether you are still in your 20s, somewhere in your 30s, or even in your 40s or 50s, you can take steps to feel younger, and you can erase many of those mistakes that you might have made.