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Friday, May 26 Opinion

How I See It: Forget the regrets, move into New Year with healthy hopes

Happy New Year, everyone! Are you floating into 2015 with glad tidings and good cheer, or are you stuck in a bah-humbug funk? If you're caught somewhere in between, you're not alone.

The holiday season is loaded with contradictions. You can seek mankind's better angels through family reunions, charitable works or personal inspiration, whatever form that takes. Or, you can get wasted at the office party, stagger into a big-box store at the crack of dawn, and get into a fistfight over a flat-screen TV.

Somehow, amidst this season's confusing, frantic backdrop, we're supposed to rise above the fray and squeeze in a little time for introspection -- when we ask ourselves how life's working out. This year, I'm not going to duck out of this job. I'm gonna give it a go but with one ground rule: no rummaging through my suitcase-full of flaws, failings and regrets. Nope, this reflection session is going to be about gratitude. Here are a few things I'm grateful for.

I'm grateful that the twists and turns of life landed my young family in Fairfield. All these years later, I am grateful to be living here still, in the same house. When we moved here, our neighbors were old people. Now we are the old people. The symmetry of the role reversal feels right.

I'm grateful to be entering my fifth year of retirement with family nearby, a good a circle of friends, plenty to learn and do, and easy access to New York and Boston for a big-city fix. Not to mention all those senior discounts.

I'm especially grateful for being healthy and of sound mind. I have developed a certain preoccupation with my health, the reason being that the vast majority of the pleasures and opportunities in my life is centrally dependent upon physical and mental functioning. And since I'm past the point of relying only on genetics and luck, good health hinges on two main responsibilities: purposeful physical activity and reasonable dietary discipline.

When I retired, I sat down with my wife and took stock. My diet needed some fine-tuning, and I could use more strength and endurance to maintain the physical activities I enjoyed. Suddenly, my health became redefined as a valuable asset requiring steady investment, but I needed a strategy, and the motivation to carry it out.

Enter Scott Shapiro, personal trainer and owner of PinPoint Fitness on the Post Road. I thought that a personal trainer was an unnecessary extravagance until I had a few sessions with him. Scott trains young athletes and weekend warriors, but he stressed that at my age, my goals didn't need to include lifting a Volkswagen or entering an Ironman competition. Rather, the goal was to optimize my fitness with proper weight-training equipment, careful technique and injury prevention. The long-term strategy included regular cardiovascular exercise and a diet that supports weight control and maintaining muscle mass. Note to seniors: you're losing muscle mass as you read this, and your strength and balance with it. Regular physical activity can preserve muscle mass, and there's mounting evidence that it preserves cognitive function.

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I've stuck with Scott's one-on-one weight training program for the past three years. I've gotten steadily stronger and more flexible (my wife also got me started on yoga this year), my weight is stable, and I have never been injured in the gym. I enjoy the challenges of training. My only regret is not being able to come out on top of an argument with Scott on any topic. We're both from the Bronx, where arguing -- about anything -- is as important as breathing. I'll keep trying.

Finally, I'm grateful for a disciplined but realistic approach to food. We cook a lot at home now, and that makes the experience of eating out that much more fun. I pay careful attention to food choices and food sources (portion size is still a work in progress), but I'm not a born-again nutritional purist. I don't waste money on multivitamins -- they're in my food, and they're free; I'm not a teetotaler; I will eat meat, but I'm choosy; my diet is not gluten-free or Paleolithic; I am not fearful of GMO-containing foods (I do have issues with them, though). If a restaurant meal comes with a side of fries, I will eat those fries. I'll pick up a pizza from Nauti Dolphin once in a while, and knock down a burger from Duchess with my wife and son for old time's sake. I'm simply trying to stay sensibly in control of a diet that can go haywire at any time.

So, there's my Gratitude Short List. Serendipity has plopped a lot of good things in my lap, but if I've realized one thing, it's that going forward I can't take my health for granted. So far so good, but do I have what it takes to stick with the program? I'll know I did if, 16 years from now, I can pull on my own pants and go unassisted to my granddaughter's high school graduation. The bonus will be that I also remember that her name is Gracelynn.

Oh -- and as for those worn-out flaws, failures and regrets of mine, enough already. I'm issuing myself a full pardon. That suitcase is taking up too much space, and it's going to the dump, where all old baggage should go.

Ron Blumenfeld is a Fairfield writer and retired pediatrician. His column appears periodically. He can be reached at: rblumen2@gmail.com.

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