Sunday, October 23, 2005

"Who Says a Man Cannot Have a New Year Makeover?"

Who Says a Man Cannot Have a New Year Makeover?
I need another makeover.

I'm not talking about Botox, plastic surgery, or some pricey makeup at Saks or Macy's. No, I'm talking about improving my health, building my strength, boosting my physical fitness.

I am not the most obese or the least exercised guy around. I just have this high cholesterol gene that requires that I be at the top of my form, not just so-so.

Cholesterol-laden fatty deposits clog arteries all over the body and require surgery (now including stents) to keep the blood flowing. I've had three open-heart surgeries. And three weeks ago, my carotid artery, responsible for blood flow to my brain, got a cleanout by Dr. Frank Pomposelli at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital.

Don't worry, I'm not asking for your pity, money, or time. I just want you to remember this public commitment. That way, when you see me at the JCC, or the supermarket, or anywhere else, just give me thumbs up or thumbs down, whichever I deserve.

Thumbs up if I am working out at the gym or in the pool; thumbs down if I am eating cake or junk food.

Thumbs up if my supermarket cart contains fruits, vegetables, oatmeal and fish. Thumbs down for almost everything else, especially salt filled canned goods and red meat.

Here's the whole story.

I had my first coronary bypass operation at age 47. Pre-surgery, I bargained for more time and promised I would improve my weight, strength and muscles.

The promise was easy, implementation hard. Working in Washington D.C., while I sat at desks, in conferences or traveling, I came to believe that I needed a dramatic change. I didn't want to die while dictating a memo or chairing a meeting. My father had died at 51 of heart disease, just before bypass surgery became common.

I had previously spent four months in Israel on two trips. So, I flew from Washington to Kibbutz Afek, north of Haifa, and began what became almost three years of work in the orchards. By 5 a.m., we were in the fields for eight hours of work that I followed later in the day with jogging, bicycle riding, and sports. A new Dov emerged like a bear from hibernation.

Falling in love with Israel happens in many ways: Zionist groups, a visit to the country, attending Jewish day schools or summer camps. But for me, already smitten by Israel, a former president of the Student-Zionist Organization at Boston University, nothing compared with months of planting, weeding, picking, pruning on a kibbutz that judged you by your quality and commitment to work, not on your college degrees, wealth or social status.

A dozen years later, when I had my second bypass, I had left the kibbutz, was a professor in Tel Aviv, and in less than top physical shape.

My second makeover involved my becoming, what I called, a fitness-travel writer. For one month every year, I traveled to a new country, walked six to eight hours a day, did aerobic classes, ate mostly rice and vegetables and returned home thinner, stronger and healthier than when I left. Plus, I had a story to write.

Besides, walking a city for five to eight hours a day, checking out every shop, school, hospital, university, library and museum, allows you to know places and people better than you do at home where we drive the same road and see the same people every day.

Today, following my Beth Israel surgery, the makeover will not be on a kibbutz or in lengthy international travel. For the next year, I will make good use of the health, exercise and nutrition programs of the Jewish Community Center.

I will be at the JCC and walking and biking around town a lot. Your thumbs up or thumbs down will be a big help. A smile and conversation would be great, too.

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