We all need to develop healthy habits. Not surprisingly, we develop a lot of these habits from those who have the greatest influence on our lives, be it family, friends, childhood hero’s, etc. For example, I remember growing up watching television and thinking how cool the actors were who smoked. From James Dean to Dean Martin, I thought they were cool and the cigarette hanging out of their mouth was just part of that personification. To make matters more difficult, my dad smoked as well. I was absolutely convinced I had the best Dad in the world, I idolized him. It still surprises me that I became a non-smoking person who chose a career where I get to actually treat people who smoke.
I would imagine my childhood is not different from too many other kids, even today. Our youth see prominent role models drinking alcohol or smoking a cigarette and think the same things I thought when I was their age. They begin to experiment with these items, casually at first, then with purpose second. I suppose they begin to believe that they too are now becoming like their heroes. They begin to join the culture that surrounds them. The smoking culture is a very welcoming one at that. So healthy habits do not usually develop naturally, they need to be created.
The youthful lifestyle can be intoxicating as they live on the edge and rebel against what they know is not in their best interest. But they're young and the feeling of invincibility is overwhelming. Their whole life is right ahead of them and without hesitation, they‘ll tell you “all is good“. But the habits they‘re developing begin to become conditioned in their sub-conscience. Without realizing it, poor health choices are becoming the norm rather than the exception. Binge drinking, over-eating, smoking cigarettes or sitting around gaming all the time doesn‘t seem disastrous because youth is on their side. But, what happens when you fast forward about 30 or 40 years? Sure, they may have dropped some of those nastier habits, but what about smoking. Many people casually pick up the addiction only to find they can‘t get rid of it. Now, they’re fifty or sixty years old and have smoked for a few decades. Suddenly they’re not as invincible as they once thought. Now the smoking lifestyle has caught up with them. The unhealthy habits have now lead to a life of hardship and pain.
Well, new research has examined the effects of middle aged smoking on long term risk of impaired activities of daily living (ADL). First, let’s define ADL - these are things we do everyday, like bathing, brushing our teeth, going to the toilet, combing our hair, etc. Most of us think we'll be doing that without any problems well into our eighties. Then we hope to have a cute, young nurse change our adult diapers.
Anyway, this study looked at 2,200 people in 1980, then again in the year 1999. They found that smokers had a much higher risk for impairment of ADLs. This means it was harder for them to exist. They were challenged when it came to bathing and dressing themselves. In fact, the debilitation became more extreme for those who smoked more than a pack of cigarettes per day.
That's the real problem with smoking. When you're young and have the world at your feet, smoking isn’t going to change your current lifestyle. What happens though, is smoking starts to silently change your body at a level that is invisible to your senses. But the ongoing affect of smoking everyday for years and years, transforms these unperceivable and unknown physiological changes into a rather startling reality later in life. Breathing becomes labored, chest pains are present, respiratory infections seem to come in waves, and you get on a first name basis with your E.R. doctor. Sure, some people are physiologically wired to be less affected by smoking, but as a general and studied rule of statistics, smoking does not improve your lifestyle as you age. Deciding to ignore healthy habits has now cost you the retirement you always dreamed about.
Here is an all too real example of a typical day for someone who smoked for 30-40 years. Imagine you are 65 years old. You wake up at 3:00 am to take a 10 minute breathing treatment. You go back to bed where you can only sleep with several pillows stacked up on each other. Without them, you can‘t breathe. You turn up the oxygen concentrator positioned next to your bed because you're a little more short of breath than usual. Eventually you doze off, only to awaken 3 hours later feeling very anxious. You use your rescue inhaler which is kept in your bedside drawer. You reach over to your walker and begin to make your way to the bathroom which is about 10 feet from your bed. Half way there, you sit back down to catch your breath. A few minutes later, you get back up and use the toilet. You return to your bed where you take another puff from your inhaler. You keep your pajamas for the rest of the day because you don't feel like spending the extra energy to get dressed. Now you go into the kitchen to get your coffee. When you arrive (ten minutes later) you pour out a cup of Joe and start to feel a little bit better. You call your spouse over and ask them to get your nebulizer and meds from the kitchen counter.
It's too difficult to go back to the bathroom to brush your teeth and shower, so you move over to the recliner and take a seat. Now your spouse has to move the oxygen tubing so it doesn't get pinched under the chair. Next, you read the newspaper, comb your hair and think about what you'll do today. You invite your grandkids over because you can‘t get out of the house today for a visit. Your portable oxygen tanks get delivered by your home health company.
A few hours later, it’s time for another breathing treatment. The rest of your day is spent reading, watching TV, doing crossword puzzles or whatever other activity you've decided to "enjoy" during your retirement.
Skipping to nighttime, you brush your teeth, take your pills and inhale on your last breathing treatment. Finally, you collapse in bed after an exhausting day of existing with lung disease. As you lay on your three pillows trying to get comfortable, you think about how you idolized James Dean. It's then you wish you could go back to that 24 year old kid and tell him that smoking was not worth it. Tell him to start healthy habits and avoid the pitfalls that youth can bring on. You’re not feeling like Superman anymore.
We all know smoking affects everyone differently. Above we described a person with COPD and what their day typically looks like. Don't have any misconceptions, that is a typical day for someone with moderate to severe COPD. If I told you that you could avoid this kind of risk by laying down your cigarettes, would you? You could brush your teeth, sleep better, have more freedoms, travel more, etc. How much is that worth to you? You can start now by developing those healthy habits. Eat better, stop smoking, start an exercise program. Youth is fleeting and you’ll be surprised by how fast it goes by. Make the healthy choice today and start enjoying what a healthier lifestyle, free of cigarettes.