Take it from a patient who knows: Learning healthy habits in the classroom of life

MIKE NOLAND has been through the school of hard knocks. He has survived heart disease, cancer, and alcoholism. At 77, he’s a survivor who’s learned — sometimes the hard way — how to lead a healthier lifestyle.

“I try to get people to smile and see the good things in their life rather than the negative things,” explains Noland, a retired corrugated box designer living in Winter Haven.

Noland, who holds a bachelor’s degree in package engineering from Michigan State University, began drinking and smoking in his teens. When he drank, he usually got drunk. “I didn’t know how to stop,” Noland recalls.

At age 49 he went into treatment to please others, but it lasted only six months. “Finally, at the age of 50, I’d had enough. I went to treatment,” he explains. “That one (the second one) has stuck.”

He had realized the impact his drinking had on the people he loved. By that time, he was drinking a bottle of vodka a day. “I just didn’t like living the way I was living,” he explains. “Of course, it got expensive. The cigarettes were expensive, too.”

In treatment, he learned how alcohol affects your liver and parts of your brain. He decided to take care of himself, and be proactive about his health. Shortly afterward, he gave up smoking; he didn’t want one habit to feed the other. “I was advised it (the smoking) would lead to drinking again,” he says.

In retrospect, Noland credits his decision to stop drinking with saving his life. He realizes he was living recklessly, putting his life in danger. He was focusing his attention on getting the next bottle of booze. “I was mainly thinking about myself. After I got sober, I kind of switched it around. I started to think about other people,” Noland says.

For a while, Noland was attending Alcoholic Anonymous meetings daily. Now he focuses on taking care of his wife of 53 years, Marcie, as well as his own physical and mental needs. He makes it a priority to maintain his spiritual life.

He’s defeated prostate cancer, has three stents because of blockages in the arteries, and takes medication for thyroid disease, gout, and cholesterol.

“The doctors that I’ve seen over the years say I’m in pretty good shape,” Noland shares. “Even though I’m overweight, I can do pretty much what I used to do five or 10 years ago.”

He’s gravitated toward walking as his main exercise, sometimes on the golf course, sometimes walking with Marcie, and sometimes on his treadmill. Lately, he’s had other priorities as Marcie’s caregiver. But he bought an exercise bike to prepare for his next stress test.

He does chores like housework, grocery shopping, carpet cleaning, dusting, and ironing. Once in a while, he enjoys mowing the lawn, although he’s hired someone to do that.

His diet has changed from meat, potatoes, eggs, and bacon. “I eat probably 30 to 40 percent of the meat I used to eat,” he acknowledges, “and very few eggs; a lot of pasta and spaghetti. I don’t have steak very often at all anymore.”

Always a good student, now Noland takes to the Internet to learn more when he has pain. He disregards what appears commercial and tries to root out the cause of his problem.

Dr. Gordon Rafool, a Polk County Medical Association member and retired geriatrician from Winter Haven’s Gessler Clinic, was Noland’s physician for many years. He says he is “one of (Noland’s) greatest cheerleaders,” and describes his former patient as a “self-starter,” who is achievement oriented. “He is a devout Christian who practices what he preaches,” says Dr. Rafool, who now volunteers at free medical clinics.

“The facts are that bad habits such as alcohol in excess will result in a shorter life span,” Dr. Rafool advises. “It is associated with memory changes, heart disease, bleeding propensities, liver disease, kidney disease, many cancers, hypertension, and depression just to name some.”

Regarding smoking, he adds, “There is no question that if a person stops smoking there are immediate benefits, even within days, such as allergies will improve and so will sinuses. Lungs will improve over time, but shortness of breath improves pretty quickly to a certain extent.”

It’s a good idea for everyone, no matter what his or her age, to stay active. “For some, shopping or gardening or even walking will do,” he points out. “The best activity though is aerobic activity, such as swimming, jogging, and biking.” Dr. Rafool encourages patients, especially the aging, to make healthy lifestyle changes to prolong their lives. “It is never too late to change one’s lifestyle. This holds true for any age group, but for sure the younger you are,” he concludes, “the better and more significant gains will be had.”


article by CHERYL ROGERS

Posted March 31, 2016

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