Saturday, December 1, 2012

Don’t cheat your body!

Those 4 words echo through my head from my college days on the football practice field. I don't want to give up my age but that was almost 40 years ago when my college football team's conditioning coach yelled as the players went through our running and conditioning drills at the end of the day's practice session. When my coach spoke those words, little did I know that those 4 words would stay with me for much of my life inspiring me to go the extra mile to prepare my body to compete both on the college and professional levels.  The term 'Don’t cheat your body' continues to resonate with me even today especially on those days when I just don't feel like taking care of me. Like anyone else I have my share of days when I just don't feel like getting up and going to the gym or going to the track to walk or jog, jumping rope or many other physical activities to keep myself moving. When I do feel somewhat lackadaisical or just flat out lazy I hear those words 'Don't cheat your body!' Those words serve as a personal incentive to get on the ball and get moving.

There are many life lessons I've taken from my former profession in the NFL; one of which was so basic and so fundamental. I knew above anyone else whether I was giving my best effort or not on the football field. The fans didn't know for sure, my coaches and the teammates thought they knew but they really didn't know for certain, but I knew! The same is true with taking care of me physically. My family and even my closet friends don't know and the fans I meet on a daily basis don't know what I'm doing to take care of myself but I know what I do to take care of me. Much of what I do now is inspired by those 4 words I heard on the college football practice field 40 years ago.

'Don’t cheat your body!' is my mantra that I know will continue to stay with me for the rest of my life. When I need to get that kick in the rear end to get going those 4 words will do it for me! What is your inspiration? What serves as that kick in the rear end to get you going when you just don't feel like either taking that first step or going the extra mile for your own health and wellness?

If you have no inspiration, feel free to use my mantra 'Don’t cheat your body!' as my Christmas gift to you especially those 4 words if they can gets you up and moving for a healthier 2013.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

November Physicals

November is my birth month so I look forward to another birthday on the 26th.  I've had quite a few birthdays and while I don't make a big deal about it my birthday is significant because that is when I usually schedule my yearly physical examination with my personal physician. When I played professional football I had physicals once or twice a year because it was important to not only me but to the Giants organization that I was physically fit to practice and play football.  When my career ended it was no longer an issue for the Giants but it had to be important for me to be responsible for my own health and welfare. It was at that time that I initiated monitoring my health on a yearly basis to make sure that I stayed on top of any potential medical issues.

I tend to be a creature of habit but I also want to be simplistic, so getting my yearly physical is one of those things that I know will take place on or around my birthday each year. For the last 20 plus years that has been etched in stone as far as I'm concerned.  It was after one of those yearly physicals that my doctor gave me a clean bill of health but then took an extra minute to ask me 'is everything else okay?' Because of a personal relationship with my doctor I felt comfortable enough sharing non-physical symptoms I was experiencing at that time. That extra moment ultimately lead to my doctor referring me to a specialist who ultimately made a diagnosis of a mild traumatic brain injury that I sustained from playing football.  That extra moment he spent with me to actively listen to my concerns eventually gave me a name to go with my neurological symptoms (Post-Concussion Syndrome). It was a wise move years ago to have establish that relationship and I look forward to the next examination later this month.

Unfortunately, on the flip side, I have friends I played football with in high school, college and in the NFL who have secretly shared with me that it has been quite some time since they've visited their doctors or have gotten physical examinations on a regular basis. One of the tragedies was a teammate who shared with me that since he left the NFL he had not seen a doctor in over 22 years. I was 'floored' and practically begged him to take advantage of a free program that was being offered to former players to check on their cardiovascular health.  Instead of listening and acting positively he was adamant about not going for fear that he would be told something he did not want to hear. Six months later he was dead from a massive heart attack. I often wonder if he had a personal relationship with a physician that he could have met with yearly he might still be alive today.

I want to encourage everyone (but especially all you men) to make an appointment for a yearly physical examination on your next birthday.  If you have apprehensions about doing it for yourself, do it for your loved ones you might leave behind prematurely.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Benefits of Moderation

I've focused much of my attention in past entries on getting up, exercising and being active.  But that can all be for nothing if we don't take our nutrition seriously. There is little benefit in making the time to burn off the calories and then have a calorie laden meal from some fast food restaurant afterwards.  To be serious about our health concerns, we really need to take charge and manage what we put into our bodies.

I am originally from the state of South Carolina. Growing up in the south on Sunday afternoons was comfort time for me because that day meant family dinner with foods like fried chicken, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, corn bread (or biscuits) and iced tea or lemonade on the menu. Top that off with one of my favorite deserts like banana pudding. My Sunday afternoons would always be welcomed with comfort foods that I love even today. But if I ate that kind of food on a regular basis after the most comprehensive physical workout, that time would have been wasted time.

When I was young and ate smaller portions and then played as I did after dinner I might have been able to get away with digesting all those calories. Off course that is not the case now, while I still enjoy foods from my days growing up the key now is eating everything in moderation as well as eating healthier options. I still love chicken but my chicken is more likely baked without the skin than fried. With a better understanding of the heavy content of sugar and calories in those drinks that I loved, my drink of choice now whether I'm at home or dining out is water with lemon.  I am much more inclined to eat healthier foods like salads, broiled salmon and sautéed spinach.

As I get older I know all too well that good health is the one commodity we have that we don't appreciate until it's gone. The best ways to preserve that good health is to live actively with exercise several times a week. That, along with eating foods in moderation that are low in fat, calories and sugar also helps tremendously.

Make good health your goal!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

What Are Your Assets?

In whatever you do how do you utilize your assets? When I played football for the NY Giants, to maximize my performance, I had to seize upon my physical talents as well as what inspired me. On the practice fields, on Sunday afternoons and playing before 80,000 fans, it was my teammates that inspired me. Those players I battled with in Giants uniform were my assets.
In my life after football in whatever I do analyze my strengths and weaknesses, I also understand what my liabilities and assets are and try maintaining a balance. In maintaining that balance in my personal private life my greatest asset is and has been my wife Maribel. Not only is she my wife, she is my confidant, my partner, my best friend and even my workout partner. Yes, my workout partner! I consider myself very fortunate to have a life-mate who is willing to rise early, get dressed and be on the road with a coffee or latte to get a workout in at the health club we both frequent in Northern New Jersey. We travel often to destinations country-wide and around the world. For me sometimes the very simple things are what most important. To be able to jog on the same running track, to ride side by side on stationary bikes or attempt to strike he same poses practicing yoga is a blessing and can be very romantic.

I don't have to beg her to join me nor do I give her a hard time when it comes to working out together. I consider myself to be one of those lucky guys who struck gold when I married Maribel. She is my most precious asset. Like anyone else there are days when I feel blah and quite frankly don’t feel energized to workout. She has those days as well but when we do we inspire one another enough to at least do something productive for to get the old heart rate elevated.

What is your asset? What or who inspires you? Who do you inspire? Think of what you can do to make a difference in someone's life. Find a person to walk with, jump rope, ride a bike or strike a yoga pose with. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not have to be a solo job. Find someone to inspire and with luck they could become your greatest asset.

Monday, July 2, 2012

As we march into summer, many will use this time to reconnect with family members as part of a family reunion. Whether it’s a family trip to a destination like Disney World or a weekend event locally, it’s always good to get together with family members. I recently did so with my members of my immediate family at my home in New Jersey. I’m getting older and with more young nephews, nieces, and grandchildren being born into my family, I am quickly becoming the patriarch of the Carson Family. I love being with my family and I especially love to hear the laughter of the young ones play without a care in the world. As much as I love the joys of family, I also enjoy the sense of history that is shared when we all get together. While the little ones play their hearts out, my older nephews and nieces have a tendency to sit within ear shot not too far from the adults and listen to the stories of relatives they’ve never known. I did the same when I was about 12 years old and on into my teens. I sat like my nephews and nieces now do, absorbing the stories of the past.

These are the times we learn about our relatives who have since passed away. More specifically, we learn more about the health histories of many immediate as well as extended relatives. More than not, many of us would have no sense of our family health histories without learning at the knees of relatives at summer family reunion.
I would like to encourage all to reunite and enjoy being in the presence of family. I would also encourage those who know their family health histories to share this information with the young people of your family, providing a “heads up” for certain conditions that could impact them. I’ve long known that hypertension is a trait in my family’s medical history, but I am not affected because I do an excellent job of managing my health.

Happy Summer!

Harry Carson

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Better late than never….!

The month of May was recognized as National Stroke Awareness Month. While we are now in the month of June I don’t think it is never too late nor is it inappropriate to focus our attention on stroke awareness. For anyone who has been affected by a stroke every month is Stroke Awareness Month.

I am one who knows first-hand about strokes. As a youth, I remember seeing my father suffer two of his three strokes. I will not going into the graphic details of what happened but those times were some of the most horrifying times I’ve ever experienced in my life. To actually witness my father battle for his life has always had an impact on my own perspective of maintaining my own health. My father was a very lucky, he was able to rebound from each stroke without sustaining any lasting paralysis or inability to communicate effectively.

In my final training camp with the New York Giants in 1988, I received a message that my former college sweetheart suffered a stroke upon arriving at her place of employment. At the time she was only 33 years old. Up to that point I thought like many others that a stroke was reserved for older people. Knowing someone who had been affected at such a young age (33) as well as knowing how strokes affected my own father gave me a reason to learn more about the medical condition.

Over the years I’ve grown to understand that the area of South Carolina where I grew up was in what has become known as the “Stroke Belt”. That chain of southern states is comprised of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. In the stroke belt people who reside in those states tend to have more strokes and are more likely to die from them than people living in other parts of the country. When I speak with health related groups I often mention a statement that one of my college professors made in a course I took so many years ago. Dr. O.C. Dawson stood in class and exclaimed to the women in that class “Ladies do not marry a Black Man from South Carolina!” As a class we all were dumbfounded by the statement but then he went on to say that “most Black Men in South Carolina do not live long lives” due to the lack of exercise, smoking cigarettes, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity. While we were taken aback we realized that he was right.

The truth is, 80% of strokes are avoidable! Your risks can be decreased by doing several simple but disciplined things. The first is to eat a healthy diet including reducing your salt intake. Another is to work to reduce your weight especially if you are obese. Throw away the soft drinks and the drinks that are heavy with sugar and consume more water. Reduce alcohol consumption and exercise more. The last point is urgently important in maintaining good health and reducing the average person’s risk.

I understand that based on my father’s strokes, having lived in South Carolina and simply being a black male I qualify for being at a greater risk of having a stroke but I make certain that I do all I can to live a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a healthy diet.

I am responsible for my well-being and I strongly encourage you to take that approach to maintaining and managing your own health.

Harry Carson

Friday, May 25, 2012

Message from Harry Carson

I would like to express my gratitude to the folks at Meridian Health Systems for the opportunity to share my thoughts on health. Each month I hope to encourage and inspire you with a "nugget" of information to help you take care of you!

Many readers will remember me from my days as a linebacker with the Football Giants. While other may know that I was once appointed Executive Director and Chairman of the New Jersey Governor's Council on Fitness and Sports. In that role I spent many days in Ocean and Monmouth counties with another great former athlete Althea Gibson working with the senior population to stay active. Regardless, I'm honored to share my thoughts in hopes that we both learn and gain a greater appreciation for our health.

One of the more valuable lessons I learned from my football days is something I also learned off the football field. During my playing days I read quite a bit of inspirational material as well as listened to motivational cassettes from various sources. One day while listening to a cassette the speaker made a statement that I have always remembered and have quoted countless times in my daily endeavors. That statement was "Good health is the one commodity we have that we don't appreciate until it's gone!" How true that statement was for me especially at a time when I played with, at times, disregard for my body on Sunday afternoons. It was not until I hurt my knee, back, ankle or even a toe and was sidelined for a period of time that I truly appreciated my well trained and maintained body. The same is true for most people even those who have never stepped on the field of competition. Most of us do not appreciate our good health until it's gone! Our bodies are the most complex creations that need to be maintained with proper exercise and nourishment. Taking a lesson from the cars we drive, if we fail to service it appropriately at some point it will cease to work properly, our bodies are the same.

Most of us old football players have a tendency to remember the good and sometimes bad things that happened on the field of competition that spelled the difference between winning and losing. This old "Captain" continues to hang onto the words of that speaker (Denis Watley) to be proactive in being responsible for maintaining my health before it's gone! My body is my body! It is the only body for which I am solely responsible! And while there may be days when I may not want to lift a finger or eat the foods I need to maintain my health, my body belongs to me. At the end of the day, being the guardian of my body is the ultimate responsibility for not only me but for my family as well.

Please take ownership of your health and well-being; eat healthy, avoid smoking and exercise!