What are you doing on this page? You clicked a young guy health button looking for "Younger Men"? Are you a cougar? (OK, just kidding... sorry.)
Are you a young guy, like you're supposed to be?
Or are you an old guy, snooping to see what we have to say to the young'uns?
Fine, you can sit in, if you're quiet. Now pipe down and let the young turks get an earful. We're going to take a few minutes to talk about young guy health, 'cuz sooner or later, it turns into old-guy health.
You've seen some of the rest of this site? You see what we middle-aged (and older) fudds are starting to deal with? You realize that what annoys or cripples us came from what happened when we were your age and suffered:
You figure ... well that's us lame old fat guys - you're different. You won't do all the stupid stuff that we did, and even if you do, the science and tech are better these days. Right?
We are you, in 25, maybe 35 years. And what you are doing to yourself now is helping to make sure of that.
You aren't as tough as you think you are. We weren't as tough as we thought we were. It FEELS like you are getting away with stuff. That's an illusion, and there's a perfectly natural explanation for why it happens, but it's still an illusion.
You are banking stuff now that will - not might ... will - rise up and slam you in just a few decades, or less. When you are a young guy, health seems to be a given.
Yes, humans are tough and resilient.
Yes, there are innumerable stories of people being shot, bombed, mangled in battle, or by natural (or man-made) disasters, and yet pulling off incredible feats of bravery, determination, etc. And many of them later recover and live normal lives, despite taking severe damage and scarring. For that matter, tens- or hundreds-of-thousands of hard-driving athletes have sustained substantial sports injuries, gotten lots of attentive, expert sports-medicine care, and gone back - repaired - to play hard some more. Or, they've played through their sports injury, held together by temporary wraps, splints, and sheer determined will to make the big play, keep the team in the playoffs. Blah-blah-blah.
What you hear and read about much less is how those recovered accident, war, and sports injury victims are doing twenty or thirty years later, when they are no longer young guys. The answer is: not so good.
It's not that all the soldiers, emergency workers, athletes, and others are dying in droves when they hit 50. That would be too obvious.
No, they start getting dementia a bit early. Or their lungs or kidneys start giving out decades before they "should".
Repair is what is going on.
Think about it.
The human body is, to a certain extent, a self-repairing organism. But if you've been paying attention to science and the media (or if you pay attention to our little summary in the next couple of paragraphs), you know that the "design" of the human animal is successful as a means to have us live long enough to start the next generation, raise them to viability, and impart some survival skills.
That's all that nature "cares" about - to get babies made, and for the parents to be sufficiently healthy (long enough) to raise those babies to the point that they can fend for themselves. After that, we're expendable. So, young guy health is only loaned to young guys... then it gets taken back, just when you need it most.
You thought that was just your future wife/girlfriend? Sorry. She gets to take more punishment while doing the job, but you don't get out free.
From a practical, continuation-of-the-species perspective, nature doesn't need us to last any longer than it takes to get our replacements up to speed. Any lifespan that we attain after that milestone - when little Turok fathers his first kid and has learned to hunt antelope to feed his family - is gravy for us. Nature is done with us at that point.
Consider that when the human race was becoming the human race, we had short life-spans, and we were considered adult enough to become parents just about as soon as we were physically capable of making babies.
So, if we started having offspring at age 14 or 15, and then we had 15 or twenty good years to raise them to the point where they could in turn start having families of their own, then that was a "necessary" lifespan of 30-some to 40-some years. The 41st year was the beginning of "glad you're still kickin' Gramps, but we don't really, really need you anymore, y'know"? Y' wonder why Gramps thinks youth and young guy health are wasted on the young?
Well, so this: Nature never learned about technology and about delayed reproduction and about being a non-reproducing, semi-dependent "adult" and not actually starting your life until you've got your first or second post-secondary degree.
Nature - the Nature that built the human body - still thinks we have a cluster of babies starting at age 14, we raise and teach them for 15 or 20 years, and then we die and get the heck out of the way.
There's no provision - and as far as Mother Nature is concerned, no good reason - for good health and optimum function and capability any time after your 40th birthday.
If the body can repair itself from illness or injury, well enough to resume helping the family survive and learn to be the next generation, then the repair of the damage that you do to your body only has to last a maximum of 30 years, really.
That is, from the perspective of evolution/nature, and the continuation of our species, repairs are not perfect because they don't need to be. Nature will happily hold us together with chewing gum and duct tape, and it can hurt like hell, and she doesn't care.
You've cut yourself or scraped yourself, and seen that the result is often a scar. It might take years to fade - if it ever does - and even when it's no longer readily visible, there's still scar tissue and evidence of the old injury under the surface (black folk will be especially familiar with scarring and cheloids; just ask my wife, the ever-beige one). Hell, just take an ultra-violet light to your skin some day and look at all the blotches and marks. Many of those are the remains of old damage.
Your humble writer, here, was wrestling with one of those impregnable plastic packages in 1997, trying to get it open so I could use the product that I'd just bought. I can't even remember what the product was. But I do remember that I eventually grabbed a pair of scissors and jammed the point into the plastic to get a start on cutting it open.
Well, I didn't actually jam the scissors into the plastic. I actually jammed them into the index finger of the other hand that was holding the stupid package. I felt the square tip of the scissor scrape the bone. That was (for a finger anyway) a rather deep puncture wound.
It bled, of course, swelled a bit, got red and tender and hurt for several weeks. I took care with bandages and Polysporin ointment to ensure it didn't get infected.
When the swelling was gone, I could feel a lump, but only with my other hand. On the finger that had the puncture, the entire quarter of the tip, down to the first knuckle was dead - no feeling.
If I poked and prodded, I could feel it in the rest of the finger tip, as the skin was stretched, or the pressure changed in the blood vessels, but I had severed the nerve that serves that quadrant of my left index finger tip.
I then had several years to learn to adapt to manipulating things with - first - no feeling in the part that makes most of the contact when I handle stuff with the left thumb and index, then with an annoying "buzzing" feeling as the nerves from the surrounding tissue tried to grow into the numb zone. As I'm writing in 2009 - 12 years later, there's some feeling in that part of the finger, but it still feels odd. At this rate, even if I live to be 100, it will never again feel entirely natural.
Now consider that that's the way it works inside your body, too.
You get into a fight or you are on the receiving end of a vicious cross-check (hockey) or a brutal tackle (football... various brands), and not only do you get your bell rung and the stuffing knocked out of you, but you find yourself pissing blood for the next few days. But then it stops, and you accept that, while your kidneys took a beating, they're healing and you will be alright. Right?
Well.... not so much....
To make a long story longer, let's consider your kidneys. They are compact organs simply stuffed with microscopic mechanisms where microscopic blood vessels come in and go out, and in between they unload metabolic leftovers, excess salts, and other poisons that eventually drain down the urine tubes to the bladder. All of that is accomplished by means of amazingly small - and fragile - selectively permeable membranes.
Yes, yes, your eyes are glazing over and you are muttering a big "So what!?" Well, the "so what" is that these excruciatingly tiny and fragile structures make your life possible, and when they experience trauma they don't knit up as good as new.
Whether the damage is from a body-blow (sudden, acute hydraulic over-pressure blowing out the flimsy bits), from high-blood pressure (slow, chronic, relentless hydraulic over-pressure, gradually stretching and shredding the flimsy bits over years and years), or from chemical damage (repeated overwhelming by alcohol or other poisons), or from biological attack (by viruses and other critters) the recovery is never complete.
It might seem complete because you stop feeling sick and you can function again, and you can eat and drink and pee and get on with our life. But your kidneys, like many of your body systems are originally built with some over-capacity.
Repeated episodes of damage, and the resultant not-quite perfect repair-and-recovery chip away at that over-capacity, until eventually your scarred and riddled kidneys have barely enough capacity to sustain your quiet everyday life, and no more capacity to withstand any extra strain or workload.
Once they slip below the working capacity to handle just your quiet everyday life with no big demands, then your body begins to suffer and decline and your doctor tells you that you are going on dialysis (artificial - and unpleasant - blood-cleaning) while the medical system tries to find a transplant donor (somebody who died and left behind some intact kidneys) to replace your tattered, battered worn-out ones.
We could run through a similar discussion as above, but talk about your heart, instead. Or your brain. Or your eyes. Or any organ in your body.
Think about this ugly fact of life: if you don't die of accident or some brutal disease, you are eventually going to die of exhaustion or scarring.
That's really how bodies wear out. All the little traumas of life (and some of the bigger ones, too) just gradually replace the critical systems of your body with scar tissue. Collagen is pretty much the same everywhere. Scar tissue does not function as whatever kind of organ it's part of. All scar tissue does is hold the undamaged bits together. So, eventually so much of each organ or system is just inert, non-functional scar-tissue that the organ can no longer sustain you.
Well, the more things that you do, while you are young, to damage this or that part of your body, the more you scar those systems, and the less and less functional capacity you retain. Eventually, you die of it, if something brutal and swift doesn't get you first (like a bullet or a the number 85 bus that you didn't see coming). The problem with taking a lot of damage in your prime years is that 'eventually' arrives that much sooner due to the extra scarring.
So, if you can have the sense to not act like you are invulnerable, to not subject yourself to stupid damage, you can grow old LATER and MORE GRACEFULLY (i.e., less painfully). You could live out your long lifespan in good shape and with vigor, merely dying when something finally breaks, instead of being bent, pained and grouchy and spending the last 25 years talking about your many, many ailments.
We're not saying you should live in a bubble and have no fun. We're saying that you should at least realize what you are doing when you engage in contact sports, binge drinking, car crashes, and other activities that break things in your body, because you are NOT recovering the way you think you are.
If you get to college and are not being drafted by a professional sports team, or in serious contention for the Olympics, then NOW is the time to start tapering off the brutal training regime or the brutal full-contact practices and games. If you don't have a serious shot at making a fabulously good income from your sport, don't continue to destroy your body at it for the next ten or fifteen years, just because it's the macho thing to do and you think you are getting away with it. You aren't.
So, if you aren't starring on your college's high-profile inter-varsity sports team, or if you aren't at least a regional champion being groomed for national medals in track or swimming, or gymnastics, etc., then by your second year of college/university, you know you aren't going on to a fabulous sporting career with enormous salary and lucrative endorsement deals. You are just some talented, hard-working also-ran that the stars train with.
Brutal home-truth about your varsity team
If you are on a significant, nationally-ranked college sports team, have a hard-driving coach who makes winning teams... or at least contending teams, ... then, that means, you fall into one of two categories of player:
That was obvious, but are you bright enough to figure out the implications?
Your coach's job, as it pertains to those two types of player, and falling in line with his mandate to win, has two major player-related foci. And those components of coach's job have very different outcomes for the players.
It's a cold, harsh, numbers thing. If you aren't obviously a star, then your role is to be used up in propelling the star to his bright future. Yes, your playing role is probably important, but really, all the coach ultimately needs from you is that you protect the star and that you help position the star to collect his glory and his lifetime of big, big paychecks.
How often do you hear much of anything about the supporting guys on the winning team, after graduation? Unless they make names for themselves in other, unrelated endeavor, you hear-and-see nothing about them - it's all the brilliant career of the star who went on to the big leagues... made the megabucks... got the girls... go the law to look the other way for all but the most egregious offenses, etc., etc.
Now, that star eventually takes enough hits and abuse that his old age is going to be painful, but he'll have your country's top sports-medicine people taking care of him along the way (protecting their team's assets), and he'll have millions of dollars to help distract him from damage and pain.
You, on the other hand, will have taken far more hits, strains, over-extensions, and so-on during your supporting role, but you get none of that post-battle, high-end medical support and none of the millions of dollars in salary and endorsements.
So, next time coach is urging you to "be a man" and "do it for the team" (play another game on that busted-up knee), remember that coach needs his star to succeed so coach gets a winning season and a job next year. You are fodder for that goal. He's not necessarily evil. He's just practical. He's seen lots of not-quite star players come and go. He can even remember some of their names without looking them up. Possibly even yours.
But the aftermath of injuries and abuse will be with you long after you leave college.
That's the cynical view of "team spirit". Have you watched "So You Think You Can Dance?" It's a pretty individualized competition, though there are portions that rely on team-work. You'll be one of those dedicated also-rans who blows out a knee in the early weeks of the run-up. You might get a consolation job as a "chorus" dancer, but you'll never be the star. Only one gets to be the star. Everybody else is just fodder to get them there and help keep the ratings up.
Anyway, don't quit the sport where you have skills and fun; just take it down a notch and stop taking it seriously. It really IS only a game if you aren't going to make millions of bucks at it. And face it, if you've hit 20 or 21 and they still haven't drafted you, they aren't gonna. Stop playing like it's life-and-death or a $24-million contract at stake. Once you reach that realization that you are playing to ensure somebody else's future riches, it's time to back off and save yourself for the long haul.
Was that a little cynical? Possibly, but won't you kick yourself if you get some nasty injury that leaves you with a limp for the rest of your life - or one-too-many concussions - while glory-boy gets optioned to the majors? Remember that old Beatles song....... "Baby you can drive my car..." ? Uh-huh. You get to be glory-boy's chauffeur when he gets optioned and you get an artificial knee.
Coach, and your good buddy and team-mate, glory-boy, are counting on you to "be a team player", "do it for the school", "take one for the squad", and to not think ahead past the end of the season. Yes, they'll make nice-sounding noises, and they'll probably even believe the noises they make, but when push comes to shove, glory-boy (the team star(s)) is the one who counts, and you are consumable commodity.
Now, in the "think for yourself" spirit of the rest of this website, find a balanced position somewhere between "rah rah team" and the total cynicism you just read.
Your humble writer, here, does a little bit of running (he's trying to get back in shape - where have you heard that before), but he won't run on anything except smooth pavement or track. He'd love to run on grass or do some cross-country running in nice natural settings, but he's restricted to smooth hard surfaces because he's turned (sprained) his ankles so many times that anything thicker than a shadow on a sidewalk will turn them again - especially the right one - and lay him up for six to ten weeks of no exercise.
Well, it used to be six weeks, but now, as he ages, it's longer and longer. Why should a sprain or three when he was a kid make his ankles weak and prone to twisting when he's 50-plus? Because, tendons don't stretch. It's only the muscles to which they are attached that can stretch. A bad sprain causes tearing in tendons and their anchor points (which scar as they "heal", becoming permanently weaker), along with tearing in the associated muscles, which scar and become shortened - thus weaker.
Your humble writer also had pneumonia as a kid. That results in scarring of the lungs so that future pneumonia and other respiratory difficulties are always more likely. It also makes the lung tissue less flexible, so he has less ability to increase his breathing ability by exercise. That is, he can exercise vigorously, but he won't increase his lung volume and uptake like somebody without the damage doing the same amount of work.
It's not as bad as if he was a smoker, mind you. He won't even blame his parents for smoking around him. But they did keep the family living next to an early twentieth-century pulp mill, which did much of the lung damage every time an east wind blew (hydrogen sulfide, sulphur dioxide, and a hundred other airborne pollutants in high concentration - sometimes it was so thick you couldn't see across the street). The physical well-being of a growing boy certainly takes (took...) a hit from that environment.
The idea that we're trying to impart here is that it's not just rough sports or car accidents and the occasional bullet that can (and do) scarify your innards.
A co-worker of this same writer was a hard-drinkin' young fellah for years, known for his partying ways. He works hard all week, and is well-respected for his knowledge and skills. On weekends, he would let off steam at pubs, concerts, strip-bars. Then one weekend in his early thirties, after a particularly heavy bout of multi-day partying, he found that the hangover wasn't going away. He began getting sick and feverish.
Fortunately, he called an ambulance while he was still lucid, and they got him to the hospital in time to catch his complete renal (kidney) failure before he died. After emergency treatment, then a month of dialysis and careful diet and very little exertion, he was back to working, but swearing to amend his partying ways.
Naturally, after a few months of feeling pretty good, he decided he was recovered and he had a few drinks one night. The next day, despite his worries, he was ok. So he gradually got back onto the track of going out with his crew on weekends. He was a bit more restrained than before, but he was alright. . . until he found himself back at the emergency, being fitted for the dialysis shunt again. This time, he recognized the signs sooner, and they started treatment sooner, so the dialysis was shorter before his kidneys came back online and he began peeing for himself again. Whew! Another close call.
The point is that the damage is done, and now his kidneys will forever have far less leeway to handle abuse. No doubt when he gets older, he'll notice kidney problems cropping up even if he's careful for the next 30 years about what he eats and drinks. The doctors think that just one more middlin' binge - a bit of partying that he would have considered just a warmup when he was 25, and his kidneys won't come back. He'll be on permanent dialysis, waiting and hoping for somebody with the right tissue type to die and leave him a kidney or two for transplant.
What you do to yourself that affects you while you are young is not temporary. It comes back, dragging all its baggage.
Your writer, here, is not one to talk. Unlike his co-worker, he doesn't drink much, nor use/abuse most other drugs, but your writer's drug of choice is dessert. Yep, I'm fat and I've got elevated blood pressure (hypertension), which means that my kidneys are slowly shredding themselves.
If I don't get my weight down enough to take that pressure off, I'll be in the same boat as my guy who was killing his kidneys with alcohol.
I didn't get this way starting in my 50s. I got this way starting in my twenties or earlier, when I established my eating habits. I got away with that - I thought - when I was in my twenties and thirties, because I could drop an extra 25 pounds and get back in shape in a matter of months. But it kept getting harder and harder, partly because metabolism slows with age, and partly because repeated abuse causes scarring so the systems don't work as well as they could. Muscles no longer have the range that would let them recover the strength... and so on.
So? So if you are young and you had the attention span to actually read all this, get a clue now, while it's not too late. Otherwise, I refer you to the rest of this site, where you can pick up some tips on remedial measures for damage that's already done to us middle-aged and older guys. You got a brain in your head? Pretend to use it. It's worth your life. Don't put off stopping, or at least cutting back, the dumb stuff.
And if you found this site and this page persuasive enough to at least take seriously, then do a friend a favor and refer him as well. If you are an older guy, maybe you've got a son who could use a wake-up pep-talk - you could tell him the very same stuff and make no impression, but if it comes from somebody else, it's gold (yeah, we know; it works the same way with wives - you can say it (whatever "it" is), every week for a year, and it's just ole whatzizname blathering, but let Dr. Phil say it just once...). Ladies are welcome too, but the site is oriented toward men, mostly. Women will find it coarse and blunt. Hell, MEN will find it coarse and blunt. Too bad. This stuff needs to be said. Now go away and think for a bit.
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