>Health and Fashion Watch in the Stroke Belt

>My husband—Dr. William Cushman—graduated from medical school in 1974. After a residency in Internal Medicine, he embarked on a career in academic medicine, with a special focus on hypertension and preventive medicine. He’s also been an avid runner most of his life, starting with cross-country and track in high school. There are two threads to this story, so hang in there while I try to follow them with some degree of clarity!

I have no idea how many articles he’s published in medical journals over the years, but I do know that those journals have included the top scientific publications like The New England Journal of Medicine (most recent NEJM article is here) and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) as well as many articles in the publications of ASH (American Society of Hypertension.) That’s him, speaking to a group of physicians in China last year.

So, you can imagine his amusement when my mother called (about twenty years ago) to congratulate him for being quoted… in Reader’s Digest! Her pride in “my son-in-law, the doctor” hit an all-time high with his name in print, speaking a few words about high blood pressure . . . in Reader’s Digest. It was something she could show her friends. She made kaboodles of photocopies of the piece and mailed it to friends and family all over the country. My husband smiled and thanked her, humbly. Good thing they were talking over the phone so she couldn’t see him roll his eyes.

So, yesterday afternoon when I saw an article which quoted him in the New York Times (yes!) the scene was a harrowing déjà vu of the twenty-year-old event. “You’re in the New York Times?” I asked with excessive enthusiasm. Yes, I’ve become my mother. And I don’t even have to make photocopies for my friends, I just publish it on my blog for all the world to see!

The thing is, I’m a writer and a follower of the arts and all the “latest” from New York, so this was, well, it was like Reader’s Digest was to my mom. My husband just laughed at my reaction. Of course I did ask him if they quoted him correctly and all that, as the media sometimes (cough cough) doesn’t get things right. He said it was actually okay, so if you’re interested in learning about “Drug Resistant High Blood Pressure on the Rise,” now you know where non-medical folks can read it. The main thing is that they’ve discovered some factors that are really resistant to treatment with meds: advanced age, weight gain, a diet high in sodium, sleep apnea and chronic kidney disease. So… here’s the paragraph that mentions my husband:

“Living in the Southeast, a region long recognized as the ‘stroke belt’ of the United States, is also a risk factor for blacks and whites, though researchers are not sure why. An author of the new paper, Dr. William C. Cushman, chief of preventive medicine at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Memphis, said he suspected factors like inactivity, obesity and diets high in salt and fat.”

I think I’ve heard him mention these things once or twice in our thirty-eight years of marriage …. hmmmm … and yes, I’ve admired his discipline as he continues to be a runner.

But I’ve been frustrated by my own attempts to get back into exercise (and lose some of the weight I’ve gained!) since my foot surgery in January, although I’ve been given the go-ahead by my surgeon. Thing is, the arthritis in the ankles and knees and feet really hurts, and sometimes causes swelling. And yes, I flow in and out of those risk groups mentioned above (inactivity, obesity, and diets high in salt and fat) although I’m blessed with great genes, where lipids are concerned.

But after reading the article about hypertension, I followed a link to another article (yes in the New York Times) “Fit Not Frail.” As I get older and the body hurts more and gets flabbier day by day, it was providential that the NYT articles arrived the same week I decided to give Pilates a try. Of course I’d heard about it for years, but I had the impression it was just too difficult for me (which it might be…. the story isn’t over yet.)

So, first I read about the history of Pilates, here.

And then about “Power Pilates,” here.

And finally, about a local instructor, Marion Weaver, and her studio, The Pilates Place, here.

Marion was recommended by a friend who’s been working out with her for eleven years, so I decided to give it a try. Tuesday was my first day.

“Grow tall!” and “use your powerhouse!” were commands I would hear over and over as Marion led me through the various exercises and stretches during my first private lesson. A few of them hurt my knees and one of my ankles, but I was pleasantly surprised that I could actually do most of them. And Marion showed me how to make adjustments on some of the moves, and skip others until I’m strong enough, hopefully down the road a bit.

Here’s a video about Pilates that you might enjoy.

Returning for my second lesson yesterday, Marion listened to my assessment of my body’s response to the first lesson and made a few more adjustments. An hour later, I was actually sweating and beginning to believe I actually do have a “powerhouse” somewhere, deep, deep, deep, beneath my belly button. Learning to use that core, breath properly, and control all the body parts that are supposed to be working at any given point during an exercise is quite a challenge. I’ll return for my third session on Monday and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’m going to try to do some of the mat exercises at home between now and then. If I can remember how!

And (you’ll be glad to know) there will be NO “before” pictures here. I’m trying to focus on my “insides”… although it’s still difficult not to criticize my “outsides” when I can see them in the mirror three feet in front of me as I put my body through its paces. So of course, what I wear matters. Off I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods yesterday morning for two new sets of workout clothes. I taught aerobics for about ten years, in the 80s and early 90s, which I’ll be writing about in chapter 11 of my memoir, (Dressing the Part: What I Wore for Love) … working title for the chapter is “Spandex and Leg Warmers.” That’s me, in the black tights and dark blue leotard, with the other instructors at Phidippides Sports in Jackson, back in the 80s. My dad, who owned the store (and ran marathons and trained runners) also sold all those cute aerobics outfits in his retail store, which was attached to the aerobics studio. And I guarantee you, most of the women who took our classes also dressed the part!

The other day I read where tennis star and fashion icon Maria Sharapova decided to wear shorts to Wimbledon this year. It was all over the news. I love to watch tennis, but I always notice what the girls are wearing, and the companies making the athletic clothes know it.

If this sounds really shallow, consider this: Where would Nike and Adidas and all those other companies be today if I was the only woman (or man) who believed that image matters. It’s not just about how we look to others, you know? It’s about how we feel about ourselves (and actually, how comfortable we are) while we’re trying to make our outsides match our insides.

Reality check: my insides are fifty-seven years old, not thirty-something, so my outsides won’t ever look, or feel, like they did when I was teaching aerobics in my thirties. That’s probably a good thing, actually, because today, when I look at the woman in the mirror at the Pilates studio, I see someone who is beginning to care more about her health than her looks. But I am also beginning to believe that she is beautiful, just the way she is. Maybe I’ll believe it when I’m sixty.

Please share!