In my late forties, I took up scuba diving. I’d always wanted to experience the sensation of being nearly weightless underwater, gliding along, breathing naturally, and observing marine life up close. I’m sure I’ve forgotten much of what the then-young instructor had told us about how to defog a mask or properly clean a wetsuit. But what I will never forget is what he said that first day—and this was before we even got wet. “Divers!” he barked. “Obey the rules or death is minutes away.”
That stuck with me. He went on, his voice an octave higher, making sure he had all of us with him. “If there is anything to remember it is this: Stop! Think! Then act! It is the most important rule in scuba diving. It one day might save your life.”
Good health is largely achievable by following the same advice. (And, just like diving, ignoring the rules about your health brings about your demise much sooner). Following the rules saved my life both when diving and from a heart attack. When in Palau (a group of isolated islands in the South Pacific), I dove a multi-chambered cave named the Chandelier. My guide and I went into the cave, as a group of inexperienced oriental divers exited. They stirred the sediment, a real no-no in cave diving, so visibility became so bad that I lost track of my guide who kept swimming onward. Soon I could no longer hear my guide; I was alone in the darkness. I stopped, thought and then acted. The guide was very experienced so he must have swum directly to an opening in the chamber that led to the outside. I noted the reading of my depth gauge and angle of ascent and kept to the same route. To proceed otherwise may have taken me into a wrong chamber. I surfaced in the correct chamber, took off my mask, and the local guide blurted, “where you beeeen?”
Danger is so apparent in SCUBA diving; death’s bony finger is clearly visible. Death’s bony finger is just as clear in our unhealthy lifestyles and we often choose to ignore warnings. We must be in denial. We consider ourselves exempt from the statistics that declare: if you embrace unhealthy behaviors, you will suffer. I was billeted at a Marine Corps base during the Viet Nam War and 58,220 soldiers who thought they were invincible died. No one is invincible. Threats apply to us all equally. It obviously does, but why should it matter whether the actual dying takes a few minutes or several decades? Remember, also, suffering in one instance is a few minutes, compared possibly to months in the other. Without healthy living, one is drowning over a twenty-year period.
In England, the government has a healthy lifestyle program it offers to people at high-risk for cardiovascular disease with dismal results. One-third decline to enroll, 40% refused screening, 70% sporadically attend, and high dropout rates complete the picture. Goodness! Why is non-compliance a serious problem? Stop, think, then act—long term.