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MY FRIEND’S DEATH HAS SHAKEN ME

QA good friend of mine died sud­denly fol­low­ing a heart at­tack re­cently. I’m now wor­ried this might hap­pen to me and also feel guilty that I hadn’t done more to warn him. We were a group of friends who grew up to­gether liv­ing an un­healthy lifestyle, and never think­ing of con­se­quences. I now think it may be too late for me to make changes.

AI’m very sorry to hear about the death of your friend. Although you don’t state your ex­act age, that you knew him for more than four decades means you must be well into mid­dle age or be­yond. And I’m afraid to say these are sta­tis­ti­cally the dan­ger years.

Un­for­tu­nately, the word con­se­quence also comes sharply into fo­cus here. The con­se­quence of poor lifestyle choices is of­ten de­clin­ing health or even early death, and the con­se­quence of get­ting older is that you have less time to play with. But the good news is that although you can’t change time, you can af­fect the out­comes of your lifestyle.

Firstly, you must see a doc­tor. Be­fore you em­bark on any rad­i­cal lifestyle changes, you must seek pro­fes­sional guid­ance to en­sure what you un­der­take suits your par­tic­u­lar health cir­cum­stances.

Start by tak­ing things one step at a time. Ob­vi­ously you can­not re­verse decades of poor lifestyle choices in­stan­ta­neously – you’ll only be­come dis­heart­ened and, in all like­li­hood, in­jure your­self. I sug­gest you look at four main ar­eas of your life.

I’ve used a tech­nique that works ex­tremely well on older guys; it’s called Project You. The con­cept is sim­ple – you treat the changes you’re mak­ing or plan­ning to make as a project. You work out a way to tackle each is­sue at hand, and have a plan of ac­tion, with tar­gets, out­comes and dead­lines. You may work with a life coach or other pro­fes­sion­als for fur­ther guid­ance. But the premise is clear and you need to take it se­ri­ously.

In your case, we need to ad­dress the fol­low­ing: smok­ing, diet, ex­er­cise and stress. Each of the big four listed here is a po­ten­tial killer. De­pend­ing on the is­sue, ei­ther too much or too lit­tle can have dev­as­tat­ing re­sults. It’s also im­por­tant that you take a holis­tic ap­proach to work­ing on all these ar­eas, so the changes must (and will) com­ple­ment each other. Af­ter all, there’s no point tak­ing a 5km walk and smok­ing 40 cig­a­rettes a day; eat­ing junk and wor­ry­ing your­self sick. So your fo­cus should be to tie them to­gether and bring about pos­i­tive changes.

You men­tion you fear it’s too late for you to change. This is a com­mon no­tion that leads to a down­ward spi­ral into a worse sit­u­a­tion. The fact is, it’s never, ever too late to make pos­i­tive lifestyle changes. Even tiny ones can add up to big­ger and bet­ter out­comes. I always say, your jour­ney to change should never solely be about just stop­ping smok­ing or los­ing weight. You should seek to gain health.

You also say you feel guilty about not do­ing some­thing for your friend. What fit­ting trib­ute is there than to make changes in your own life in his name? Why not give a new lease of life to your group of friends by get­ting ev­ery­one in­volved in this? Why don’t you un­der­take a char­ity event as a team? There are many ways to do some­thing – you just need to make them hap­pen.

RUSSELL HEM­MINGS is a life coach, and clin­i­cal and cog­ni­tive be­havioural hyp­nother­a­pist

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