Chapter Five

Health: tuning up and crash repairs

By Dr Max Mackay James

Ageing? OK, so maybe you would prefer not to think about it! But here’s the thing: your  50’s, 60’s, 70’s, are coming anyway. And here’s another thing: if it’s unmentionable, it’s unmanageable. So let’s talk about it, and let’s play and even joke about it a little: as American poet CK Williams (mid 70’s) said with a grin and a twinkle in his eye – “…Ageing, at least so far, Isn’t as bad as it might be”.  How good could your ageing be? The first section of this Chapter is about healthy lifestyles to increase your chances of enjoying good health and having less illness as you grow older. It also explores how to get motivated, and succeed in making these positive changes in your life.

What do you want as you get older? The second section of the chapter is about pointing you towards the best health information sources so you can be in control of your health decisions, and get the best out of your health services. The focus is on online health information; where to find out about symptoms, health problems, illnesses, and treatments, and the do’s and don’ts of using these resources. I don’t deal with specific illnesses as the information sources I am pointing you towards will do this for you. However, it’s worth mentioning that emotional and psychological health is dealt with in Chapter 7, and sexual health in Chapter 10. The holistic approach of the book means there is also overlap with other chapters as regards health issues, and these will be pointed out as you read through this Chapter and elsewhere.

Do you know how to ask for help? It’s a challenging question at the best of times, but even more important to know the answer when you fall sick with a serious illness. We can’t do it alone, and the third section of this chapter deals with navigating serious illness; both practical advice on dealing with health services, and how to ask for help and support for healing and hope, and especially how to mobilise a healing team around you.

Healthy Lifestyles

Many middle-aged men tend to ignore their bodies altogether and carry on almost as if they don’t exist. Fortunately, the body is the most loyal and forgiving of friends, and mostly it puts up with this neglect: but in the long run health problems, many of which are avoidable, can develop. So the first piece of health advice is to begin getting to know and positively making friends with your body again. For instance, try looking at your near naked body in a full length mirror in the morning preferably in nothing more than your underpants. Yes, I know, it can be a shock or maybe it’s your body’s idea of a bad joke!

Rather than dismissing the evidence, or feeling angry or even ashamed about the look of your older body, I recommend you spend a moment each day having a smile about your appearance, seeing the realities of aging for what they are, and gently sharing in your older body’s way of joking. Your body and you will get on much better if you do.

Searching for Health Information

Helping you to plan and stay in control as you make important health decisions, whether it’s looking for lifestyle advice, information on a serious illness, or finding out about a specific health problem, symptoms, or treatments, there are many high quality and free sources of trustworthy health information. However, be warned, the world is also filled with fools, sirens and health charlatans, who peddle fictitious treatments, promise impossible cures and many provide dangerous advice. This can sometimes make the shipwreck of a serious illness much worse, and even damage your health!

Online Health ‘Gateway Sites’

I am strongly in favour of using the internet to find health information, and my advice is always to use online health ‘Gateway Sites’ as your primary ports of call. Rather than putting the symptoms or illness name directly into a general Google search, always go to one of these ‘Gateway Sites’ first and then do your first searches from there.

On any of these health gateway site put the name of your illness or health problem into their search box, or the particular symptom or the name of the disease if you already know it. This will take you to the specific area you are looking for information.  A good idea is to use two health gateway sites and compare the results, say both and NHS Choices. Go to the website for more recommended Online Health Information resources (Goldmine and Toolkit ‘Body and Mind’ sections).

Advice about Alternative Medicine

Finding information about alternative medicine can be both confusing and problematic. My advice is to use RCCCM, Research Council for Complementary Medicine  ( Note this site is HON Code Certified, while nearly all other complementary and alternative Medicine sites are not. I’m not saying that some of these other sites aren’t worth looking at, but I suggest your first port of call is the RCCCM. It also has a useful index which explains the various alternative medicine approaches, with links to all their main organisations. These will explain in greater detail about the particular treatment methods, and will usually list practitioners in your area. I suggest you telephone a few of these in order to assess their professional approach (and their level of charges), before making a first appointment. Word of mouth recommendation can sometimes also work as an additional way of finding a practitioner, but always try to find two or three opinions before finally deciding.

Navigating Serious Illness

Even as you are hopefully living some of your best and most creative years in your 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, at a certain point a serious illness may strike, or there is a severe worsening of the symptoms of a longer term illness, tipping the balance.

When you fall seriously ill, what you want of course are treatments that are safe and effective, to get you better in the shortest possible time. You need to have confidence that the medicine you are going to take actually works. Good medicine is also about trusting the healing environment in which the treatment is being given, including your relationships with all the people involved, and the whole way the medical service is being provided.

I like to think of the search to find good medicine as a sea voyage across both charted and uncharted oceans with you as the skipper. What follows below is a guide for crossing these vast and sometimes stormy waters of serious illness, to help you successfully navigate your way. There are two elements to being a good skipper. Firstly, you need to know how to read the stars and chart your way, where to find reliable and trustworthy health information to help you make your health decisions (see the major section above for more on this). Secondly, you need the seamanship skills to control your craft and continue to steer your way in a storm, to know how to look after yourself during a serious illness.