GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — I can look out the window and see the ocean, a calm one, and a shimmering red Bahamian sun breaking through the scarlet clouds scattered low along the horizon, just like in the movies. A very nice day to start, I think.
I am a 45-year-old man without muscles, bald, 27 pounds overweight and no longer involved in much physical activity. Somewhat self-conscious about my looks, I am even more self-conscious about the thought of trying to improve them within smirking range of those god-types who were born fit, don't sweat and seem to be everywhere when vanity prods me to the thought of exercise.
I decided it would be nice to chuck it all and spend a year devoted solely to making myself handsome. So I set about convincing my publisher to underwrite my idea: What could you do to a middle-aged body in a year?
It takes a lot of money and discipline to chuck it all, hire a full-time trainer, move to an island, recruit a fancy committee of medical, strength and fitness experts, build lots of muscles, turn a watermelon belly into a sexy, flat stomach, perhaps add some hair, maybe even have a face lift, and in the process report on the good and bad things out there in the world of fitness and hunkdom. I was game, though.
I planned a partial nod to health during the years, but the plans that really interested me centered around looks. I wanted to see some muscles on my body and some lust in the eyes of a tropical beauty or two much more than I wanted to feel healthier. I felt fine, anyway. Most people are a little over-weight and get a little tired, and a lot of people used to smoke and still drink regularly.
About the time I was packing my full-length mirror for the trip to the islands, some of my doctors started calling with results from my physical exams. All the news was unpleasant. My thallium stress test and first-pass radionuclide angiogram showed that I have mild coronary heart disease, probably the result of too little exercise, too many cigarettes and those extra pounds. Another test showed that I have a small pulmonary dysfunction. The cigarettes I enjoyed for so long, of course. A final test showed that one of my liver functions is abnormal.
Well, if all of this wasn't enough to temporarily still my yearnings for a high lust factor, all the members of my medical team rated me in the high-risk category for heart attack, even though I don't have high blood pressure, exercise more than the majority of people and haven't been a smoker in over a year.
None of these unpleasant bits of information, incidentally, would show up during the normal early physical you may undergo, even if you have a stress EKG--and mine was normal. I hope that's an unnerving thought for you, but I am not complaining here. At least I know what is wrong with me.
According to my good adviser, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the man who started America jogging, 50% of people with coronary heart disease have only one symptom of that disease: death from a heart attack.
I dream a lot when things bother me, and my dream that night was of a very hunky Remar Sutton, dressed to show my muscles, laid out in a coffin.
My year is going to be a more balanced one now. I still want beauties to swoon when they glimpse the new me, but I have to make my insides as healthy as my outside will be hunky. I want to understand how I got in the high-risk category and what I can do about it.
In 1983, my doctor rated me as having an "ideal" health profile, except for my smoking. What happened? Can you lose your health in three years? If you can, that's a damn scary thought for a lot of people.
I am not at all sure what is going to happen to me this year. My greatest fear has me looking and feeling the same or worse. I am not at all sure about some of the things that attract me, either. I fantasize about the joys of hair, for instance, but may not be brave enough for the total scalp transplant a friend says would allow me to comb to my vanity's content.
I want my newly muscled flesh to appear virginal in its youthfulness, but don't particularly want to be injected with extract of goat embryo, a fashionable treatment, I hear, in some very exotic circles.
I want to develop the best eating habits, too, but can't even get my own very distinguished advisers to agree on the bad foods, much less the good ones, and no one agrees on what exercise program will make me the person I think I so richly deserve to be. But that's OK.
The temple of hunkiness and health is crowded with high priests and priestesses, some right, some rabid, some rascally. I'm sure none of them will mind a question or two from a hopeful skeptic.
So, what will this series do for you?
Not everyone can take off a year to change themselves, but with a little steady effort you can do amazing things for your health and your looks. You can even help those around you (like your spouse, for instance) who may not exactly be health and fitness fans.