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MY TURN

Trying to stay fit and eat well -- how boring

March 12, 2007|Mary Helen Ponce | Special to The Times

My arms ache and my legs feel as if each weighs a ton; they refuse to move faster. But, I gotta keep truckin' and not collapse in the middle of the street as happened to Jim Fixx, my hero. A recent study in Modern Maturity reveals that for those of us over the hill, the key to good health is a good night's sleep, one hour of exercise a day, a diet of fruits and vegetables. Plus vitamin supplements. Plus, plus. Mas, mas.

Hoping to live as long as mi papa (he died at 93), I now power-walk, lift weights, do aerobics and am considering a kickboxing class -- the trendiest sport for those who can still move. Unable to stand on my head like Gandhi, each morning I drag myself outdoors and pretend to do yoga. I bend, stretch and deep-breathe as I count to 10. If it's cold, I count to five, then dash inside to a warm kitchen.

Each Monday I plan a weekly menu based on oatmeal, fruits, vegetables, chicken or tuna. At Sunland Produce I buy lettuce -- iceberg, romaine, red-leaf -- plus alfalfa sprouts, bell peppers, cucumbers, green onions, radishes and spinach. I'm thankful I can choose from different fruit, especially apples: Braeburn, Gala, Fuji and the Golden Delicious that, when nuked, make a great dessert. I load up on apricots, bananas, plums, and splurge on melons: cantaloupe, cassava and honeydew, then sneak pan Mexicano into the cart.

Exhausted and hungry, and aware that it takes time to wash and sort the produce, I swing into Wendy's for a chili burger, which I rationalize will be offset by that evening's spinach salad.

On Tuesday and Thursday, I hit World Gym. First I weigh in, and then, disgusted, head for the treadmill, where I pretend to jog as I scan the latest Cosmo.

Next is the leg press till I feel thin -- usually five minutes. Then I head for the shoulder press, having heard a spry old lady say it helped keep her chin firm. Next: stomach crunches, which leave me limp and thirsty. I lounge on a workout bench and pretend I'm doing yoga. Once pumped up -- and completely exhausted -- I forgive myself my trespasses, cut out three reps and cruise to McDonald's to gorge on fries.

On Wednesday and Friday I power walk 2 miles. Back at home, unable to move, I read all day long. At night, egged on by the once portly Richard Simmons, I aerobic dance to '50s tunes, then hit the stationary bike, which I first spray with WD-40, or my butt will stick. When done, and if able to move, I rub my sore muscles with Bengay, then collapse.

Staying thin helps alleviate stress and builds self-esteem, it's said. Women's magazines advise those of us who lean toward flesh either to cover up or undergo surgery. I once wrapped my bulging thighs in plastic, said to melt cellulite, but when the wrap came off, the fat still hung there.

Vitamin supplements are crucial to good health, and more important, longevity. My friend Mary ingests all vitamins and minerals recommended by health experts: Calcium (to fight osteoporosis), vitamin C (to ward off cataracts and colds), iron (to build up blood), and St. John's wort, said to combat los nervios, which she took before a philosophy exam. After she scored a D, St. John hit the trash.

Annie, Mary's sister who fears getting colon cancer, undergoes colonics. Each month, at a women's clinic, she is "flushed out." Annie drinks eight glasses of purified water (bought by the case at Costco). She spends half the time in the restroom.

You are what you eat, proclaims a health guru on TV. Indeed! But cooking healthy is boring! Salt retains water so should be avoided. Fats clog the arteries. No to chips, Fritos and buttered popcorn (is there another kind?). Which is why, when fed up with rabbit food, I order a Dominos veggie pizza, then jet to McDonald's for a chocolate sundae to sustain me until the following day, when once more I'll hit the sprouts.

Staying alive is boring. Planning and cooking healthy meals is muy boring. Riding a stationary bike rubs me the wrong way.

I would like to live to 93, but at this rate, will I make it?

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Mary Helen Ponce is the author of "Hoyt Street: An Autobiography." She lives in Sunland.

Do you have a submission for My Turn? E-mail it to health@latimes.com. Please limit length to 500 words or less. Columns are subject to editing.

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