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Five tips to benefit your health

Norman Mailer had it right: "Prevarication, like honesty, is reflexive, and soon becomes a sturdy habit, as reliable as truth." As pilots, honesty with others and ourselves defines our likely course in aviation: safe and reliable, or teetering on the edge of reason. And the edge of the envelope. Being honest with your aviation medical examiner, the FAA, air traffic control, and, most importantly, yourself is imperative. A good pilot does not prevaricate about booking regular check-ups for their airplane or himself. One does not defer critical maintenance nor delay mandated inspections, the consequences are too serious to contemplate. They could end your flying life, or, worse yet, your life life! So why hesitate where your health is concerned? 

This all makes sense, right? Common sense. But the problem with common sense is, it isn’t common! So here are some well-known “I will get around to it” actions that could have wonderful consequences. In flying we often talk about how it is better to be down here wishing you were up there, rather than the other way around. If I had a dollar for every time a patient said to me “I wish I had…." I leave it to you to fill in the blanks.  

  1. Weight. I keep writing about this and will continue to do so until the penny drops; being obese is killing our country and countrymen and women. The evidence is clear, indisputable, and shows that obesity shortens life span and health span, no two ways about it. Losing a pound this week can literally save your life. As pilots, you know that carting around extra weight in your aircraft costs money, efficiency, and, if badly distributed, can cost you your life. It is the same with extra weight on your body. Lose it.  
  2. Every time I feel the urge to exercise I sit down until it passes. Keep up that attitude and you will be immobile forever a lot sooner. Regular exercise improves your physical and mental health and sex life; prevents disease; and reduces your appetite meaning you will spend less cash on food and have more available to spend on your flying. Some degree of discipline is needed, and I recommend only exercising on the days you eat.  
  3. You are what you eat.  If that is the case then the average American is corn and sugar. The former is helping pack on the pounds and the latter is not leading you to the sweet life, but this highly addictive substance is slaughtering people. High fructose corn syrup, sugar in cakes, candy, fries, bread, everything, is inducing phenomenal rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Cut it out. I have recently been looking at some new alternatives and will report back to you, but in the interim, find ways to exclude sugar from your diet. You heard it from me, and I promise you, this is going to be big news in the coming years.  
  4. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Lets Google it. Electronic devices have brought all sorts of advances to improve our lives and as aviators we love our toys. The ability to plan and file flight plans, monitor our progress, and so much more on tablet computers; to stay in touch by phone or text across the oceans; and to conduct research at the press of a button or swipe of a screen is astounding. 

    But it comes at a price; social media is inducing some unpleasant social trends. Have you had totally fixated on their mobile phone someone bump into you as they stride down the street ? Or let you share their private conversation in a public space as they broadcast their importance to all within earshot? Or have vomit induced not by pulling several G’s in a display of aerobatics, but by endless people taking nauseating selfies documenting their every movement? 

    We know for a fact that human, real human interaction leads to longer and happier lives, less depression, less illness, less addictive behaviors. So encourage those around you to put their phones down and enjoy the beauty around them. And join them...just as soon as you send that email.
  5. "Youth is wasted on the young," so said George Bernard Shaw. We all tend to put off stuff either for personal satisfaction or entertainment or for the greater social good, whether it be taking that trip to Europe, getting your tailwheel endorsement, hiking the Appalachian trail, or learning the guitar, or maybe becoming active in the important political debates that shape our future as pilots, as Americans, as citizens of the world. From Shaw to Pink Floyd is quite a jump, but they said it well in their classic song Time

    Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
    Fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way
    Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
    Waiting for someone or something to show you the way

So don’t wait to lose weight; don’t delay decisions to dance or run; don’t postpone prandial improvements; don’t encourage electronic isolation; don’t fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. 

 Fly well!  

Not an AOPA Pilot Protection Services Participant? Learn more about the program here.

Jonathan Sackier

Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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