At this point of my life, I am a very lean guy. “You look like a runner” is the comment I most often hear these days (though, truth be told, I only run a little here and there as part of my weekly cardio — no serious distance running). Twenty years ago, I had a very different body type: much more muscular with a little more body fat as well. Today, I am utilizing another section of the gym’s dumbbell rack, and my wardrobe is mostly size medium.
Summer before last, however, I knew a photo shoot for my business was upcoming, and I decided to really train for it. I did something called “German volume training” — with an insane amount of sets and reps — leading up to the shoot and packed on a good eight or so pounds of muscle. I actually got almost “buff” (well, for me, anyway). In this photograph, I am as strong and muscular as the over-40 Miller Chandler gets.
But there was one other reason I wanted to pack on some muscle and pretty quickly. A few months before this shot was taken, I was told that, despite regular treatment, the basal cell carcinoma on my upper back had grown. This was still not the “bad kind” of cancer, but it had become a quite aggressive form of the not-so-harmful variety. This called for more aggressive treatment, and I was going to have to have a procedure known as Mohs surgery at Vanderbilt University Hospital. I knew the recovery required one to go without resistance training for at least six to eight weeks. And if this was the case, I wanted some extra muscle on my frame — muscle to spare — before going under the knife.
The reason I write all this is to say that one can look healthy — even appear to be in his best shape of middle adulthood — but still, in actuality, be sick. There can be factors at play that a good diet and time in the gym just won’t fix.
Back when I was a much younger man and getting started in the fitness industry, there was another trainer in Nashville, a real guru. I remember looking up to this guy — Bill Nagel was his name — who had been working with clients for as long or longer than anybody around. Bill was very knowledgeable — really knew his craft — and there weren’t many things about physical fitness that he did not know inside and out. His king-of-the-jungle confidence attracted clients by the boatload; he was the trainer who stayed booked.
Fast forward twenty years, and one day as I am working at Belle Meade Country Club as Fitness Director, I overhear this conversation: “Did you hear about ________’s trainer at STEPS? Dropped dead right there on the exercise mat before her session.”
You guessed it: my guru.
You see, this man who was ostensibly a picture of health, who so many (including me) looked up to, who did so many of the right things, had one fatal flaw: He never went to the doctor. Nagel had an underlying heart problem, which was a ticking time bomb, and he had no idea. As stated by mutual friend and another OG (“original guru”) Irv Rubenstein, “he wouldn’t and didn’t trust medicine or family history and paid with his life for his stubbornness.”
I think all fitness people are at least somewhat susceptible to this trap. This feeling that physical fitness can cure all that ails us, and that we don’t reallyneed to go see a doctor. And a physically-active lifestyle coupled with a nutritious diet will accomplish an awful lot. Regular physical activity lowers risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and a range of other harmful conditions. It is as close to a cure-all as we’ve got, and everyone should do it. But regular physical activity will not prevent cavities, protect our skin from harmful UV rays, or screen us for congenital heart defects. For some health problems, only a physician or specialist will do. And regular physicals and dental checkups are essential for optimal health and wellness.
Shifting the focus back to myself and my own stubbornness, my wife recently brought it to my attention that it had been over a year since my last dental visit. And I know it has been well over six months since my last trip to the dermatologist. Just like many of you, I have fitness goals and the New Year always injects me with a whopping dose of added motivation: a new beginning for achieving goals like pounds of lean muscle mass or seconds off my mile time. These goals — although usually at least partially based in vanity — can still translate to a measurable risk reduction for chronic disease. But this year my main New Year’s Resolution is to go see these medical specialists and to be on time for my annual physical with my primary physician. I hope you will consider adding these types of goals of your own this year. There are certain problems that dumbbells just won’t solve.
This article first appeared in Health:Further.