|LE Magazine August 2001|
The Essence of Well-Being
Diet, exercise, supplements and mental health
With a cell phone in hand and a flair for multi tasking, Irving Shuman seems like the quintessential new-economy entrepreneur. Colleagues at his real estate management firm in Phoenix are awed by Irv’s energy and work habits. He likes to take his calls on speaker phone—so he can do double duty checking e-mail, signing documents and taking notes. Fortunately for callers, Irv’s booming voice rises effortlessly above the sound of rustling papers. That’s why it can be surprising to discover that Irv is not a typical baby boomer overachiever—for one thing he doesn’t believe in stress and for another he’s 77 years old.
“The first 25 years of my career was the high pressure period, but then I realized that I’d had enough,” he says. “Now I run a laid-back office. Some days I come in late and leave early.”
But, the occasional shortened workday may be his only concession to age. Irv plays tennis or racquetball four times a week with opponents 25 years his junior, lifts weights, uses the treadmill and ballroom dances. He travels extensively, recently taking his son, Rick, to Israel to celebrate his 50th birthday. Irv’s annual roster of cultural activities would exhaust most teenagers. Every year, he typically attends 25 plays, 16 symphonies, five operas, nine chamber music concerts, eight jazz concerts and too many movies to count. (He’s been known to see two a night to catch up on current cinema.) Then there are the sporting events: he holds season tickets to the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona State football team.
Energy has never been a problem for Irv—he just had to learn how to harness it. Pushing himself hard to build a successful career in real estate took a toll and when he turned 52, a convergence of medical problems convinced him that it was time to apply less of that innate drive to his professional life and channel more into his own well-being. That’s when he was scheduled for surgery to remove the varicose veins from his legs that had become increasingly painful. During routine pre-operative exams, an x-ray uncovered a suspicious spot on Irv’s lung. Doctors decided to biopsy the lung at the same time that he was having his veins stripped. Though the news were ultimately good—rather than being malignant, the lump was a hardening of scar tissue from an earlier bout of valley fever—the twin surgeries left Irv reeling. “Initially the pain in my chest was so severe that I didn’t notice the pain in my legs,” he remembers. “But as my chest began to feel better, I felt terrible pain in both areas.”
As Irv lay in his hospital bed, he took comfort in reading. The literature gave Irv hope that if he made some fundamental changes in his life and started taking better care of himself, he would avoid future hospital stays. He started by paying more attention to what he ate—particularly by eliminating meat from his diet. And he began to exercise more seriously and as a way to stay fit, not just to have fun.
“I did that and it kept me in pretty good condition up until eight and a half years ago,” he says. “That was when I noticed a kind of heaviness in my chest when I was playing tennis—no pain and no paralysis—but it persisted for a few weeks.”
Irv finally called on his internist, who summoned him immediately to the Mayo Clinic where a battery of stress tests revealed a 90% blockage in one artery. The condition sent Irv right back in the hospital, this time for angioplasty. But rather than undermine his faith in alternative healing, Irv’s bout with heart blockage served to intensify his resolve.
What he learned immediately was that a 50% change in lifestyle can be the same as no change at all. “What I had been doing just wasn’t sufficient,” he says. “I had been doing enough cheating to offset all the good and I knew then that I had to go all the way.” Two weeks of intensive exercise, stress management and healthy eating gave him a foundation on which to build. Irv lost nine pounds, improved his cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and was in significantly better shape. He soon purged his cupboards and refrigerator of offending foods, including anything with saturated fats and sugar.
Today, he eats plenty of beans, brown and wild rice, whole wheat pasta and fish—such as salmon, sardines, tuna and halibut. Everything that goes into Irv’s system has to be unrefined. Vegetables and fruits are key and in cooking he uses a crockpot or steamer so as to preserve the food’s natural nutrients. Irv is so committed to sharing healthy eating habits that every Friday he either orders in from the local natural foods eatery for his office staff or he treats everyone to lunch at one of Phoenix’s healthier restaurants.
Supplements and vitamins are critical components to his diet. Irv turns to vitamins C and E as mainstays for general good health, as well as magnesium and calcium for bone strength and zinc for cold prevention. “I double or triple my C and zinc if I feel like I’m getting hit with something,” he says. “And that usually knocks whatever it is right out of my system.” Irv also takes acidophilous for digestion and CoQ10 and grape seed extract. Saw palmetto is a must for prostrate and urinary health.
Always an athlete, Irv developed a new appreciation for exercise during his health overhaul. “I’m a tennis and racquetball player, but before I only did these things for fun,” he says. “You would never have caught me on a treadmill for 45 minutes.” These days you’re apt to. Irv spends 45 minutes on the treadmill at least four times a week (he prefers the treadmill to a stationary bike, even though both burn the same amount of calories, because he thinks standing provides a better all-over workout), as well as lifting weights with similar frequency. In fact, he’ll finish his regular tennis or racquetball game and head directly into the weight room for a total work-out time of about two and a half hours.
The results have been impressive. Not only are all of Irv’s major indicators—pulse rate, blood pressure, cholesterol level—excellent, but he’s lighter than he was as a teenager, and without being a waif. “I was chatting with some guys my age about weight,” he says. “One of them was 20 pounds heavier than he had been in the Canadian Air Force and the other was 15 pounds over what he had weighed in the Army. I almost hated to say it but I’m 10 pounds under what I weighed when I was in the Navy.”
Just as important as diet, supplements and exercise is mental health, and Irv’s main weapon there is quality time with his family. He has three children (in addition to Rick, there is Amy and Dannielle), four grandchildren and two great grandchildren, living across the country from Maryland, to Colorado and California. Irv works hard to stay in close contact with everyone and every couple of years, he brings all four generations together for a family gathering. “A good family life is very important to a good mental attitude.” —Twig Mowatt
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