english bulldog puppy with pink water bottle on head on white background

Like you, I struggled for years with guilty whispers, nagging me to “get to the gym.”

Of course, we acknowledge the benefits of exercising and making healthy food choices. But, some days it’s impossible to get to the gym. And harder still to fit preparing healthy meals into our overly scheduled days.

However, I could not have known heeding the prompts about embracing a healthy lifestyle would reap benefits I never considered.

Certainly, it is not difficult to acknowledge that choices we make impact everyone in our life. However, it never occurred to me that my health choices for the past 30+ years would have such far-reaching effects, until my husband, Jon Gage, was diagnosed with an incurable genetic disease, called Spino Cerebellar Ataxia. The symptoms are similar to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), but are slower to manifest.

Jon’s diagnosis drew a sharp contrast between what we can control and what we are relegated to live with. Despite our years of being gym-devotees, we no longer had choices we thought would define our health and ageing. We were now living with a time bomb.

This genetic disease cost my husband his ability to walk, speak, and see. Ultimately, he will lose control of all of his body functions. This disease is cruel and heart-breaking. There is no cure and there are no medications to relieve symptoms. Ultimately, Jon will be tethered to a wheelchair full time.

The many things Jon could once do without thought are now impossible. My husband falls several times weekly, trying to navigate his walker, and feels most comfortable at home where he can control his environment. He has lost his independence and is house-bound. I am constantly on-guard, aware the next fall could limit him even farther, or cause his death. Doctors warn the only thing I can do is to “keep him safe.” So, our English Bull Dog, Beethoven, and I guard him.

However, life is teaching us we still have choices. We can’t repair Jon’s health, but we can continue to insure he has good nutrition to support his immune system. The disease portion is out of our control, but we now realize the voice for making healthy choices has been our guardian angel all along. 

Doctors tell us Jon is healthy and strong, despite his disease. Ultimately, we are grateful for the benefits we have both reaped from embracing healthy eating and exercise for the past 30 years. We can only imagine how much more horrific his disease could be with a compromised immune system.

As a result, Jon’s disease has renewed our commitment to health and appreciation for things one can control via diet and exercise. This renewed vigor inspires us to help people understand the importance of taking responsibility for one’s health, while they still have it.

The reason is, the consequences of living with ill-health are too heart-breaking, especially, if you neglected to thwart the preventable diseases.

Jon doesn’t have that choice now. However, instead of being victimized, Jon has dedicated his energies to bringing awareness to Ataxia via donations from our family business, Engage Organics Salt-free and Sugar-free Seasoning Blends, which we are building with the help of our son, Jason Sherwood, and nephew, Jeremy Fitzpatrick.

We trust our donations will increase as the business grows, by making people aware about the dangers of neglecting their health by ingesting too much sodium and sugar in the diet. This ethic cannot cure Jon’s genetic disease, but it can help others recognize the importance of embracing the health they have, instead of creating a time bomb via unhealthy choices within their control.

Unfortunately, even with startling data about dire consequences, people continue to make unhealthy choices. “Eighty-nine percent of adult Americans and more than 90% of children eat more than the recommended 2300 mg of sodium per day“, according to the results published in the January 8, 2016, issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

These are dangerous sodium choices, because the body only needs a small amount of sodium (less than 500 mg) to maintain body functions.

The extra sodium being consumed by 89% of adult Americans and 90% of children bonds to water in the body, which pulls water into the bloodstream. With more blood flowing through the blood vessels, blood pressure increases. Think of it like a garden hose when the water is turned up.

Long term, this increased blood pressure injures the vessel walls and causes a build-up of sticky plague that can block blood flow. This increased pressure is the main cause of heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and vascular disease. So, if you are in your 20’s, there is almost a 100% chance you will develop high blood pressure by your 70’s or 80’s. You are carrying the time bomb. A time bomb you had a hand in creating. A time bomb you could have prevented.

Because learning to nurture health is best accomplished in youth, when daily eating and exercise habits become part of one’s psyche, we are currently working with the California Unified School Districts to bring salt-free and sugar-free seasonings to the school lunch programs. Changing the eating habits of our youth is a first step in insuring the health of future generations.

Realizing our rhetoric is but a small contribution toward creating awareness about the hazards of excess sodium and sugar, we are committed to sharing the information needed to rescue as many people as possible, who will listen about how to protect themselves from preventable disease.

Regrettably, these time bomb claims are posted ad nauseam about how heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and obesity are the result of poor diet and lack of exercise. Yet, why doesn’t the message affect our food and exercise choices?

Perhaps, most people are confused about how and what changes need to be made to reduce risk.

Obviously, we have all been confused by the abundant mixed media messages, which seem to constantly contradict earlier beliefs and health claims. Case in point: we are now being told non-fat has too much sugar. Instead, we should embrace whole fats. Nix the skinny vanilla latte for whole milk. No wonder, it’s difficult to shred truth from fiction. The messages change constantly.

Certainly, even the new 2015-2020 USDA guidelines are vague and sketchy.

Fortunately, the USDA guidelines still stress the importance of reducing sugar and sodium intake. These are on-target messages. However, most people have no idea how to measure the sodium and sugar they ingest in their diets.

Hopefully, these ideas will re-educate you about what choices you can control. Begin by committing to do THIS not THAT:

1.) shop the outside aisles of the grocery stores, where you will find produce, lean meats, poultry, and fresh fish. Avoid the frozen food sections, canned foods, chips, cookies, and all prepared foods.

2.) read food labels to determine sodium and sugar content

3.) cook your meals at home as much as possible and avoid take-out. Use herbs and spices to season foods instead of salt, to gain added antioxidant benefits.

4.) Cut down on prepared pizza. It is loaded with too much sodium. Instead, use pizza as an occasional treat, not a staple in your diet

5.) Add fresh fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds, good fats,  and grains to at least one meal per day

6.) Make a green smoothie when you are on the run and have little time to prepare a meal. Nix the prepared muffin and sugar-laden yogurt.

7.) Bake a chicken and steam rice on the weekend and use it to prepare salads, sandwiches, soups, tacos, or burritos for the rest of the week. (You’ll be surprised how many meals you can get from one or two chickens and a couple cups of rice–and none of the meals taste the same.)

8.) Avoid sodas to cut sugar consumption. Even diet soda is dangerous, because the body does not recognize the chemicals used to replace sugar.

9.) Get natural Vitamin D by letting the sun caress your skin for 15 minutes per day

10.) Exercise. Get up and move. The body is made for moving.

11.) Give gratitude and appreciation everyday for the wonderful body you have. Love it by feeding it with nutrient-dense foods.

12.) Don’t compare yourself to others. You are a unique creation. Celebrate you.

Obviously, these steps aren’t going to reverse a genetic disease, however, they will go a long way toward giving you control over preventable disease.

Embrace your health and nurture it. It is a God-given gift.

Be well,

Pat and Jon Gage