May 15, 2012
A Cardiovascular Event
Thank you for the many kind thoughts expressed after reading my last newsletter, “A Cardiovascular Event.” I planned on leaving the subject this week, but was asked about my approach to training now and questioned about any planned lifestyle changes.
When I was discharged from the hospital, I was given a packet that included suggested dietary practices and a progressive walking program. They also told me to make an appointment with my primary doctor for a referral to a cardiologist.
My wife and I met with the cardiologist and went over my medical history and reviewed a hospital DVD of the stents that were put in a coronary artery. He said everything looked fine, that the doctors had done a good job, and he scheduled me for a stress test. My heart attack was one month ago, on April 11.
I’ve been taking a daily 30 minute exercise walk. At first, my pace was more of a saunter, but I have gradually increased it to reasonably brisk. Normally, I hike in the hills where there is the ideal change in elevation from level to uphill to downhill. To date, I have stayed on fairly level ground.
I began very moderate resistance work a week-and-a-half ago. Three days a week, I use my BodyLastic resistance bands, which are perfect for starting out easy and then gradually increasing the workload. I haven’t touched my kettelbells yet, but look at them longingly. Their time will come. I also set aside daily some quiet time to practice deep breathing along with Qigong relaxation and stretching techniques.
My cardiologist told me that he and his associates offer a workout program with a trainer. At first I thought, ah come on, Doc, I’ve been a trainer, a coach, and a gym rat most of life. Fortunately, I caught myself before sounding like an arrogant jerk. The fact is I never personally trained anyone right after he or she had suffered a heart attack.
Before going further, let me point out that there are some people who say that considering any lifestyle changes at my age is silly. They argue that eventually either our parts wear out, no matter what we do, or some opportunistic bug gets us. No one escapes. So if sitting on the couch eating Ben & Jerry’s feels good, why should we cheat ourselves of the experience? But that’s not me. I chose to take the best advice I can find and treat my condition as a challenge. We all go our own way.
When fans held a birthday party for Jack LaLanne (he was in his 90s), he was offered a slice of birthday cake. He said, “It looks wonderful, but, no thank you.” Later he explained that all his life he had spoken out against eating sugar and processed foods. So why would he start eating them now? Is that too extreme? I suppose so. On the other hand, Jack knew who he was and what his image meant. I’m certainly not saying that I’m Jack LaLanne. He was one in a million, and I’m just an average guy who likes barbells and a fitness lifestyle. But I get it: Stay true to yourself.
Thursday, April 10
The big event following a stress test is meeting with the cardiologist for an assessment of the results. In the movie, Something’s Gotta Give, Jack Nickolson plays an aging womanizer who suffers a heart attack. In recovery, he asks the doctor (played by Keanu Reeves) when he can have sex again. The doctor tells him if he can climb a flight of stairs having sex is safe.
My stress test was a bit more complex than Nicholson’s. First, images were made of my heart working while I was at rest. Then wires were attached at various body locations. Next, dye was injected into my veins as I was striding on a treadmill. At first, the pace was friendly enough; then the front end of the treadmill was elevated and the machine went faster as a computer gathered information about my heart’s behavior. I was panting like a racing greyhound when the treadmill went to what they called “level three,” but, hooray, I felt no chest pain whatsoever.
The cardiologist said I passed my stress test. Next, I’ll be scheduled at the cardio exercise facility for a series of post-heart attack workouts with a trainer. In a month, I check in again with my cardiologist
The good news is that a heart healthful diet is a healthful diet, period. For most people the dietary suggestions I make on my website and in my books certainly qualify. Though balanced, as to the ratio of fats, carbohydrates, and protein are concerned, post-heart attack eating suggests a greater reduction of dietary fats. And sodium is a dietary culprit, as it tends to elevate most people’s blood pressure.
The above seem to be cardinal rules of cardiology. However, some cardiologists, such as Dean Ornish, suggest an even greater reduction of dietary fats, going to an almost totally vegan lifestyle. Though I was eating healthful foods to begin with, I have decided to cut back fats further by following a lacto-ova-vegetarian diet. I’ll continue taking fish oil and occasionally eat cold water fatty fish such as salmon and trout.
Telling other people what they should eat is a minefield I do not want to enter. Let the debate rage on, caveman dieters vs. vegans, etc. But duke it out without me. I find that the meals I eat are delicious
Stacking the odds against heart disease
The risk factors are well known:
Overweight & Obesity
Bad Cholesterol Profile
High Blood Pressure
Family History of Early Onset Heart Disease
We have the ability to correct all but the last two. For the best odds, know your risk factors and do something about improving them.
Chance, fate, or whatever
Do the best you can and take care of yourself. But if you should be unfortunate enough have a heart attack anyway, plan on having it near a hospital with a top-notch emergency room. I was lucky. Had I been out alone on one of my hiking trails, the coyotes would be dining on my bones.
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Gray Iron: A Fitness Guide for Senior Men and Women
The Gray Iron Fitness Newsletter is a free publication sent twice monthly to subscribers. The purpose is to provide honest and realistic fitness information for people age 50 and above.
I have never been paid or received compensation of any kind to write a positive review or endorse a product. If I say that I personally use a product or service, it is because I find value in it and have paid for it with my own money.
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The newsletter and web site provide information to help users establish and maintain a fitness lifestyle. But fitness information is not the same as fitness advice, which is the application of exercise and dietary practices to an individual's specific circumstances. Therefore, always consult with your physician for assurance that fitness information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate for you. Your comments and questions are always appreciated.
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