Hello everyone. I’m getting back into the swing of things. Following is a portion of a speech I gave last week at my Toastmasters Meeting. Some members had heart health questions, and I thought this might answer some of them — perhaps you’ll find it helpful as well.
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When it comes to life as we know it, there’s a paradigm – YOLO – “You Only Live Once.” Think about that: one chance – one journey. No instant replay – no do-overs.
Like most of us, I’d like to maximize my life, so I developed a “YOLO plan.” Here’s why. Last year on January 19th, I awoke with intense pain in my jaw. At first, I thought I needed a root canal, but after several minutes the pain dissipated. Still very tired, I climbed back into bed.
A few hours later, it happened again. Root canal pain comes on its own — it doesn’t end without a dentist’s intervention. I concluded this was something else, and I was correct. I’d had a heart attack.
We’ve all heard stories about someone grabbing his chest or left arm, then collapsing in pain. Some heart attacks are like that. However, there are more exceptions to that scenario than you’d think. The first rule of my YOLO plan is “Listen To Your Body.” Unexpected pain anywhere from your jaw through your torso could be referred cardiac pain. Additionally, heart attacks may come masked as nausea, heartburn, indigestion, fatigue, dizziness, or profuse sweating.
After recovering from the shock of learning I’d had a heart attack, I started educating myself. Yep! Number 2 on my YOLO plan was, “Learn all I can about what had happened.” My first stop was medical records; I read everything from when I entered the ER to when I was discharged. If I didn’t understand something, I asked questions or did some research.
Essential to my education was learning a heart attack is an event indicating the real problem. In my case, it is CAD or coronary artery disease. This was like a good news/bad news joke. The good news is, it’s treatable – the bad news is it doesn’t go away. Number 3 on the YOLO plan: Lifestyle changes would be required. Are any of these things you might consider?
People ask if I’m on a restricted diet. There is a line from West Side Story. One of the “Jets” was explaining why he was a delinquent. He went to a social worker who said he had been deprived as a youth. As a consequence, he became depraved on account of his being deprived. Likewise, highly restrictive diets make me depraved! I ignore fad diets.
I am incredibly fortunate to have a physician who is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine and is knowledgeable in the science of nutrition. As a result, I’ve spent the last year learning about macronutrients, the glycemic index, and load. I have an app that tracks what I eat and shows how macronutrients are balanced in each day’s meals and snacks.
Of course, you must know how successful your dietary changes are. I’ve lost more than 20 pounds, but that is only one way to measure success. For a cardiac patient monitoring blood work is critical. Of particular interest is tracking your cholesterol (HDL and LDL and the ratio of the 2), triglycerides, and lipoproteins.
After the event, I was strongly encouraged to attend Cardiac Rehab and begin an exercise plan. Cardiac patients are closely monitored, and the program includes cardio, weight training, and some interval training. I try to go 3 to 4 times per week. On beautiful days, I head outside to take a walk. My hypertension is not a thing of the past, but with exercise and medication, it’s under control.
Did you know that sleep deprivation contributes to heart disease? I’ve discovered that I’m at my best when I get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep. My internal alarm clock goes off at about 5:30 am, so I’m in bed early.
One of the most challenging things for a Type A person (like me) is managing stress. I’ve taken up meditation, and initially, I found that stressful. Ever try to clear your brain of thought? Pardon the pun, but mine has a mind of its own!
Last month I was doing some cardio at Rehab. Actually, I was “overdoing” some cardio. As I was exercising, I felt some pressure in my jaw — no pain, just pressure. I stopped, and the feeling went away. I mentioned it to one of the staff, who suggested I contact my cardiologist. Within a few days, I’d seen my primary doctor, the cardiologist, and had a cardiac catheterization with a new stent inserted.
A stent was inserted in the Right Coronary Artery when I had the attack a year ago. There was also an indication of a slight occlusion in the LAD (left anterior descending artery). The blockage had grown significantly, and it was where the new stent was inserted. The LAD runs down the front of the heart and is often referred to as the widow maker. “You Only Live Once.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in the United States is Heart Disease. During the last year, I’ve become acutely aware of that. In addition to the lifestyle changes mentioned above, it’s essential to:
1. Know your family history.
2. If you smoke – STOP!
3. Get physical exams regularly and check those numbers in your blood tests.
4. If you have hypertension — get it under control.
Of course, follow your YOLO plan — educate yourself and, above all, LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. Remember, it doesn’t have to be an extraordinary event, and it may seem like nothing — the pressure in your jaw, nausea, or extreme fatigue. Do not ignore these symptoms.
Remember, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE — don’t cut your life short.