Archives for April 2014

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass

get_off_ass_2Dying isn’t hard, but it does provide a good lesson in humility. My cardiac rehab started with short walks on the high school track. I remember that first day I barely made it one lap. I was 41 years old and being lapped by speed walking retirees. I had to find a way to crush my competition! Stick with me, and I will show you the way.

I went for walks, either on the track or in the neighborhood, everyday. It’s amazing how quickly your body begins to gain strength and endurance. Within two months, I had progressed from 1 lap at the track to walking several miles at a time. I was eventually keeping pace with the retirees. At month three, I went back to work and the daily walks came to an end.

The daily walks ended, but I needed to find time to continue with an exercise routine.  In a rare moment of dedication, I decided to get up early a few days a week so I could continue my walks. Once I felt strong enough, and with the permission of my doctor, I graduated to light jogging on flat surfaces. Eventually, I built up to a four mile walk/run three to four times a week. Then, as usual, I lost interest.

In my next futile attempt at physical fitness, I joined a gym. I was going to get ripped! I even shelled out a bunch of money on a personal trainer. I didn’t like going to the gym and I didn’t like my trainer. I stuck with it for about a year, but I was miserable. I was paying good money for the inconvenience of traveling back and forth to gym to hang out with a bunch of lunkheads while getting no results. And it stunk. Gym experiment over.

Do Your Best, Forget the Rest

Back to the internet for more inspiration. Who did I run into, none other than Mr. Tony Horton. If you are not familiar with Tony Horton, he is the force behind the P90X series of home workouts. If you can make it past Tony’s cheesy infomercials, fabulous and perpetually dark hair, and bulging biceps, you will find a very effective program. Not only does it work, but in my opinion, is great for “younger” cardiac patients like myself.

P90X is what finally made me focus on diet AND exercise together. Instead of justifying my bad diet with more exercise, I finally saw the light. Diet and exercise needed to be worked together in order to achieve a healthy lifestyle and physical results. The basic P90X program:

  • Diet – The diet has three phases designed to burn fat and build muscle. I never followed it strictly but I hear it works.
  • Strength – A set of dumbbells or bands is required, but many of the routines incorporate a heavy dose of bodyweight strength training (push-up, pull-ups, etc.)
  • Fitness – There are a few cardio workouts and some pretty serious yoga mixed in throughout the program. The cardio is definitely intense and the Yoga will kick your ass.

I liked P90X so much I did it twice. I then went out and bought Insanity and P90X 2. If you can find a cardiologist that recommends Insanity, you should change doctors. I made it about halfway through and gave up. P90X2 is good for a change of pace, but I prefer the original. More recently, I have started Turbulence Training. I will describe that in a later post.

Modify, Modify, Modify

P90X is a commitment, at least an hour a day, six days a week for 90 days. I definitely needed the structure in the beginning. Today, I am doing a modified version of everything. By modified, I mean only the first half of each strength routine and no cardio. Here is what that looks like:

  • Monday – P90X workout & bike to work
  • Tuesday – Core workout or stretch & bike to work
  • Wednesday – P90X workout
  • Thursday – Core workout or stretch & bike to work
  • Friday – P90X workout

I usually leave the weekends unscheduled. If inspired, I may go for a run or bike ride, but that rarely happens.

Since I reduced the workouts, added the biking (15 miles round trip to work) AND started eating right, I have lost weight, put on muscle, improved my cardiovascular conditioning, and just feel better. I have read that 80% of conditioning is diet related. I finally believe that. Once I cut the bad carbs and sugar and focused on lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, everything just clicked.

What’s the point of all this? Find a program/system that works for you. If it’s not fun or convenient, you aren’t going to stick with it. Also, you don’t need to spend a ton of money or time. And of course, talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Photo credit: The U.S. Army / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Stop Eating Crap

pick your poisonAfter  bypass surgery, I was discharged with a green light to eat whatever I liked because I was extremely weak and anemic. I needed the calories, protein, fat, and iron found in the typical crappy American diet. It seemed rather enabling, but who was I to argue with the doctor. I did enjoy my fatty meals and desserts, but I also knew it couldn’t last forever; I had to stop eating crap! This post explains how I made that happen.

Like most cardiac patients, I believed my biggest concern should be reducing cholesterol. It makes sense to start here since most of us ended up on an operating table as a result of clogged arteries. It is also an easy place to start since most of us are on a statin such as Lipitor and get an immediate assist.

Although I truly believe in the benefits of statins and will likely remain on one for life, I also have a problem with them. They give a false sense of security. How many times have you finished a huge steak covered in cheese sauce and said “I guess I will have to double up on the Lipitor tonight”.  Adorable, aren’t you?

You Are What You Eat

If this is true, I was eating moron. I would estimate that I ate about 75% healthy and 25% crap for a number of years after my event. I could make myself eat pretty well at breakfast and lunch. Evenings and weekends were another story. If you have young kids like me, you end up serving and eating a lot of mac & cheese, pizza, and ice cream. And as proof that I am not the most responsible person, I began to eat worse once I started exercising. I figured I was working out, I could eat whatever I like, right?

In fact, the answer is no. The American Heart Association provides the following as a basic guideline for diet and cardiac health:

  • Don’t intake mass quantities of calories
  • Eat a variety of nutritious foods including vegetables, unrefined whole grains, lean proteins, and fish.
  • Avoid nutrient-poor food

Sounds sensible, and it is. But it also sounds extremely boring and like something my mother would tell me. I have a long history of ignoring the good advice of my mother.

The Pretty Pig

I needed to put some lipstick on this ugly pig called eating right. I stumbled upon Tim Ferris’ blog while looking for ways to get rich by working four hours per week. Although I haven’t pulled that off (yet), I did find a lot of very useful information regarding diet.

I was drawn to the experiments Tim describes that test the relationship between food and exercise and the impact on weight and muscle gain. I tried a couple of his experiments and learned some interesting lessons along the way. For example, gorging and heavy weight lifting in your mid-forties produces fat not muscle (I gained 10 lbs of neck fat). Fun experiment, but not quite so effective (or attractive).

With my added neck fat in tow, I decided to see what Tim had on weight loss as opposed to muscle gain. I tried the slow-carb diet. On the slow-carb diet, you basically don’t eat anything processed or white – sugar, flour, dairy. You do eat a lot of that same meals (over and over again) that contain a combination lean protein, vegetables, and beans. And the best part, you get a cheat day once a week to eat whatever you like.

I had pretty good luck combining this diet with a regular exercise routine. I lost a few pounds, gained a little muscle, and felt overall more healthy. It also helps that you don’t have to be great cook on the slow-carb diet. On the flip side, egg whites, chicken, broccoli, and black beans gets pretty boring after a month or two.

Cardio Caveman

I followed the basic guideline of the slow-carb diet for quite awhile. The only difference being that I eventually was up to about three cheat days a week. Knowing I needed to get back on track, I went in search of a new program to keep me engaged.

I found the Paleo diet. The basic concept here is to mimic the diet of our prehistoric forefathers. Somehow, we know that there was very little cardiovascular disease back in the paleolithic days. Therefore, reverting back to a caveman lifestyle will lead to improved cardiovascular health. Stepping back in time is not a big stretch for a hairy backed dimwit such as myself. It’s probably this same dimwittedness that led me to try the diet ranked dead last on The U.S. News & World Report best diets list.

With that bad news aside, I can tell you that I really enjoyed the Paleo diet. The concept of Paleo is to eat meat (a lot of it) fish, vegetables, eggs, and healthy fats. Do not eat grains, sugars, most dairy, or any processed foods. Basically, if you can kill it or dig it up, you can eat it. Did I mention you get to eat bacon?

The inclusion of significant amounts of meat and eggs in the Paleo diet will scare many cardiac patients off. Maybe rightly so. I set out with the goal of 30 days for Paleo. Partly because of my short attention span, but also because I know there are healthier options out there. What I found over the 30 days is the following:

  • I lost 9 pounds
  • I had more energy
  • I really enjoyed the meals
  • I was never hungry
  • My back got hairier

My Cardio Diet Top 10

As you can see, I like to try new things. That might be a polite way of saying I can’t stick with anything. Regardless, I am motivated to eat more healthy. My experiments keep me entertained and help me maintain focus. When I take the bits and pieces from cardiac eating guidelines and my various experiments, I am left with my Cardio Diet Top 10:

  1. Eat lots of vegetables
  2. Eat some fruit
  3. Eat lean meats
  4. Eat fish
  5. Eat eggs
  6. Limit dairy
  7. Eat the right carbs (complex)
  8. Eliminate/reduce sugar
  9. Eliminate/reduce grains
  10. Don’t listen to me (I’m not a doctor)

The top ten works for me and provides a lot of options and variety. Remember, I am not recommending you go out and eat a lot of bacon. I am only recommending that you find a way to eat healthy. For me, it’s my little experiments.

If you are looking for your own heart-healthy diet programs, a good resource is the best heart-healthy diets on The U.S. News & World Report. My next program will focus on the Mediterranean diet. The benefits seem well established and the menu seems like something the whole family can enjoy.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4

Photo credit: Scott Ableman / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Simplify Your Life

simplifyI thought about changing the title to “Cardiac Recovery Step 1 – More Porn” in order to get you to read this.  A few years ago, I would never have continued past the headline “Simplify your Life”.  Sounds like a load of new age nonsense.

That was before I died.

Now that I have a second chance at life (as may you), I am a little more open to new concepts.  Cardiac recovery begins with simplifying your life.  After all, you may have just lived through a major cardiac event – you don’t need more complexity in your life.  You need to simplify in order to recover, get healthy, and enjoy life.

It’s Simple, So It’s Easy, Right?

Wrong.  Simplifying is difficult; it means shedding bad habits and behaviors.  It means changing the way you live.  It means changing your values.  It means changing the way you think about the things you have and the things you want.  In addition to being an irresponsible man-child, I am also a gadget guy with a short attention span and I like things!  While I still accumulate my fair share of them, here is what I have given up over the past few years:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking soda
  • Junk food (mostly)
  • Chocolate (somewhat)
  • Gym membership
  • Cable TV
  • Satellite radio

So why did give all this up?  Smoking and bad genes are what killed me in the first place.  Many people thought I should quit that habit.

Drinking wasn’t helping me out either.  If I drank, I wanted to smoke.  If I drank too much, my heart went into A-fib.  If I was hung over, I wanted to sit on the couch, watch, TV and eat bad food – while in A-fib (told you I was a mess).

There have been a few studies over the years that indicate diet may have a role in heart disease. I have mostly stopped drinking soda, eating junk food, eating handfuls of M&Ms, and chewing a pack of gum a day (did I mention I quit smoking).  As much as possible I eat whole foods and avoid sugar.

Quitting the last three on the list was all about simplification and came with the added benefit of saving money.  I spent more time driving to and from the gym than actually working out at the gym. Cable and satellite can be time sucking black holes of mindless babble.

What do I miss most?  Smoking and Howard Stern.

So what did I gain?  Making a commitment to simplify my life has provided me with more time to eat right, exercise, sleep, and focus on my overall well being.

It’s Simple, So It’s Quick, Right?

Wrong.  There is no quick fix here.  I did a lot of reading and experimenting with different methods to simplify and be more productive.   There are thousands of great books and blogs out there offering all kinds of advice.  A couple that I found helpful were Zen Habits by Leo Babauta and MyrkoThum by well, um,  Myrko Thum.

When I learned Leo Babauta  was previously an out of shape smoker like me, I knew I was in the right place.  Take some time and check out his site.  The site link provided above is to the Getting Started page.  It’s also useful to read his bio.  If I didn’t know better, I would say Leo’s list of changed habits belonged to a cardiac patient.   From quitting smoking, to exercising, eating healthy, and starting a new career.

I have to admit, I am actually not all that familiar with Myrko or his SYSTEM of personal development.  Myrko made MY list because of HIS list at the link above.  A very simple guide to simplification:

  1. Turn down the noise
  2. Clarify what you want and need
  3. Do less without losing anything
  4. Say “No” in Order to Say “Yes”
  5. Declutter
  6. Invite silence into your world

If that list makes you cringe, the site also offers a practical explanation of how to simplify your life in two steps:

“The first is to get clear and to focus on what is really important to you. This means to do more of what makes you truly happy, what you feel you have to do on this world. The second way is to remove as much distraction from your life as possible, so you actually can live in purpose and fulfillment”

For me, this meant getting rid of the unhealthy habits and distractions and focusing on what is important to me and the well being of my family.  Simple enough, right?

If you think you want to explore this topic more, check out the Alltop Lifehack page as a starting off point.  Here you will find everything from how to simplify and declutter to how to build a Bluetooth speaker and why you should own a survival bow & arrow – as if that is not obvious.

I am not following any specific program, list, or person in my path to simplification.  Nor have I quit my job or given away all of my possessions. I just take bits and pieces from all over the place, try a few out, and see what works for cardiac recovery.  When in doubt, I keep it simple.

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: Jon Ashcroft / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery Series

heart cloudsAs a survivor of both a cardiac arrest and heart attack, people often ask me “how are you feeling…you doing ok?” For several years, I usually just responded with “fine, doing great”. However, that question always reminded me that I was not doing great.

Even after getting a second chance at life, I hadn’t made many changes in my life to ensure I would enjoy this rare opportunity. The problem was, healthy living didn’t come naturally to me and I had no idea where to start. In fact, I was heading in the opposite direction.  Sound familiar?

After much trial and error, I have developed an approach to improving my overall health and it finally seems to be working.  I will share my approach in a four-part series I call “Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery”. The series outlines the steps I am taking to simplify my life, exercise, eat right, and reduce stress.

Lost, Broken Down, and Out of Gas

I didn’t start out with a plan. As with most things I do in life, I knew the end goal (improved cardiac health in this case) but I had no idea how to get there. Imagine if someone asked you to go on a road trip. Most people would plan a route and gas up the car before leaving. Not me, I would jump in the car and start driving in a general direction with the hope of getting there.

Sure, I would have an adventure in front of me and probably experience some pretty cool things along the way. I would also end up lost, broken down, and out of gas. Even if I got there, I would be a mess upon arrival. While this approach can be fun, it is also exhausting and many times results in failure….or a heart attack!

So knowing that, you may ask “why is this guy writing about a cardiac health plan?” Well, I’m not quite the irresponsible manchild I was at 41 when my cardiac event occurred. I finally realized the need to take things into my own hands, and coincidentally, a plan developed.

What I am about to outline is not easy. Changing the way you think and live while balancing family, work (notice how I put that second), and life can seem daunting, especially if you are in the early stages of your cardiac recovery. Or, maybe like me, you were just bound by the pleasure of your vices. For years, I rationalized my bad habits and postponed good habits:

  • I will quit smoking when I am 20…30…40.
  • I will start exercising when I quit smoking.
  • I will start eating healthy when I start exercising.
  • I will get healthy when my first child is born.
  • I will get healthy when my second child is born.

I knew this was ridiculous behavior, especially with my genetic history. Yet, I continued to do nothing to change. Whether you are trying to prevent your first heart attack, or you are recovering from you third, the first step is easy: Make the decision to change and then commit.

Roadside Assistance

The Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery series is based upon my own experience in changing the way I think and committing to a healthier life. Very little of this happened in the first four years after my event. I guess it took me a little while to figure out I had a role in determining the success and longevity of my recovery. Here is my basic plan and the topics of this upcoming series:

  • Simplify your life – Clear the distractions and focus on what is important.
  • Stop eating crap – Experiment with healthy eating.
  • Get off your ass – Start moving, slowly at first, but start moving.
  • Relax – Personally, I find this one the hardest.

You may be in the early stages of your cardiac recovery and find all of this a bit overwhelming. Or like me, you could be several years into your recovery and looking for way to shed your manchild ways. Either way, it is important to take the first step. You may want to just pick one area of focus, start slowly, and build towards a healthy lifestyle.

Keep in mind I am a cardiac patient, not a doctor. Should you decide to start make significant changes to your diet or exercise regime, talk to your doctor first. I do so, but only because my wife makes me do it.

Next up: Simplifying your Life

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: aivas14 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Why I Had a Heart Attack Party

dancingWho doesn’t love a good heart attack party?  A little before the one-year anniversary of my cardiac event, my family and I started joking that my 1st birthday was approaching.  After all, one of the many benefits of coming back from the dead is you get two birthdays.

My original birthday means another year older.   My new birthday means the gift of another year with family and friends.  We realized how lucky we were to have this amazing gift, a second chance at life, so we decided a party was in order.

We started out calling the event a “second chance party” but somehow “heart attack party” stuck.  As for the name “heart attack party”, I posted earlier about my tendency to describe my cardiac arrest and heart attack singularly as a “heart attack”.  Whatever we called the party, the purpose was celebrate and show gratitude for a second chance at life.  If you know my story, you know that I have a lot to be grateful for:

  • Having survived a cardiac arrest and heart attack.  Less than 10% survive such an event.  I needed a reminder of just how lucky I was.

  • Having successful bypass surgery – My arteries were cleaned out!  A fresh start and a defibrillator implanted “just in case”.

  • Having an awesome wife – This is a big one.  She found me in cardiac arrest and saved my life.  As a bonus, a few month into my recovery, she gave birth to our son.

  • Having two beautiful young children – Kids love parties.  Especially parties with moon bounces.

  • Having a great family – When I went down, my family went into action.  They put their lives on hold and  stayed by our sides throughout my recovery process.

  • Having great friends – Friends and neighbors rallied as well.  Meals and babysitting were much appreciated!

  • Having a great job – My boss and company made sure my family had the support we needed during my extended vacation.

With the gift that I was given, my list should be much longer, but this was a good start for the heart attack party.  If you are truly feeling Zen and want to read more on the benefits of feeling grateful, take a look at this post by Leo Babauta.

Although I haven’t been to any other heart attack parties for comparison, I think our’s was a great success.  We had a pool and moon bounce for the kids and plenty of food and drink for the adults.  Keeping with my long history of passive aggressive behavior, I served BBQ and grilled Italian sausages at the heart attack party.  Keeping with her tradition of being a rock, my wife gave a very touching public thank you to our family and friends.

Although we don’t have the party annually anymore, we are not done being grateful.  Our plan is to have another one at my ten year anniversary/birthday.  Let me know if you are coming.

Photo credit: Duke Yearlook / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Why I Lied About My Cardiac Arrest

michael jackson and the bee geesLying About My Cardiac Arrest

Do you know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest? Don’t worry, I have experienced both and I didn’t know the difference for quite a while afterwards. Sad, but true. My standard response when someone asked what happened to me – “I had a heart attack”. I wasn’t lying or misleading intentionally, I just didn’t fully understand what I had been through.

Looking back, I think I described my cardiac event as a heart attack because the concept of heart attack was more familiar to me than cardiac arrest. After all, both my father and brother had suffered heart attacks at the age of 39. It was a family tradition! One of the first things I said when I woke up in the hospital was “I beat them”. Meaning, I lasted until I was 41 before having my heart attack. I beat them in another way also, my heart attack came with a cardiac arrest.

The Truth from Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s death made me realize he and I were similar in ways far beyond our dancing skills. It was an article that I read about his death that finally made me understand the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. It says a lot about my intellect that I didn’t take notice of this a year earlier when Tim Russert suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. A heart attack is plumbing – your arteries are blocked. A cardiac arrest is electrical – your heart stops beating (think death). Here are the differences and how I experienced each:

  • A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart. My arteries were a mess. An initial angiography at the hospital demonstrated multivessel coronary artery disease with the right coronary artery 99% blocked.
  • Symptoms may be immediate and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before the attack occurs. My wife said I had complained of feeling run down or tired for several days prior to collapsing.
  • The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. Once I had the heart attack, I moved on to cardiac arrest, so my heart did stop beating.
  • Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning. Since my cardiac arrest was the consequence of an acute inferior posterior infarct (heart attack) there was a little bit of a warning.
  • Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. My electrical systems was in a definite state of malfunction. Paramedics performed CPR and shocked my heart from v-fib (cardiac arrest) to a-fib (irregular heartbeat).

For those that are more visual, check out this Cardiac Arrest versus Heart Attack Infographic provided by the American Heart Association for a great depiction of the differences.

Saved by the Bee Gees

So how did I survive both a heart attack and cardiac arrest? After all, the odds are not good. According to the American Heart Association, over 90% of those suffering a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital died. I survived because of the quick actions of my wife and a team of paramedics and doctors. My wife immediately started CPR which was then continued by paramedics when they arrived. They also shocked me with a defibrillator and gave me a quick shot of epinephrine.

So you may be wondering about the role of the Bee Gees in my survival. Guidance for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) states that hand compressions should be administered hard and fast to the middle of chest at 100 beats per minute, roughly the same amount of beats per minute on the Bee Gees “Staying Alive” track. How do I know my CPR was administered hard and fast? They broke my sternum! And I stayed alive.

I don’t recommend relying on Michael Jackson for your cardiac education and the Bee Gees to save your life. Hopefully, you are now aware of the basic difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. I do recommend avoiding both if possible. You can do so living a healthy lifestyle. Stay tuned for an upcoming series full of heart healthy lifestyle tips.

Photo credit: Sheba_Also / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)