Archives for July 2014

Why Does the Ocean Make Me Feel Better?

ocean

I am on vacation in the Outer Banks (NC) with a dozen or so members of the Maher clan.  Sitting here watching the sun rise and listening to the break of the ocean waves is not a bad way to start the day.  I like being near the ocean for a number of reasons: I like the sun, I like the water, and I like the salt air.  I exercise more, I relax more, and I just feel better.  Is it all in my head, or does being or living by the ocean actually have health benefits?  Let’s find out.

Bathing Hospitals

According to a study last year by epidemiologist Lora Fleming of the University of Exeter (England), the benefits are real.  An article highlighting her research points out that doctors have been prescribing visits to the shore or “bathing hospitals” since the 18th century.

It seems they were on to something.  The study goes on to provide examples of people relaxing, feeling better, and being more active.  The study used an interesting combination of census data, surveys and social experiments to arrive at their conclusions.  Bottom-line, being by the ocean makes people feel better.

The Elements

Sun

The sun get’s a bad rap these days.  The amount of sunscreen slathered on people makes a day at the shore look like a zombie beach party.  I am not saying burn your kids and yourself to a crisp.  I am sayIng exposure to the sun does not translate to immediate skin cancer.  In fact, there are a number of well documented benefits of sun exposure:

  • Helps promote healthy bones and teeth
  • Helps prevent some diseases, including heart disease
  • Helps reduce cramping due to prolonged use of statins

Drinking on the beach all day and passing out in the sun for several hours is not recommended.  A little exposure is all that is needed to feel the benefits of the sun.

Water

Salt water also seems to have medicinal properties.  I found an article on Boomer Living + that highlights the benefits of the minerals contained in the ocean’s water.  Benefits include help with:

  • Arthritis
  • Psoriasis
  • Skin diseases (rosaeca, eczems, etc.)
  • Depression

It seems that the iodine found in ocean water boosts thyroid function and even improves the immune system.  An important benefit for those of us with cardiovascular disease is improved blood circulations. So go ahead, enjoy a little salt.

Air

The article also cites the benefits of the ocean air.  The theory goes, as waves break on shores, ions are released into the atmosphere.  Rumor has it, these are negatively charged ions.  This is important to those of us addicted to computer screens since they produce positive ions (also known as free radicals).  The claimed benefits of increased negative ions are:

  • Enhanced immune system
  • Increased alertness
  • Improved concentration

I am not sure how much of this “research” I actually buy into.  I just know that I feel better when I am near the ocean.  It could be time for a permanent stay at the bathing hospital.

 

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

Is It Safe To Do a Triathlon After a Heart Attack?

tri picture

There is a reason you hear about people dropping dead during these events.  Heart attack or not, endurance events put a significant strain on the body, particularly the heart.  If you are going to train for and compete in one of these events, it’s important to understand your underlying cardiac condition and always consult your doctor.  It’s also important to be naked, play guitar and train with “friends”.

Silly Mamil

I am not the only middle-aged guy contemplating one of these events.  There are so many of us out there that we even have a nickname:  Mamils (middle aged men in lycra).  According to an article in Bloomberg, the average age of competitors in these event is on the rise.  The 40-60 year age bracket now holds 32 percent of the membership in USA Triathlon.

Sinking Mamils

study published by the Mayo Clinic found that the death rate for triathlons is about twice that of marathons because of the overall intensity, particularly during the swim event.  In a triathlon, the swim event is first.  Swimmers pumped full of adrenaline swim on top of each other as they position for the lead.  The panic, physical exertion, and lack of oxygen can be lethal.

The Bloomberg article mentioned above is an excellent resource and goes into much more detail on the risks.  I recommend reading this if you are contemplating one of these events.

Stupid Mamil

So why am I doing this?  Because I am a stupid!  Also, because I have two good friends to compete with, I need something new to keep me engaged, and I like the challenge.  I am already biking and running, what’s the harm of a little swim?  I outline my approach to exercise in a previous post if you are interested in reading more.

Trimamil

Trinewbie is great site full of training advice and programs geared towards first time competitors.  I actually completed one of these events back in my smoking days, prior to the heart attack.  That one was done with little training.  This time around, I will l somewhat follow the 10-week program on the Trinewbie site.

If you haven’t had a heart attack and are not exercising, hopefully my participation in this event has appropriately shamed you.  As always, check with your doctor before competing in one of these events.


References:

Khan, Natasha, and Shannon Pettypiece. “Men Over 40 Should Think Twice Before Running Triathlons.” Bloomberg. N.p., 21 June 2013. Web. 19 July 2014.

James H. O’Keefe et al. Potential Adverse Cardiovascular Effects From Excessive Endurance Exercise. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 87, Issue 6 (June 2012) DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2012.04.005

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

Why I Am Volunteering With Mended Hearts

mendedheartsWhen I was in the hospital recovering from bypass surgery, a volunteer from an organization called Mended Hearts paid a visit to my room.  This was seven years ago and I was a little pumped up on morphine, so I don’t remember the name of the person or even what we talked about.

I do remember that he gave me a pillow that I was to hold against my chest if I needed to cough or laugh.  Doing either of those activities after open-heart surgery can be quite painful.   I made good use of the pillow, but put the name of my visitor and the organization out of my mind up until recently.

I forgot Mended Hearts because I wanted to forget about Mended Hearts.  I was pretty sure I could handle cardiac recovery on my own.  Honestly, I was young and incredibly gifted with street smarts.  What could go wrong?  Besides, I didn’t need help from some old guy!

Time to Give Back

A few weeks ago, I contacted Mended Hearts to inquire about volunteering.  So what is Mended Hearts?  I have taken the following description from the their website:

Our support groups help people understand that there can be a rich, rewarding life after heart disease diagnosis. Members listen, share their experiences and volunteer to talk to other heart patients about what they may face including lifestyle changes, depression, recovery, and treatment.

Mended Hearts volunteers offer peer-to-peer support to patients, family members and caregivers via:

  • Hospital Visiting – In person visit from a Mended Hearts volunteer while you are recovering
  • Online Visiting – Email check in and provide materials electronically
  • Phone Visiting – Calling to provide a word of hope

Our mission is to “inspire hope in heart disease patients and their families.”

This past Saturday I met with one of the coordinators and attended my first Mended Hearts support group meeting.  It was good to be among “my people”.  Over the next several months, I will get a few training sessions before I am fully qualified to begin my volunteer duties.

A big reason I started this blog was to fill an information and support gap for “younger” cardiac patients.  My motivation for volunteering with Mended Hearts is to connect with this same demographic.  I think this is a great organization and I am excited to get started.

My Heart Attack Anniversary – 7 Years Later

Me at the Beach

I missed a very important anniversary last week.  July 1st marked 7 years since my cardiac arrest, heart attack and bypass. As the author of a heart attack blog, it’s a little odd that I missed my own anniversary.  On the other hand, I was at the beach enjoying time with my family.  Celebration enough.

Se7en

No, I won’t be writing about the seven deadly sins – maybe what led to my heart attack.  Instead,  a quick post to highlight the 7 things I am most grateful for on this lucky anniversary:

  1. Being alive
  2. Having a wonderful family
  3. Having great friends
  4. Having a healthy lifestyle
  5. Having the ability to relax
  6. Having a job that provides for my family and I
  7. Having the experience of death

I didn’t put a lot of thought into this list and number 7 may seem a little strange.  I am sure it will evolve and grow over time – at least to 8 by this time next year. That’s it for now – Paul

What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack?

obesity by age and year

Pretty high if you are a Gen-X or Y parent. My last post may have depressed you or even made you a little mad (I think I called you fat).  If so, this post is going to really piss you off.

It looks like Gen-X and Y are passing down the “sit on your ass and eat crap” gene to our kids – the “Net Generation”.  As a result, children today are experiencing high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and elevated cholesterol – previously adult conditions.  Unfortunately, the perfect storm for early-onset cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

NetGen’s Fate

I am not trying to piss anyone off.  As a father, I am very concerned about the declining health of our NetGen children. The American Heart Association (AHA) found that nearly one third of today’s children are overweight or obese – one third!

Although the moniker “NetGen” sounds kind of cool, it does not conjure images of a very active lifestyle.  My kids are in the 6-11 age group in the chart above and my wife and I are in a constant battle to reduce their screen time and get them outside.

I don’t think we are alone in this battle.  This quote from former Surgeon General Richard Carmona puts it in perspective:

Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

I am not sure if that quote is about Gen-X, Y, or the NetGen, but you get the point.

There is Hope

I provide a lot of information on this site about self-improvement.  Hopefully some of that has sunk in and is incorporated into your new healthy lifestyle. Why – because you have a generation to save!

One of the first things you can do for your children is make them aware of heart disease in their family history (if there is any).  My kids are already aware of the crappy hand Dad dealt them.  It’s hard to ignore the big zipper running down the middle of Daddy’s chest.

Smoking has already been established as evil with my children.  My wife and I also frequently speak with our kids about eating healthy and exercising.  Talking is great, but kids learn by watching.  So set a good example – eat your vegetables and exercise (I am assuming you no longer smoke at the dinner table).

Need more help getting your kids to eat their veggies?  Here is an outstanding post on the Fooducate blog that finally unlocks the mystery.  Guess which one of the following three strategies works best to get your kids to eat healthy foods?

  1. Eat it, it’s good for you
  2. Eat it, it’s tasty
  3. Eat it

You guessed it, number three.  We are parents, we can tell our kids what to do.  Eating healthy is not an option.   Now with that mystery finally solved, on to exercise.  Get up off the couch and get active with your kids.  Play with them!  Watching sports on TV with your kids does not count as active playtime.

Let’s Move

I am far from an expert in motivating children.  Just ask the kids and parents on the kindergartener soccer team I coached this year.   What a cluster….I mean challenge.  Fear not, there are a lot of great resources out there to help us parents.  Check out the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. – Michelle Obama

The American Heart Association also has a program called Voices for Heathy Kids.  Both offer similar strategies for reversing the declining health of our children.  Eat healthy and get active!  It’s pretty simple, but definitely a challenge for today’s “over committed” families.

Time for the guilt.  Disregarding our own health is irresponsible enough.  We can’t encourage the same behavior in our children.  A healthy lifestyle is a family commitment.  Just start small, make it fun, and make it a habit.

References:

“Overweight in Children.”  The American Heart Association, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

“Statistics Fact Sheet – Youth and Cardiovascular Diseases” Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Blaha MJ, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Judd SE, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Mackey RH, Magid DJ, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER 3rd, Moy CS, Mussolino ME, Neumar RW, Nichol G, Pandey DK, Paynter NP, Reeves MJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Towfighi A, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2014 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2014;129:e28–e292.