Archives for January 2015

The Heart Attack Risks of Shoveling Snow

woman shoveling snowI love the snow (but I don’t live in New England). It’s a great time for sledding, blog writing, reading and relaxing by the fire. Notice I didn’t say shoveling? That’s right, I don’t do it. Although I am probably in the best shape of my life, I leave the shoveling to my wife.

While you are mocking me with a “she must wear the pants” comment, let me explain why she carries the shovel. My wife just won’t let me shovel snow – for good reason. Snow shoveling has a reputation for triggering heart attacks and I have an extremely suspect cardiac profile.

Avoid Shoveling If You Are At Risk

According to an article Dr. Marc Gillinov of the Cleveland Clinic, people at risk of having a heart attack while shoveling snow, include people who have:

  • Heart attack history
  • Heart disease history
  • Heart bypass surgery
  • Peripheral arterial disease
  • 2 or more: Smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol

I have 4 out of 5 of those, so take back your snickering insults. It seems that people with these conditions may have suspect plaques in the arteries of the heart. The stress of shoveling snow can rupture these plaques, leading to blockage in your arteries. As a reminder, blocked artery = heart attack.

There are other factors at play here as well – mostly male stupidity. Nothing like eating a bunch of chicken wings, washing them down with a 6-pack and then shoveling in shorts and a t-shirt.

Play It Safe When Shoveling

The best way to protect yourself from harm while shoveling is to treat it as exercise:

  • Don’t eat a huge meal before heading out to shovel
  • Stretch
  • Warm up with a brief walk
  • Hydrate before and during shoveling
  • Layer clothing and stay warm.

Of course, if you fall into one of the categories on the high-risk list, don’t shovel. That’s what your wife or kids are for!


Gillinov, Marc A., MD. “Shoveling Snow Can Kill You.” The Huffington Post., 08 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2014.

Photo credit: AstridWestvang / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Best Heart Healthy Diets for 2015

mediterranean dietThe US News & World Report has issued their 2015 ranking of best diets. Not surprisingly, fad diets (think Paleo or any type of cleanse diet) did not fare too well.   Those diets that did fare well focus on healthy eating – plain and simple.

The top five heart healthy diets will help you lose weight and lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides. A few of them are even palatable – more on that in a bit.

Here are the five best heart healthy diets:

  1. Ornish Diet
  2. TCL Diet
  3. DASH Diet
  4. Mediterranean
  5. Engine 2 Diet

All of these diets are great and will provide cardiovascular benefits if followed appropriately. However, a couple of them are vegan. I am not ready to become a vegan.

Less Fattening, Tastes Great

Mediterranean Diet – By far the best diet if you actually enjoy eating a variety of foods that taste good! This diet features healthy doses of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil and herbs and spices. Fish or seafood is your main protein.

You are also allowed, poultry, eggs, cheese and (yogurt in moderation). The best news, sweets and red meat are not off the table. The key to eating the Mediterranean diet is how often and how much of each.

Like the other heart healthy diets, foods from plant sources are prominently featured. Unlike the other diets, you get to indulge in a greater variety of foods. Check out the Oldways site for guidance and recipes.

Balanced and Heart Healthy

Dash Diet – The Dash Diet is not only good for your heart, it is the #1 healthiest diet on the list. The diet was developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and is focused on reducing blood pressure.

However, like the Mediterranean, Dash is a lifestyle diet. A guide to getting started can be found here.

TLC Diet – The TLC (Total Lifestyle Change) diet is endorsed by the American Heart Association. This is a low fat diet designed to help you lower your cholesterol. It is also the #2 ranked overall health and # 2 heart health diet. Saturated fat is a no-no and red meat is highly discouraged. However, if you are a high-risk heart patient, this may be the one for you.

Finally, the Vegan’s

Ornish Diet –The claim here is scientific proof to make you “feel better, live longer, lose weight and gain health.” In order to realize all this, you must go vegan. However, the Ornish program is more than just nutrition. The Ornish Spectrum also covers exercise and lifestyle. Check out the full program here.  It’s a committment!

Engine 2 Diet – This is a whole foods diet designed to reverse diseases, including heart disease. A very healthy lifestyle choice with one significant drawback; no animal products whatsoever. I repeat, no animal products whatsoever.

The common element to each of these diets is healthy eating, not weigh loss.   Combining any one of these eating plans with a decent amount of physical activity will greatly improve your overall health.  Which one are you choosing?

Photo credit: Nate Gray: A Culinary (Photo) Journal / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Why You Will Not Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

new year's resolutions

Most people resolve to lose weight, quit smoking, or get fit at the start of a New Year. These are all great resolutions, particularly for a HeartGeek. However, if you are like 92% of American’s, you are going to fail!

Don’t worry, it’s not your fault (never is). Resolutions are a setup. They don’t require follow through. Anyone can declare his or her good intentions. Even easier after a few cocktails on New Year’s Eve.

Then we sober up and realize it’s hard to lose weight or quit smoking. Game over. We really do want to achieve those things; we just don’t have the ability to commit, to stick with it. Why not?

Why We Fail

The root of our failure may be focus. Meaning, we are focused on the wrong thing. Instead of starting a new diet in January or resolving to lose 20 pounds by beach season, how about just focusing on being healthy.

That’s what Sandra Aamodt recommended during her TED talk last year. She begins her talk by telling us she gave up dieting as her New Year’s resolution and lost 10lbs as a result. Take a look at the entire (12 minutes) talk below.

If you hung in there, you likely heard that when it comes to losing weight, our brains are working against us. A bunch of research tells us the brain does not handle dieting well. That’s why we have to stop dieting. Instead, get healthy.

How To Succeed

You likely also heard what you already knew – eat right, exercise, and eliminate (or moderate) unhealthy habits. It turns out that healthy people are better able to control their weight and live longer than unhealthy people.   Shocker, right?

So instead of chasing a lower number on the scale or pure abstinence, try the following:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables
  2. Eat whole grains
  3. Reduce red meat
  4. Reduce sugar
  5. Avoid processed foods
  6. Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3x per week (go for 5, it won’t hurt)
  7. Quit smoking (that’s the only extreme one here)
  8. Reduce alcohol intake
  9. Reduce stress (deep breathing, yoga, etc.)
  10. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night

Give that a go for 6 months and see how you feel. There’s a good chance that you will have lost weight without even trying!

Photo credit: Alan Cleaver / Foter / CC BY

HeartGeek Year In Review

2014I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.  I am in vacation mode – which means I am being lazy and not writing new posts.  Seems like a good time to look back on this past year’s most popular posts:

  1. My Favorite Heart Health Gadget – My first gadget review. The Alivecor is a portable device that provides a real-time electrocardiogram (ECG) on your cell phone. Another favorite is the Basis Peak fitness watch.
  2. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Get Off Your Ass – It’s good to see an interest in exercise. This post provides strategies to get moving and stay motivated.
  3. Exercise After 40? It’s Not Too Late! – More of a reference than a post. Provides a link to a study that found starting exercise at 40 has the same heart benefits as starting exercise earlier in life.
  4. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Stop Eating Crap – A post describing my experiments with different diets and a top 10 of what really worked.
  5. Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Simplify Your Life – Tips for getting rid of the unhealthy habits and distractions and focusing on what is important – your health!

Those were the most read posts this past year and I truly appreciate you taking the time to read them. I also had a few favorites (in no particular order):

  1. What is a Cardiac Arrest? –Learn the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack in this post.
  2. Sugar Increase Your Risk of Dying From Heart Disease – Fatty foods are considered enemy number one for cardiac patients. This post explains why sugar may be just as dangerous.
  3. What is Your Child’s Risk of a Heart Attack? – Healthy living is a family commitment. Strategies to get our kids moving and head off early heart disease.
  4. How To Prevent Your Next Heart Attack – Strategies for planning the rest of your life.
  5. The Best Supplements For Heart Health – Find out what supplements can increase your overall energy, allow you to exercise more, have less fatigue, less muscle pain and cramping, and even get a better nights sleep.

I imagine everyone is starting to make their resolutions.   Exercise, diet, etc. are all good and I wish you the best.   Check back in here throughout the year if you need a little motivation.  In case you are struggling with resolutions, there is a good post on Zenhabits describing the benefits of establishing new habits over making resolutions.

I am trying to figure out what to do with this blog in 2015.  Let me know what you liked and didn’t like over the past year.  What information do you find most beneficial?

Thanks, and Happy New Year!