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!

Paul

Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery – Relax

Hammock_relaxLife is full of stress.  Before my cardiac arrest and heart attack, my primary two methods of stress reduction were smoking and drinking.  It was the perfect one-two punch.  Smoking, the constant jab, providing immediate stress relief. Drinking, the knockout punch for total relaxation.  My one-two punch served me fairly well for twenty-odd years, only to be derailed by a cardiac arrest.  I was no longer allowed in the ring!  Stick with me and I will show you how I am dealing with stress and even getting better sleep.

Before my event, I knew that my unhealthy lifestyle was not going to lead to a pleasant outcome.  After all, both my father and brother suffered heart attacks before 40.  So how did I deal with the stress of my gloomy cardiac fate?  See one-two punch above.  That’s right, more smoking and drinking!

And then BAM!  Cardiac arrest, heart attack, dead – the Triple Lindy!  As moronic as it sounds, I felt a sense of relief when I ended up in the hospital.  I could now get on with the rest of my life. However, the uncertainty regarding the rest of my life brought on new stress.  Will I fully recover, will I be well enough to support my family, will I be around to see my children grow up?  I have a great cardiologist and he put things into perspective for me.  I can’t remember the exact words, but he advised to put the trauma behind me and live my life as fully as possible.  I could worry about every ache, pain, or what if – or I could go enjoy life.

Do the Right Thing

I still needed to find a way to reduce stress and relax in general.  I considered aromatherapy, but found that just doing the right thing allows me to relax best.  So how does one do the right thing:

  • Act in a respectable and responsible way.  I’m trying. Acting respectable is a challenge.
  • Take ownership for my health and actions.  I do this most of the time.  Exercise has proved a solid replacement for smoking and drinking
  • Have some humility.  I’m trying.  It’s hard when you are the center of the universe.

Again, try and keep it simple.  Don’t be a jerk, do what you’re supposed to do, and get over yourself.

Sleep

Studies have shown the poor sleep can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.  And, cardiovascular disease can decrease the quality of your sleep.  A vicious circle that I have been trying to solve for years.

You would think with all the simplification, healthy eating, and daily exercise, I would be stress free and sleeping like a baby.  Sadly, not true.  I have made progress with reducing stress, but I could use some improvement in the sleep department.  I can fall asleep, I just can’t stay asleep.  I average about six hours per night. If you remember back to Part 1 of this series, I introduced you to Leo Babauta and his Zen Habits site.   On his site, Leo provides a formula for sleeping like a baby:

  1. Exercise – I do this, not sure I can do much more here.
  2. Get up early – I do this, up between 5-6 everyday.
  3. Establish a bedtime ritual – Doing this, but not in the best way.  I read my books on an iPad.
  4. Keep the bedroom only for sleeping – No TV in the bedroom.  Just that damn iPad.
  5. Focus your attention – I need to do this.
  6. Change slowly – OK.

I like that Leo admits he is still not a great sleeper. I also take a magnesium supplement and have installed f.lux on my laptop to assist with sleep.  Magnesium plays a role in sleep regulation and calming down your brain at night.  I have noticed that I fall asleep faster and get more restful sleep since starting the magnesium supplement.  F.lux makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.  I am not sure that it helps me sleep, but my eyes don’t get as strained at night.  I’ll keep it just for that.

That’s the plan.  Simplify your life, eat right, exercise, and relax.  You have a second chance at life.  Experiment, have some fun, and find what is going to keep you engaged and healthy.   Writing this series made me realize just how far I have come and how much I have changed.  I’d love to hear about how other have changed.  What’s your cardiac recovery plan and how’s it working?  Let me know in the comments below!

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

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

What To Do After a Heart Attack – 6 Steps For Recovery

So you just had a major cardiac event, maybe a cardiac arrest, heart attack or bypass surgery. Your recovery is going well and you are soon to be discharged from the hospital.  Sounds good, right?  Oddly enough, being told I was ready for discharge was both good news and bad news.

The good news – I had survived a cardiac arrest, heart attack, bypass surgery, and insertion of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) – a second chance at life.

The bad news – I was 41, I had cardiovascular disease, a little machine in my chest (the above mentioned ICD), and what I viewed as a very uncertain future.  A precarious situation for the father of a 3-year-old daughter and a soon to be born son.

The funny newsMy discharge report included a diagnosis of “altered mental state”.  No, I wasn’t crazy.  It was just the lingering neurological effects a cardiac arrest has on the memory.  I think?

So I was uncertain and a little confused.  If only I had a nice list telling me what to do next…

And look at that, a nice list:

  1. Accept change
  2. Get active
  3. Socialize
  4. Manage the meds
  5. Check your head
  6. Pat yourself on the back

Great list, but what does it mean?

Accept Change

After the din of the hospital, that first week at home seemed quiet and and a bit unsettling.  I didn’t have a button to push if I felt a pain or needed a nurse.  I had to move into the guest room on the main level of our house to avoid the stairs.  I couldn’t pick up my daughter or allow her to crawl on me.  Showering was a major endeavor.  I wasn’t going to work.  I definitely felt life had changed.  Lucky for me, my wife was a rock; taking care of me, our daughter, and managing all my doctors, prescriptions, insurance claims, and home care.  Know that things are going to be different for awhile.  Accept it and move forward.

Get Active

After a few days, I started to settle into a new normal.  I was still in a lot of pain and sleep was difficult, but I was on the upswing.  I started my walking routine, getting outside a couple of times a day.  The doctors told me I needed to get my strength back.  The way to make that happen was to eat a lot, walk a lot, and rest.  I enjoyed the green light from my cardiologist to eat whatever I wanted in those first few weeks.  I also enjoyed napping twice a day (although the doctor put an end to that pretty quickly).  I found the exercise provided a physical and mental boost as well as a good sense of accomplishment.  Look at me, 41 and just realizing exercise may have positive effects on ones well being.

Socialize

We had many visitors when I returned home.  It was great to see people and be social.  We are eternally grateful for the amazing support we received from family, friends, and neighbors.  A week after I got out of the hospital, my wife and I went to a friends house for a get together. It was good to see everyone and resume normal activities, but I remember also feeling a bit overwhelmed.  I guess the party made me realize life goes on if I am there or not.  The emotional and mental stuff will be discussed more in a bit.  Everyone was very supportive and told me I looked great.  Of course they were lying, but it was nice to hear and also to see everyone.

Manage the Meds

When we got home that afternoon, I told my wife I wasn’t feeling well.  She had noticed something was off and said my skin had a grayish hue.  In light of recent events, we were little freaked out and decided to take a trip to the emergency room.  This is where things get interesting.

One benefit of my recent cardiac event, VIP treatment at the ER.  That’s right, no waiting room for me.  The nurse began to hook me up for an EKG and we started chatting.  I gave him my history and he said, “Oh man, you’re that guy!  I was here the night you came in.  We never thought you were going to make it”.  Then he called a few buddies over to prove I was still alive.   I quickly went from VIP to freak show.

Next thing, my wife starts to have contractions.  She is a little over five months pregnant at this point and was supposed to be on partial bed rest.  She was put on a gurney right next to me.  Our first date night post-cardiac event.

Several hours later, we had an update.  At five months along, we already knew my wife was pregnant, so that was not really an update.  She was told to stay off of her feet and get some rest.  If I remember correctly, my diagnosis was drug induced hepatitis.  That was a fancy way of saying I was on too many medications and my body was protesting.  I was immediately taken off of everything and sent home.  If it’s that easy to stop all the medications, why was I on them in the first place?

I learned two lessons that evening:

  1. Don’t have a major cardiac event when your wife is pregnant.  It’s just not considerate.
  2. Question all medications.  Ask why you are on them and for how long.  For insurance and liability reasons, hospitals may discharge you on a potent and unnecessary cocktail of medications.

Check Your Head

Many cardiac patients often feel a variety of emotions and mild depression during the recovery process.  According to Dr. Leo Pozuelo at the Cleveland Clinic,

“it is common for you to feel sad or depressed after a heart attack, cardiac surgery or procedure, recent hospitalization, or new diagnosis of heart disease. These emotions may be the result of not knowing what to expect or not being able to do simple tasks without becoming overly tired”.

As I mentioned above, I found myself dealing with the exact emotions Dr. Pozuelo refers to in his article; I was stressed over the uncertainty of my future and having difficulty adjusting to my new way of living.

Dr. Pozeulo goes on to say

“the temporary feelings of sadness are normal, and should gradually go away within a few weeks, as you get back to your normal routine and activities”.

Getting back to a normal routine is key.  I found my symptoms did disappear after a few weeks.

The depression was gone, but I remained very stressed out about my situation.  Oddly enough, the best insurance I had against another cardiac arrest, the ICD in my chest, was a major source of stress.  I was constantly aware of the lump under my skin.  I was worried that every odd feeling in my chest was another massive electrical storm about to kick off.

I found this article from the Harvard Health Publication describing how post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) applies to those of us in the cardiac recovery process. According to the article, there are four simple questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you think about the event when you don’t want to?
  • Do you avoid situations, thoughts, or feelings that remind you of it?
  • Do you feel constantly on alert?
  • Are you feeling detached from family and friends?

Strange thing is, these questions also seem appropriate for assessing my recovery from the religious guilt I was blessed with during my childhood.  For now, just apply these questions to your cardiac recovery.  If this is you, please talk to your loved ones AND a healthcare professional.  Recovery takes an understanding of what you have been through, what your loved ones have been through, time, more time, and the acceptance of the personal and professional support available to you.

Pat Yourself on the Back

If you are finding your recovery stressful (did I mention that I did?) that might explain how you ended up a cardiac patient in the first place.  The first few days, weeks, and months of recovery are tough.  Be patient and accept the help being offered. It is hard to objectively assess what you have been through or how you are progressing. Listen to the guidance and support provided by your doctors, family and friends.  Most of all, congratulate yourself for being a survivor and appreciate the recovery process for what it is – a second chance.