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

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.

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 – 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 – 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)