Sugar Increases Your Risk of Dying From Heart Disease

sugarIt’s common sense that consuming mass quantities of sugar is not part of a healthy diet. But come on, how bad can that pound of M&Ms really be for your heart health? According to a new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, pretty bad.

All those sodas, cookies, and candy bars add up. According to the report, MOST adults get at least 10% of their calories from added sugar and 10% of adults get 25% of their daily calories from added sugar!sugar trends

The graph at the right puts this into perspective. If you look at just the past 100 years, we have doubled our yearly sugar consumption.   That means the average American consumes the equivalent of five sugary sodas per day!

If It Tastes So Good, Why Is It So Bad?

We are eating a lot of sugar, but why is that so bad? Let’s get the obvious out of the way- you may become an obese diabetic with cancer and rotting teeth. As if that is not bad enough, did you know that you are also doing damage to your heart?

So How Bad Is Sugar For Your Heart?

The JAMA research found that a person drinking just one soda every day is almost twice as likely to die from Cardiovascular Disease. Outside of the unhealthy dietary consequences of sugar, what is the direct effect on the heart? A study by the American Heart Association found that sugar negatively affects the pumping mechanism of your heart. In other words, heart failure.

Why are we so addicted to sugar?

Remember the crack epidemic during the 1980’s? Studies have shown that sugar can induce cravings similar to those of addictive drugs such as cocaine. In fact, the addictive characteristics of sugar appear to be stronger than those of cocaine. This explains why I steal my kids Halloween candy every night after they go to bed. It’s not my fault, I’m an addict!

How can you kick your sugar habit?

The same way you got off the crack! Just kidding (kind of). Breaking your sugar addiction is similar to breaking other substance addictions – you need to acknowledge the problem and get help!

Dr. Mark Hyman, a well known physician, author, and Functional Medicine proponent, recently laid out a 10-step sugar detox program. Check out the full details on his site, but the basics are:

  • Make a decision to quit
  • Quit
  • Don’t drink sugary calories
  • Eat more protein
  • Eat the right carbs
  • Eat the right fats
  • Carry healthy snacks
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Get enough sleep

In other words, be a HeatGeek!

References

Corliss, Judy. “Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Dying with Heart Disease.” Harvard Health Blog RSS. N.p., 6 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Nov. 2014.

L.D., Kristin Kirkpatrick M.S. R.D. “10 Things You Don’t Know About Sugar (And What You Don’t Know Could Hurt You).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 July 2013. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Fries, Wendy C. “Curb Sugar & Carb Cravings: 13 Tips to Control Your Sweet Tooth.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2014.

Hyman, Mark. “Top 10 Big Ideas: How to Detox from Sugar – Dr. Mark Hyman.” Dr Mark Hyman. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2014.

Photo credit: Lauri Andler(Phantom) / Foter / CC BY-SA

HeartGeek Completes Triathlon

HeartGeek Triathlon

HeartGeek Completes Triathlon

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I survived the Dewey Beach Triathlon.  My family and I travelled down to the beach last Friday evening and met three friends who also made the foolish decision to swim, bike, and run for an ungodly amount of time.

After dinner at the Starboard, we all went back to my friends house and turned in somewhat early.  Nobody slept too well that evening and we all began stirring around sunrise the next morning.  Luckily, the starting line for the event is about five minutes from the house.

The morning was gray and the sea was angry.  Almost 1,000 competitors marched a half mile down the beach just so we could swim back the same distance.  Staring at the swells of the ocean during that walk was somewhat intimidating.

It wasn’t pretty, but I finished the swim.  My biggest obstacle out of the way, it was on to the bike.  This leg was my best and fairly uneventful.  After a quick transition, I was out running.

About a mile into the run, my quads started cramping.  Another runner told me to “stride it out”.  I basically sprinted two blocks and walked one block for the next 2.5 miles.  Funny thing is, it didn’t impact my time too significantly.

I was very happy to finish and was even pleased with my overall time.  Here is the kicker, when looking online at my results, I found out I was penalized.  Officially, the penalty reads “abandonment of equipment”.  I think it really means I dropped an energy bar!

Tri Friends

Time for a new challenge.  What should I do next?

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.

Generation XL – From MTV to Obesity

genxperspectives_nirvana-lrgrGeneration X, the MTV generation, my generation, the fattest generation ever! There is an alarming increase in obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and heart attacks in Gen-Xer’s.  And from the looks of things, it’s only going to get worse for Millennials.  Now that I have completely bummed out two entire generations, let’s see what’s behind all of this unhealthiness.

Enter the Aussies

A study done by researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia has confirmed that if current trends continue, Generation X will overtake Baby Boomers for poor health, including rates of obesity and diabetes. I wouldn’t dismiss this as an Australian problem. According to the American Heart Association, nearly 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese.

Hold on, I thought this was a heart blog, not an obesity blog.  It is, but being obese puts you at a higher risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Guess what happens to people with heart disease and high blood pressure?  Their left arm starts to hurt.

The researchers found that Gen-X is more than twice as likely to be overweight or obese at 25-44 years of age, compared to Baby Boomers at the same age.  One of the coauthors of the study, Ms. Rhiannon Pilkington, suggests there is growing evidence the the trend is happening world wide.

So what is fueling the rise in obesity for Gen Xer’s when compared to Baby Boomers?  According to Ms. Pilkington, it’s because we sit on our ass and eat junk food.  Ok, she actually stated it this way:

Although the two groups in our study did not seem to have any difference in levels of physical activity, our lifestyles and food environments have changed dramatically over recent decades.

So both generations are equally active, what gives Ms. Pilkington?

Transport options and workplaces encourage sedentary behaviour, and food high in fat and sugar is often more readily available than a healthier alternative. This may account for why the younger generation is developing unhealthy weight levels at an earlier age.

See, I told you it’s because we sit on our ass and eat junk food.  If you haven’t seen it before, check out my series on cardiac recovery for tips on exercising and eating healthy.

All This Obesity is Stressing Me Out!

As a Gen-Xer, I am supposed to be indifferent about the Millennial generation (Gen-Y).  But it’s hard not to feel bad for them.  The Millennials may be the first generation to see rising rates of early-onset obesity related diseases such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, and elevated cholesterol.  To put things in perspective, the number of young adults (18-29) who are obese has more than tripled in the last 40 years.

Millennials are overachievers.  In addition to being obese, they are completely stressed out.  Unfortunately, a lethal cardiac combo. According to a report by the American Psychological Association, with the exception of Millennials (those 18-33 years of age), all other age groups reported decreasing levels of stress.  So why are the Millennials so stressed?  Here is what the survey found:

  • 76 percent were stressed out about work;
  • 73 percent fretted over money;
  • 59 percent obsessed over relationships’
  • 56 percent were faced with intense family responsibilities;
  • 55 percent were freaked out over the current state of the economy.
  • Money for nothing and chicks for free sounded sensible when I was younger.

Don’t worry Gen-Y, in addition to offering tips for healthy eating and exercising, my series on cardiac recovery also offers tips on simplifying your life and relaxing.

Money for Nothing

Who knew that money for nothing and chicks for free would lead to obesity and heart attacks?  Both of our most recent generations are facing serious health issues.  It’s time we clean up our act.  Not only can we save our lives, but we can start providing a good example for the next generation, our children.

References:

The University of Adelaide. Gen X Obesity a Major Problem for Healthcare, Workforce. The University of Adelaide News and Events. N.p., 27 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

Pilkington, Rhiannon, Anne W. Taylor, Graeme Hugo, and Gary Wittert. Are Baby Boomers Healthier than Generation X? A Profile of Australia’s Working Generations Using National Health Survey Data. PLOS One. University of Adelaide, 26 Mar. 2014. Web. 22 June 2014.

Pew Research Center. (2010). Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next. Retrieved from http://pewsocialtrends.org/files/2010/10/millennials-confident-connected-open-to-change.pdf

Watson, Elwood. “Millennial Stress College Years and Beyond.” Diverseeducation. N.p., 6 Mar. 2013. Web. 26 June 2014.

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.

 

Welcome to HeartGeek!

From Dead to Geek

Hello, my name is Paul Maher and this is HeartGeek.  Although my dorky picture below might communicate otherwise, I will be turning seven years old this July.

Let me explain.  In July of 2007 I suffered a cardiac arrest at my home.  I was dead on the floor and 50 shades of blue when my wife found me and ultimately saved my life.  In addition to the cardiac arrest, I had a heart attack (which probably triggered the cardiac arrest) and was just a complete vascular mess.

Today, for a variety of non-cardiac reasons, I am still part mess.  But I am also healthier than I have ever been in my life.  I am happily married, have two awesome kids, a great job, and a very active lifestyle.

Over the past several years, I have developed a passion for improving my heart health and general fitness through a combination of exercise, diet, and a few technical gadgets to satisfy my inner geek.  Put it all together, and I am a HeartGeek!

Let’s Make Heart Disease Fun!

If you had a heart attack or dropped dead on the kitchen floor, would you imagine a fun recovery?  Of course not.  Heart disease is not fun, but managing it can be.  Heartgeek is a place where people who have experienced a cardiac arrest, heart attack, or have heart disease can find and share information on improving heart health.  To be fair though, I won’t turn away or discriminate against the healthy.

I went through my “event” at the fairly young age of 41.  As a result, I didn’t find a lot of information about cardiac recovery that was targeted at my age group.  Most of the data I found out there was targeted to the retired community.  Sure, I could put on my white reeboks, black socks, wrap around shades and go for a nice leisurely walk at the mall.  But I knew that wouldn’t sustain me for long.  I began to research exercise programs, diets, lifestyle changes, and even technologies that could improve my health and hold my interest!

The HeartGeek Promise to You

At HeartGeek, I will be sharing my experiences with you in the hope that I can help you enjoy a healthy life – even with heart disease.  Of course, I am not a doctor and I am not offering any medical advice.  Always consult with your physician before trying anything you read about here.  My intent is to keep you interested  in heart health by offering:

  • The best, up-to-date information related to heart health – I will stay on top of developments in cardiac treatment and bring that information to you.

  • Exercise and diet tips, backed up by experts and my own experiments and progress.

  • Informative reviews of technologies and tools to monitor and improve heart health.  This is the fun part!

  • A community of heartgeeks to help and support each other in getting healthier and enjoying life.

Please Participate in HeartGeek

As with most blogs out there, comments are vital to keeping heartgeek interactive, interesting, and useful.  I welcome your comments and questions and encourage you to participate within the site.

The intent here is to help one another recover, learn, evolve, improve our heart health and have fun.  You can contact me via email using the contact form or follow me on TwitterFacebook or Google.