Our Dietary Guidelines Are Killing Us

Rules for Living
Our Dietary Guidelines are killing us, and here is why – nobody follows guidelines!  The guidelines tell us what we are supposed to eat to stay healthy.  Yet, as a nation, we continue to get sicker and fatter.  A heart attack at 41 shows you how well I follow guidelines.

History of the Dietary Guidelines

The Dietary Guidelines were first developed in 1980.  Every 5 years, the Government appoints a group of nutritional and medical experts to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC).  The DGAC is responsible for researching and producing the report and guidelines.

So how effective are these guidelines from DGAC?  The committee addresses that right up front by stating the following:

The 2015 DGAC’s work was guided by two fundamental realities. First, about half of all American adults—117 million individuals—have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults—nearly 155 million individuals—are overweight or obese.

The report found that these conditions have been highly prevalent for at least two decades.  This means the conditions became highly prevalent about a decade after the guidelines were first published!

What’s Better Than Guidelines?

Rules!  Rules are meant to be followed and have explicit consequences when not followed.  If you are trying to prevent or recover from a heart attack (or just get healthy) set some rules and stick to them.  Abe Lincoln and I have previously stated our rules for living.  His may be a bit more eloquent, but here are mine:

  • Don’t smoke – A hard and fast rule. Smoking accelerates the dying process.
  • Get off your ass – Move at least 30 minutes a day, 5-days a week. Put workouts on a calendar and don’t miss them!
  • Quit eating crap – Unprocessed and nutritional foods 6-days a week. Day 7 is a cheat day, go nuts!
  • Simplify your life – Make some rules about work/life balance and stick to them.

Amazingly, Abe and my lists are quite similar.  I may add “steer clear of biliousness” to mine in the future.  In the meantime, know that following these rules will substantially improve your overall health.  Not following the rules will lead to chronic disease and obesity.  Time to make a choice!

Heart Healthy Tips To Keep Your Ticker in Top Shape

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February is National Heart month, a special time for all you HeartGeeks out there.  The heart get’s it’s own month for a very important reason, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.

On a positive note, you can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have heart disease. To lower your risk:

  • Get active and eat healthy.
  • Watch your weight.
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke.
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.

For more information, read this guest post by Miranda Hammer who blogs at http://www.northwestpharmacy.com/healthperch/healthy-heart/

Diet, exercise, lifestyle, and genetics all have an impact on cardiovascular health. To optimize overall wellness and protect yourself against stroke, heart attack, and high blood pressure, consider integrating a few of these heart-healthy tips into your daily regimen.

Cut the Salt

Excess salt in the diet can lead to high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, an elevation in blood pressure can cause damage to the arterial walls, increase the accumulation of plaque, and block blood flow. Salt intake isn’t limited to a sprinkle here and there at the table. Processed foods, restaurant meals, and fast food feature high amounts of sodium. In order to decrease salt intake, read food labels and reduce consumption of packaged and pre-made food. The USDA’s recommendation for total daily salt consumption is 2.4 grams, which is about one teaspoon of table salt. Try cooking your own meals and swap salt for other seasonings such as garlic powder, oregano, or paprika. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and purchase items with no salt added.

Be Active

The National Institute of Aging recommends 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense physical activity on most or all days of the week. This regimen is ideal for protective cardiovascular benefits. Intimidated by CrossFit or a spin class? Consider a brisk walk, gardening, or even bowling to keep you moving. Don’t have a 30-minute block of time to spare? Break up the physical activity into 10-minute intervals. Make sure to consult your physician before initiating a new workout program.

Lose Weight

Packing on too much weight can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions. Extra fat around the midsection poses the highest risk since it is in close proximity to internal organs. Start integrating a healthy lifestyle rich in whole foods and physical activity to reduce weight and/or maintain a healthy weight.

Quit Smoking

Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death. Smoking causes plaque to build in the arterial walls, which could lead to stroke or coronary heart disease. It is never too late to stop and reap the benefits of a smoke-free life. Try cutting back one cigarette a week until you are smoke-free. Introduce new activities and experiences that were previously a challenge as a smoker, such as sitting through a play or a movie, picnicking in the park, or spending quality time with children and pets.

Manage Your Stress

According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can have long-term physical manifestations. Stress-related anger can lead to heart arrhythmias, increased blood pressure, and damaged arteries. Reduce stress by taking control of your mind and body. Prioritize sleep and exercise. Organize your schedule, take time to relax, limit negative relationships and situations, and integrate deep breathing and relaxation exercises into your daily life.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Adopting a whole food, plant-based diet has been linked to lowered blood pressure and cholesterol as well as weight loss and weight management. A plant-based lifestyle is primarily rooted in foods from the earth. Dark leafy greens, herbs, root vegetables, fruits, legumes, avocados, nuts, seeds, and a variety of whole grains all encompass a plant-based diet.

Maintaining a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides fiber, which aids in digestion and lowers cholesterol while supplying essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim for a colorful variety of organic and local produce when possible. If that is not an option, opt for frozen produce that is salt-, sugar-, and preservative-free.

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the diet and are key components for boosting cardiovascular health. They increase HDL (the good) cholesterol in the body and reduce triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish, ground flax seed, and dark leafy greens. When selecting fatty fish, choose sustainable and wild options over farmed and endangered.

Other heart-healthy fats include monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, olives, avocados, and nuts. These fats assist in lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.

A comprehensive heart-healthy diet is limited in processed, fast, and frozen foods. Consume alcohol in moderation, and limit sugary foods and beverages. By making small, manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can easily improve your cardiovascular health and overall wellness.

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Love Improves Heart Health

valentinesSatisfaction may be elusive on this Hallmark holiday, but heart health isn’t.  According to Dr. Cynthia Thaik, a Harvard-trained cardiologist, to have optimal cardiovascular health, your emotional and spiritual heart is just as important as your physical heart.

I recently stumbled upon Dr. Cynthia’s site and must admit I am both intrigued and terrified by her approach to heart health. She encourages her patients to think about heart health holistically – body and mind.

As you likely guessed, it’s the mind part that terrifies me. After all, I am a guy. I have the nutrition and fitness parts pretty well down. However, I am still quite mental and avoid introspective thoughts like the plague. In a moment of weakness, I just purchased her book. I will let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, Dr. Cynthia offers up a number of ways love can improve your heart health:

  1. Love improves self-esteem, which leads to better self-care. Can’t you go blind from too much self-care?
  1. Love is a great antidote to stress. Love encourages your body to produce oxytocin, the “feel-good” or “love” hormone. You hear that Rush Limbaugh oxytocin, not OxyContin (cabbage).
  1. Love decreases anxiety and staves off depression, which subsequently reduces the signs and symptoms of heart disease. Fine line here – ask any married couple.
  1. Love decreases inflammation, improves your immune system, and can be a potent pain reliever. This is based on a recent study at Ohio State that showed that people who are lonely develop more viruses than those that are well connected.  But be careful, those that are well connected are more susceptible to transmitted diseases!
  1. Sleeping next to someone you love makes you feel more relaxed, which helps you to sleep better. What if there are 40 pillows piled between you and your spouse?

Bottom line, love is important. Doesn’t matter if it’s love of someone, something, or yourself. Find something to love and improve your heart health. It’s that or a bunch of melted chocolate and a magic moneymaker.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

References:

Thaik, Dr. Cynthia. “Love Heals!” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2015.

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

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)