Medication vs a Healthy Lifestyle

Cholesterol reducing drugs are very popular these days.  There are known side effects, but in general, they do what they are supposed to do; lower cholesterol.  The million-dollar question is, should a person take them, or can they control their cholesterol by living a healthier lifestyle?

Well, I guess I could be a one-person case study (small sample size I know, but it never stops me from sharing my story so it can help others make better decisions regarding their situation).  My cholesterol was off the charts bad, and I didn’t know it until I turned 50.  Sure, I led a relatively healthy lifestyle, which to be totally honest, probably saved me from the great beyond.  I exercised 3 to 4 days a week, ate reasonably well, and I don’t smoke.  All good stuff.  Still the genetic cholesterol was wreaking having inside my arteries.

When I turned 50 I had a physical examination with a doctor I hadn’t seen in years, and he told me I had high cholesterol.  I don’t recall the HDL and the LDL numbers at that time (of course that is vitally important), but the total cholesterol number was 269.  He recommended I go on a statin, but I knew better (sure I did).  I thought I could affect the cholesterol numbers in a positive way by doing more of the good things, like staying active, and eating less of the bad stuff, like fried foods, etc. 

It worked to some degree.  I reduced my total cholesterol down to 229, but I have come to find out, my LDL, which is the bad cholesterol, was near 200, which is really, well, awful, and my HDL, the good cholesterol, was too low at 36, which is also, well, awful.  The perfect storm. 

So, in my case, I have found that lifestyle changes would not help me entirely.  I was a candidate for statin medication and fought the notion.  I am much more educated on the subject these days after my run in with heart disease, and that is what is critical in terms of making better decisions than I did in the past; information and rational thinking.

Moral of the story, know your numbers and know what they mean.  Honestly assess your lifestyle and determine if you can commit to truly living heart healthy.  Also, if possible, know how long you have lived with high cholesterol.  If it has been years, as in my case, you may need more help than just changing your diet and exercise habits, as damage may already have been done.

Afflicted? Nah, not me!

53 years old, healthy, good diet, lots of exercise and bam, and I am diagnosed with heart disease.  The cardiologist asked me how it got so bad while shaking his head. Am I a dead man walking?  Seven stents later to clear out the widow maker artery, a kidney, and both legs and I am good as new, or am I?

What does it mean to be diagnosed with heart disease?  It doesn’t have to be a death sentence, does it?  How much do you think about it?  What are your limitations?  How has your lifestyle changed?  All very good questions and here are my thoughts, along with answers to these questions and more.

The word afflicted came up in a recent conversation.  I used it.  I said that a year after I received a stent to open the left anterior descending artery (the widow maker), which by the way was 95% blocked, I don’t feel afflicted.  Am I though?  Probably, but I choose not to look at it that way.  I look forward to each day and the next chapter in my life with optimism and happiness.  It is a choice you know.

Sure, I am lucky.  I was young enough and fit enough to resume most of my usual activities, mainly golf.  I walk a lot, bike ride and things like that.  My days in the weight room are over basically due to time and choice.  I am not really sure that lifting weights is good or bad for me and my arteries, and I plan to get back to that in some form or fashion.  I also plan on adding swimming to the activity plan (the pool is about 8 miles away).  I guess the thing is that you have to start somewhere.  Start walking and tracking your steps.  Set goals.  Increase your distance.  Talk to your physician and find out what you can and can’t do (should or shouldn’t do), but don’t let it stop you from living.  We can all get stronger and healthier with a little work (and some fun).

So, how much do I think about my issue?  Everyday.  It becomes the new normal, the new lifestyle.  Not necessarily in a bad way.  Sure, I have to remember to take a couple of pills a couple of times a day, and I have to be cognizant of what I eat and drink, even more so than before, but that’s not a big deal.  I tell myself not to stress over work or get too worked up.  It really is all about coming to the understanding that you are going to live and enjoy life.  I know one thing for a fact, which is that none of us get out of here alive.  The key to me is having a good quality of life now in my 50’s and do the things that will allow me the same luxury in my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and who knows, maybe even my 90’s.  Create a system, work it, and let the other stuff take care of itself.

Talk to your physician, figure out what you are both comfortable with doing from a physical standpoint.  I approached it that I am going to remain as active as possible (within reason).  Heck, I’m not 20 anymore, heart disease or not.  But that is what I enjoy.  It is more a frame of mind than anything else.  Heart disease is not a death sentence.  Today’s medical advancements are unbelievable and are only getting better.  If your heart is strong, as I was told mine is, then why not work it?  Mind over matter, if you don’t mind, then it doesn’t matter.

Chuck

Eating Healthy

How much does eating right mean to your cardiovascular health?  Well according to many experts, it means a lot.  Everything you put into your body does something.  It either provides nutrients that are used as fuel, provides value in terms of health, or is detrimental to your health if it contains the wrong ingredients.

A fast food hamburger does have some nutrients.  There is protein of course, which is an essential component for muscle health.  However, it comes at a cost.  There is also a fair amount of fat in hamburger, and of course these days it is all about grass-fed beef and free range chicken.  What we eat, eats, is important too, as we are learning. Hormones, chemicals, insecticides are all ingested by the animals that we call food.

We like to say “eat clean”.  That means monitoring the fats, sugars, and carbohydrates.  Making sure the food you are eating is pure from the bad things mentioned in the last paragraph.  It takes time and education to know how to read a product label, but it is very important.  Know what you are putting into your mouth and understand how it fuels your body and what nutrients it provides.

Drink plenty of water.  If you are an active male, it is recommended to drink 125 ounces of water a day.  An active female should drink 91 ounces a day.  That seems like a lot, and it is, so start early.  Drink a large glass of water when you first get up in the morning.  Your body is in dehydration mode after going 8 hours without water.

In terms of being heart smart, moderation and portion size are important, maybe as important as what you are eating.  There is so much more that we can discuss.  You can get more specific information relative to your own personal goals from Mike Doehla at StrongerUFit.com.  He does nutrition counselling and is highly recommended.

Personally, I try to make sure that I get 2-3 servings of fresh fruit each day (blueberries are my favorite), 2-3 servings of fresh vegetables each day, a serving or two of nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans), and then make sure I eat lean protein every day.  When I eat breads or pasta I make sure it is whole grain (there is an old saying, the whiter the bread the quicker you’re dead), and try to steer clear of simple carbs (table sugar, candy, etc).

Complex carbohydrates come from plant-based foods, and we know that those foods also contain a plethora of beneficial nutrients in addition to their carbs, including vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Carbs in general, are important in providing fuel for your body (energy) in the form of calories.   Calories are simply a unit of energy.

Protein can also be a fuel source after carbs are depleted (thus the need for carbs).  However, protein plays a more important role in that it builds and repairs muscle and tissue, promotes immune health by forming antibodies and white blood cells, creates hormones and enzymes and manufactures red blood cells. In addition, it contributes to the structure of your organs, skeleton, skin, hair and nails.

The general rule of thumb, especially for an active person is to 45-65% of their total calories from carbs (primarily complex carbs), 10-35% from protein, and 20-35% from fats.  Fats are not all bad and some actually are quite beneficial.  There has been a lot of back and forth on whether or not fats are the main culprit regarding heart disease.  Recent studies suggest that they are not, however I am still a bit of a skeptic, and am mindful of the types of fats I ingest.  Without getting to deep into the subject, the fact is that some fats raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease, while others lower cholesterol, reduce your risk of heart disease, and provide other health benefits. The good fats are typically the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and are high in omega-3.  They can be found in salmon, nuts, olive oil, avocados, and my favorite, natural peanut butter.

There is a lot to know about nutrition in order to eat healthy.  Some people think they are eating healthy but really aren’t for many different reasons.  My recommendation is to eat natural foods.  Those are foods that don’t typically come in a box, can, or package of some type.  Organic is important and meats that are minimally processed where the animals were fed properly makes a huge difference.

Eat a balanced diet including some of the foods mentioned above, and if you really want to get serious, do your research or contact Mike at StrongerUFit.

Chuck

 

 

 

 

Recovering from Surgery

Surgery can take more out of you than you would initially think.  There is a mental and a physical aspect to it, and depending on the type of surgery, the mental aspect may be a tougher road to navigate.

I have had my share of surgeries/procedures/complications over the past two years, all of which have put me in the hospital or emergency room a total of eight times.  Some were easier than others, but all took their toll.

I experienced pain of course; anxiety (never would have guessed that one); nausea (I found out afterwards that they can help with that in advance); mental and physical fatigue; internal bleeding; an inflamed testicle due to a procedure (that one was a toughie); weight loss (not welcomed); loss of strength and stamina; mental stress.

What can you do to prepare for, or minimize these symptoms?  In my humble opinion, the first step is to expect them.  Sounds simple right?  It’s like having a guest come to your home.  If you expect them, your house will be clean and tidy, and you will have fresh coffee in the pot awaiting their arrival.  If they drop in unannounced, your stress level instantly spikes and well, you can imagine the rest.  Preparation helps!

Secondly, I would make sure you are as healthy as possible prior to the surgery.  This could include eating right, drinking plenty of water, and exercising/stretching.  Actually, I suggest living a healthy lifestyle whether or not you are about to have surgery, but some people choose to live hard.  Regardless, having your body in shape for what it is about to go through, including the anesthetic, the surgery (invasive or not), and the recovery (possibly limiting your movement or ability to exercise for a specified period), will help in all these areas.

Third, follow all rules given to you by your healthcare provider prior to the surgery.  There may be drugs prescribed to prepare you for a procedure (read all instruction on pill bottle labels and the paper the pharmacist provides).  They may instruct you on what to eat or not eat, and when, along with how much water to drink.  All those things are told to you for a reason, and that is to make sure the procedure goes as smoothly as possible.  Complications only make matters worse.  These things can help prevent them.

Then of course, don’t be a knucklehead and try to rush things to soon.  You may want to get up and moving, back to work, etc., however, it is important to give your body and mind the time it needs to recuperate.  I rushed things a couple of times last year and found that it had a cumulative effect.  I got to the point where I couldn’t even hold my head up straight when sitting.  I had zero energy.  This required over a week of rest to recover, when a couple of days after each procedure would have sufficed.

Lastly, have a good support system.  Have someone to help you move around, or just someone to talk to, to tell them how you are feeling.  In my case, after a few of my procedures, we knew that I was not going to be able to move very efficiently for a couple of days.  My wife made sure some of the furniture was moved around to accommodate for this, and of course, she had my bedside prepared with everything that I would need.

Getting old isn’t for sissies, as my friends and I often say, but really, it is no joking matter.  These types of things become a fact of life, and staying ahead of the curve, if at all possible, both physically and mentally is quite helpful in the recovery process.

Best wishes,

Chuck

It starts with the heart!

Heaven on Earth

 

     You’ve probably heard the phrase, Heaven on Earth, before.  I heard it yesterday and started to think about what it really means.  I immediately started to analyze the phrase, and the result was interesting in that heaven may exist here, actually it does, but we often don’t realize it.

     You might be wondering what I mean by that, so please allow me to explain.  In my analysis, I started to think of what heaven would be like, and came up with some of the standard concepts.  You know, peaceful, beautiful, serene, a feeling of love, those types of things.  I thought some people may view it differently, but that these elements would most likely be present in everyone’s description of heaven.

     So where do we find those things here on earth?  The peacefulness, the beauty, serenity, the love, is it really present in our physical world?  It is if we open our hearts and our senses.  It is my belief that because of our busy lives, and the injection of technology that consumes every down minute of our time, we miss some of the obvious heavenly type things that are right in front of us every single day.  The old stop and smell the roses philosophy fits well here.

     One way to truly experience heaven is to be present, to be in tune, tuning in and tuning out.  Tune out the noise, the distractions, the smartphone, and the stressors of everyday life.  Tune in by feeling and experiencing things.  I was walking the dog a couple of months ago, as I have hundreds of times before, and I noticed how the sun was lighting up the trees behind my house, and how blue the sky was behind a sea of green leaves.  I don’t know if it was the time of day or the time of year that made the colors stand out so vividly, vividly enough to notice that it seemed different than the dozens of times I have seen that same scene before.  I don’t think that was it however.  I believe it was my senses that made it appear different, in that I was in tune to the beauty of this scenery.  This is something that I have been more aware of since I was diagnosed with heart disease last year.  I guess you can call it appreciation of the little things.

     I am striving to live more in the moment.  The warmth of the sun, the gentle caressing feeling of a warm breeze, the smell of coffee in the morning, the freshness of the air on a cool day, little things like that are all around us.  The beauty of a loved one, inside and out, or colors that make up this earth, are there in front of us every day, but do we recognize them as such?  Do we feel them?  Do we allow ourselves to be present?  Do these things make you stop and smile, and do you feel them in your heart?  If you don’t, you should, it’s all within your control.

     After thinking about the phrase, heaven on earth, I realized it wasn’t just a phrase, that heaven does truly exist in our physical world.  Allow yourself to experience the heavenly items in your life with all of your senses, and you will know exactly what I mean.