I recently received a text message from a very close friend who I don’t see very often anymore due to the distance between us. His message simply said, “Marky (that’s what people called me growing up), thought you should know that your situation has inspired me to start running again – today was day 23 and I ain’t stopping!” I cried when I read that, and still do today when I think about it. It’s messages like those that inspire me to keep writing these blogs. That buddy of mine has a beautiful young family just like my own, and to think that my story may in some way help him live a longer and happier life with those that he loves means an awful lot to me. I continue to be humbled by all of the people who have reached out to me to say that my story has helped them in some way.
I haven’t written much before about health and nutrition, but today I am going to. I am not a doctor or a dietitian, but I am a heart disease survivor who most would consider very healthy today. Prior to my heart event (see previous posts of my story if y
ou want to know more), I would have told you that I lived a fairly healthy lifestyle and ate fairly well. While that may have been partly true, I have since learned a great deal about diet, nutrition, exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle.
The photo to the right is from this past weekend, 10/9/2016. I had the good fortune of running in a 10K race in which I finished first in my age group (30-39). I ran at an average pace of 6:40/mile. While I’m very proud of that accomplishment, the best part of that race was that my wife, my Dad and my Brother Nate all ran as well, and my Mom and both of my children were there to cheer us on as well. I NEVER would have thought that I would be running races at the pace that I ran this past weekend. I attribute my recent transformation into a runner to two things: changes to my diet, and exercise. The interesting thing to me is that as I said before, I would have considered myself a very healthy person prior to my heart event. Yet now that I have made significant changes to my diet and exercise, I look back and feel like I was far from healthy back then.
To explain this in simple terms that everyone can understand, I use the example of fuel that we put in our cars. We all know that cars (at least gas powered cars) will only operate well and stay in good working condition if we put gasoline in the engine. After all, that is what is intended to put into cars to operate correctly. We wouldn’t put sludge, tar or wet cement into our cars as fuel, because either immediately or over time those substances would destroy the engine. Simple and true, right? Everyone can agree on that, and everyone simply follows that logic for their cars. If we only put into our car engines things that are non-toxic to them, then why don’t we follow the same rules for the most important engine in our lives, our hearts!?! Think about that for a minute….we would NEVER put anything in our meaningless car engine that could hurt it, yet we CONSTANTLY put into our most precious engines (our hearts) substances that are known to slowly destroy us. This has really gotten me thinking recently, and I want to share some of the changes that I have made. This is not meant to be a preaching session, but I do hope that it helps some people think differently about how we fuel our bodies and hearts. If you think that you are healthy, have no heart or other health issues and don’t need to consider these things, believe me, I was right there with you. And maybe you don’t have anything to worry about, but this is still good food for thought (pun intended).
Food & Drinks
Prior to my heart event, I would say that I ate on the healthier side of the average American (maybe around the top third as a guess). I thought that I was eating ok, because I felt that I wasn’t “fat.” I am now 30 pounds lighter than I was pre-event, and I feel that I am now very close to my truly healthy weight. Clearly, I wasn’t doing quite as good as I might have thought. After my heart event, you might say that I became somewhat obsessed with what went into my body. In fact, at first, I was actually afraid to put anything into my body other than water. Since then, I have educated myself through books and world renown doctors in the subject of cardiology and heart healthy diets. At a very high level, I quickly learned that the typical American diet is like putting sludge and wet cement into our engines on a daily basis, with a splash of gasoline here and there. In reality, we should be doing the exact opposite (although many doctors will say that there should never be a splash of the bad stuff. I say, we have to live at least a little every now and then). What I learned is that I was consuming a vast amount of processed foods, foods full of saturated and trans fats, foods loaded with sodium, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, sugars, soda, sugary drinks and on and on. Now, I’m not going to try to rewrite what I have learned from doctors here, but I will say that I have significantly cut back (and cut out) many of those types of foods and I feel amazing today. The two books that I would recommend to anyone interested (heart disease survivor or anyone looking to fuel their bodies better) are as follows: The Complete Mediterranean Diet by Michael Ozner, MD and Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., MD. Both of those books have changed my life. Those doctors, and many others, may have differing opinions on what the perfect diet is, but what I think they agree on is that the typical American diet filled with the things that I mentioned above is not a healthy way to fuel our bodies. My advice would be to educate yourself through these or other books, and start to read food labels and pay attention to what we’re actually putting into our bodies. I promise, it will be eye opening. A couple of very simple tips. When you look at a food label, if it contains more than 4 ingredients, it may warrant further analysis (this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad but long ingredient list often means that it is a highly processed food). Next, if an ingredient list has a bunch of words that you have never heard, it’s likely chemicals, additives, etc. Final simple tip, vegetables and water are good for you, kind of like premium gasoline :).
I’m going to keep this section short and sweet. I’m simply going to share how I have changed in this area. Again, from my non medical point of view, I believe that alcohol should only be consumed in moderation. Prior to my heart event, I drank a fair amount of beer (mostly IPAs) and liquor. From my research, I have found very little that shows that any one type of alcohol is terrible in moderation. However, I now firmly believe that any amount of alcohol in excess is once again like putting mud into your car engine. Do it over and over for long enough and you are likely to have an engine problem. For me, I have switched to drinking red wine and doing so in moderation (a glass or two per day, but not every day).
If you want to read more on how exercise has changed me you can go back and read one of my previous posts: Exercise, My Physical, Mental and Emotional Therapy. The combination of dietary changes and exercise have truly changed my life, and I feel better today than I ever have before.
In a world where so many things are unpredictable and out of our control, diet and exercise are two things that we can truly own for ourselves. I am by no means perfect in this area, but I have and will continue to educate myself and look for ways to be better so that my engine operates like a well oiled machine for many many many years to come.
Finally, this week marks one year since the first time I felt something funny in my chest as I was running on a treadmill. I waited more than a month before getting it checked out, brushing it off as something “minor.” I am beyond lucky, and I should have gone to see a doctor immediately upon my first chest feelings. Please, if you think that something may be wrong (even if you think it’s nothing), go see a doctor.
As Always, “Dream As If You’ll Live Forever, Live As If You Only Have Today!”