This is the 6th article in a series on helping you eat optimally healthy, where we will address the reality of facing a heart attack at almost any age today, and how your lifestyle habits are directly related to the increased or decreased risk of having one.
In the first article - Why are we so dedicated to disease - I spoke about the mindset that needs to shift from that of curing diseases and instead emphasize caring for our bodies for a lifetime so that we don’t succumb to the conditions that we are seeing more and more of now at ever younger ages.
In the second article - The diet-inflammation connection - I wrote about a typical dietary scenario and linked it to how a person felt, and then made some suggestions for change.
Then in the third article - From Fit to Fat, to Fit - I wrote a commentary about a man who underwent a remarkable transformation to purposely let his body ‘go’ for 6 months and before long he looked like the average overweight middle-aged man, where he was once a lean and chiseled fitness trainer. He then embarked on 6 additional months to return to his former physique by eating healthy and exercising again, just to understand and empathize with the challenges his obese clients faced.
In the fourth article - The Preventable Side of Cancer Through Lifestyle Habits I explored the evidence we have today in how much cancer is impacted by the lifestyles we choose, namely the quality (or lack thereof) when it comes to our diet.
In the fifth article - How to Get More Leafy Greens Into Your Diet I helped you look at why and how you want to incorporate more greens as part of your regular meals.
Breaking Stereotypes of Health
When you think of a typical person who suffers a heart attack, what do you think of? Middle to older aged, probably heavy-set, eats too much fatty food, and likely has a family history of heart disease. The chances of dying from a heart attack are greater than the chances of surviving one. I remember one of my teachers at school quizzing us about the first symptom of a heart attack in over 50% of patients. Most people thought it was a symptom down the left arm or heaviness in the chest. We were incorrect; the answer, our teacher taught us, was death. The majority of people unfortunately do not survive a heart attack.
Lucky for this patient that I know and want to tell you about, he lived to not only tell his story but to change his health around for the better. You’ll be shocked to learn that he was only 32 years old when he had his heart attack. Yes you read that right, 32! And he was not heavy-set, nor was there any family history.
When I asked him a few questions about what he thinks precipitated this, he answered that there were several factors: he had smoked since his teens, he was experiencing stress in his life, and as he stated, his diet was far less than adequate. As an example, he ate a lot of carbohydrates, especially in the form of breakfast cereals and bread (sandwiches). He also drank about 2 litres of pop a day (usually cola). He drank soft-drinks since childhood.
So here he was one winter outside when it suddenly hit him – an extreme crushing sensation in his chest and profuse sweating, unsure exactly what was going on, but clearly aware that something was wrong. Fortunately someone rushed him to the hospital and there they determined what was happening. What kept him focussed was knowing he didn’t want to leave his children behind. He made it out of the hospital with an angioplasty and two stents, and most importantly, his life.
Fast forward now many years later, and today this patient is the total picture of health. At first he was prescribed medications and was told by many doctors what to do and not do, but felt it was not enough information. Because he never had to look at his health with any attention previously, he was confused about what to do and what he was being told by various specialists. He stated that he had to ‘unlearn’ a lot of things he was once taught to believe about health.
A serious situation like this warranted a serious look at his lifestyle and he felt the best way would be to take matters into his own hands. He intuitively felt that the answer did no lie in taking multiple medications. He started reading all kinds of books on health and to this day, his learning never stops. You can bet he knows more about healthy eating than any of the doctors combined that once took care of him.
Real Solutions For Real Health
You are probably wondering what some of the things were that he did. For starters, he quit smoking immediately. Then he weaned himself down to 1 can of pop/week for 6 months, then quit altogether after that. It took about 2 years until he quit eating all boxed breakfast cereals. Years later he even decided to test for food sensitivities and found he was very sensitive to dairy products and gluten (found mainly in wheat). Now he’s fine-tuned his diet so well that he is very conscious of everything he puts in his mouth. If he drinks any coffee it is always organic and decaffeinated. Whenever he can, he buys local food and organic produce. He even got rid of his microwave 12 years ago.
Here are some sample meals he gave me:
- Breakfast might consist of a protein shake or poached eggs on gluten-free bread spread with coconut oil.
- Lunch might be a salad with chicken or nuts and/or seeds on top, or leftovers from the night before.
- Dinner is a protein such as fish (always baked), with lots of veggies on the side. He may have rice occasionally or steamed sweet potatoes for a starch.
- For dessert, he recently made an avocado chocolate pudding.
- For an evening snack, he often has a serving of air-popped popcorn with coconut oil on top.
He is also an avid exerciser, which is not only heart-healthy buy helps him cope with stress when it arises. Seven days a week he starts his day around 5am (bedtime is usually 9 or 9:30pm) and before starting to exercise he drinks a green drink (there are many powdered green drinks available in health food stores that are chock full of minerals and vitamins, keep your body at an alkaline pH, and boost energy). He gradually worked up to 1.5 hours of exercise each day, with walking, stretching and weights. He feels better now in his late 40’s than he ever has his whole life.
What is so poignant to me in this man’s story is that he is always learning and fine-tuning his understanding of what is healthy for him. Nowadays with access to internet and so many books on healthy eating, exercise, and alternative healing (which is now really becoming more mainstream rather than alternative!), there is no excuse for people not to get informed.
Eating well does not need to cost more money than what you already spend. Just replace boxed, processed and packaged foods (which are very expensive for the little nutrient value you get) with more vegetables and fruit and you probably won’t be spending too much more. Eating well, like exercising, starts first with the mind-set and discipline. Responsibility for your health rests first and foremost with the owner of this amazing body you inhabit.
The take-home message from this man’s story is that everyone needs to take a much more conscious look at their lifestyles. To some reading this article, eating the way he does or devoting 1.5 hours daily to exercise may seem way too radical. You may be thinking, give up my favorite cookies I eat every afternoon?? Or would you consider giving up 1.5 hours of TV daily and instead do an evening walk and some stretching? Remember that it took this man many years of self-teaching and evolving to this level in his health - it didn’t happen overnight.
To close, it shouldn’t take a near-death experience to suddenly realize it’s time to take care of your health, but unfortunately sometimes it does. We all know the old cliché: if you don’t have your health, you don’t have much of anything. Is your health and your life ultimately not worth the investment of time, learning, and discipline to have abundant vitality – even more than you had when you were young? This man showed us it is possible.
I challenge you to start today with a small step that could make a huge change over the long run, and your confidence to make other changes will blossom from there.