June is Men’s Health Month. We interviewed two men with varied backgrounds and significant age differences and how they have tackled living with heart disease and made significant lifestyle changes to help lower their risk of a cardiac event. We encourage you to make regular physicals and request to speak with a dietitian if you feel you would benefit from weight reduction or improving your diet and lifestyle to improve your lipid panel to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Did you know you had heart disease prior to your Myocardial Infarction (MI)?
I never actually had an MI. A blockage in the heart was detected prior to any MI.
How old you were when you discovered you had heart disease?
I was 55 when the heart blockage was detected. I had some heart pain with running, and a heart rate monitor showed a high (180) heart rate when I wasn’t exercising heavily.
What procedures did you have?
I had a stress test (the Bruce test) performed and the cardiologist saw an irregularity on the EKG. He suggested a cardiac catheterization, during which a blockage was discovered and a stent was placed.
Do you think your weight or diet played a role prior to your cardiac event?
I think diet contributed significantly to the blockage.
After the event what were your biggest lifestyle obstacles to overcome?
I needed to learn how to diet appropriately. I had never regulated my food intake in any way prior to my heart issues.
How did you tackle these obstacles?
I starting tracking my calorie intake and what foods I had ate using a phone app (MyFitnessPal), and strictly limited my diet.
What was your support system like? (Did you attend cardiac rehab/dietitian appointments?)
I did attend cardiac rehab. That included exercise, diet and stress reduction training.
How did your heart attack change your eating habits?
I changed my habits drastically; reducing saturated and total fat intake, increasing vegetable intake, and watching total calories. For about a year and a half, I cut desserts of any kind out of my diet to limit the sugars and fats that contribute to hyperlipidemia.
What are some of your new favorite foods/meals that you enjoy to make?
Oatmeal and fruit is a common breakfast. Salad with low-fat dressing and chicken breast is a common lunch. I like grilled vegetables as often as possible.
Did you change your exercise habits after the event?
I already was a runner before the blockage was discovered, but I’ve increased the number of miles significantly. I ran my first 1/2 marathon about a year after my first stent was put in. I also added strength training to my regimen, after prompting during cardiac rehab.
Has your lifestyle changes made you stronger mentally and had an impact on others around you?
My wife and I are now regular runners. We had only run two races before my stent. Now we run several every year.
How do you feel now that you have made these changes to your diet and lifestyle?
I am definitely healthier. Simple things like just getting in and out of a car are much easier.
Any other comments you would like to share to help other men try to reduce their risk for a heart attack or heart disease?
Prior to my changes in lifestyle, I often thought that my body was just naturally getting aches and pains due to aging. I now realize that most of my issues were due to poor eating and lack of regular exercise. I may not ever have the same vigor I had in my 20’s, but I now have more than I had in my 40’s.
–Submitted by William Page. Bill is the spouse of the Outpatient Dietitian Catherine Page MEd, RD, LDN, at Harrington Hospital.