How I Keep My Heart Healthy Despite My Grueling Schedule
I have recently been asked to write this article about why I think it's important to Keep 'Heart Healthy' despite the limited time that I have to do so, given that I have such a busy work and personal schedule. Today is June 18, 2017.... Father's Day!
It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything and I've been working on this for about a week, and thought today would be a good day to share it. The last few years have been incredibly busy, and have reminded me that it’s not always so easy to practice what one preaches...... busy practice...growing family... new business... personal injuries....
I recognize that I am probably functioning as a 'Husband and Father' first, a Cardiologist second, and 'Me' usually comes third. But, all of this has always been a moving target....... That's the hard part; sometimes you need to place a little bit of 'Me' at the top of the heap which is very challenging when one is so very very busy.
I will always endeavor to believe that 'you get out what you put in', and when it comes to your personal health and well-being, nobody will ever take care of you the same way that you will for yourself. So, if you haven't already figured it out, here is the Big Secret which you need to acknowledge, and it's especially relevant if you have others who depend on you.
It is about time for you take care of yourself
..It's Never too Late
(until it is)
It's a simple indisputable concept, really......We are all personally responsible for the body into which we are born, and if we can all take responsibility for our own health, then both we and our community collective will benefit from it.
It needn't matter what your baseline is; whether you are healthy or have some illness to start with. The perceived inequality of our individual destinies can appear to be generous for some and yet meager for others. It is what it is and you can't change that. You can however change how you perceive it.
The important thing for you to remember is to 'do what you can with what you got' and keep on trying.
Chronic diseases don’t just take years from our lives, they take life from our years.
The manner in which we live our lives determines the quality of our living. Numerous studies around the world have been done which show that people who adhere to the principals of healthy lifestyle are at a significantly lower risk of having a heart attack, stroke, developing diabetes, or cancer..... Up to 80% lower risk if you do all of the good things rather than just some (1, 2, 3) !!
We currently recognize the following things as determinants of good health and longevity
healthy diet (fruit and veggies > meat)
avoid obesity (BMI>30)
avoid excess alcohol
reduce stress and Socialize
Your genetics load the gun, but it is your behaviour which pulls the trigger.
We are all born with a unique set of genes which carry within us a partial map of our predetermined health.
But, of equal importance is the observation that the things that we do to ourselves (our environment) may directly transform the activity of these genes..... We can turn on or off portions of our genes .…… and ultimately slow down or speed up the manifestation of these predetermined illnesses.
Dr Dean Ornish in 2008 (4) followed 30 men with early prostate cancer (who had declined surgery, hormone therapy or radiation) and instead of just watching them, they had these men participate in intensive lifestyle intervention while being close monitored: then they looked at their genes and found that 450 cancer influencing genes were turned off and 50 genes were turned up after as little as 3 months !! This observation that ‘The power of lifestyle could reshape our destiny at the very level of our own DNA’ has been shown by numerous other groups as well.
Size Does Matter
And its not just cancer promotor and suppressor genes that seem to be affected by our lifestyle. But, our lifestyles also appear to have the capability to dramatically reshape the physical architecture of our DNA by shortening the tips of our chromosomes (called telomers) and causing these segments to degrade and unravel at a much quicker pace (or slower pace) than originally intended (5) . We now have many studies which show that those people with shorter telomeres live shorter lives and have a greater chance of chronic disease compared with people who have longer telomers and live longer lives.
Drs Blackburn, Greider and Szostak received the Noble prize in 2009 for describing how the tips of our genes (called telomers) can protect our chromosomes from breakdown as we age and along with it delay disease and death.
There are areas around the world that are well known for their extraordinary longevity
There are a handful of areas around the world where people routinely live to be 100 yrs old (6). These areas have been described by some as ‘Blue Zones’ . The people there live long and healthy productive lives. They live long and they live well.
These people all have one thing in common and that is that they all live a similarly ‘Healthy Lifestyle. Dan Buettner , founder and chairman of Blue Zones reported an inspiring story for national Geographic initially in 2005 and updated again in 2006 and 2008 describing the spots around the globe where longevity appears to know no limits (7).
Buettner has coined the term ‘Blue Zones’ to describe these locations:
Monterrey, Nuevo Leon
Loma Linda, California
the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
the Island of Ikaria, Greece
These geographic curiosities all share several common features:
Exercise - Do physical things. Many studies show significant health benefits from virtually any form of exercise
Life Purpose - Do things that resonate with you. Allow this to change as you get older.
Stress reduction - Take care of your family and your friends. Remember to take care of yourself too.
Healthy Diet - Avoid overeating and focus your diet on Vegetables, legumes, fruit, and healthy sources of protein and fats
Don't do Bad stuff
This isn't specifically mentioned. But, I would like to assume that the inhabitants of these unblemished locations of paradise avoid 'drugs and smoking' as well minimize their intake of trans-fats and high glycemic carbohydrates........ I think that it's a no brainer that healthy habits will produce healthy people.
We Can Do It Too!
There seems to be evidence that this ‘healthy life’ approach to living can be ‘transplanted to other geographic regions.
In 1972, the province of North Karelia (Finland) was identified as having one of the highest rates of heart disease in the world among their middle aged men (8). At the time, men living there were 30 times more likely to die of heart disease, and tended to die 10 years younger, compared with men living elsewhere. Dr Pekka Peska was a local young doctor interested in public health and he pioneered a project that managed to lower rates of heart disease there by 80%!
At the time of this study, research was just beginning to show that heart disease was somehow connected to diet and smoking.
The Greeks and Italians at that time were identified as having lower rates of heart disease compared to other parts of the world. They were noted to eat a more plant based diet and this went on to become the basis for our current ‘Mediterranean diet’ model which has gained favour around the world . Up until then, the patterns in North Karelia were that meals frequently consisted of ‘fried pork or beef stew’, were loaded with pork fat salt and excessive amounts of butter, and vegetables were rarely eaten. To compound that, 50% of the men were smoking at the time.
The Mediterranean diet has been shown through several studies to :
lower blood pressure and cholesterol
reduce heart attacks and strokes
reduce cancer risk
Slow the onset of Alzheimer’s
Dr Peska managed to coordinate efforts of local citizens and governments in an shared manner that allowed him to dramatically lower the dangers from heart disease. He showed in this 40 year population study, that one could launch a lifestyle intervention upon the entire community which managed to reduce heart disease by 80% and added 10 years to average life expectancy (8) !!
Are We Failing?
A Healthy Lifestyle probably represents the ultimate ‘magic pill’ for our population as a whole. But, our failure to execute a mechanism by which we can all bring this about collectively, despite our very best intentions, probably represents one of our great failures as a society.
In my opinion, there are a few reasons for this:
we don't have sufficient role models whom we can relate to.
our governments abide by a '4 year philosophy' and don't see the value of long-term planning.
many of us are too overwhelmed with the day to day stresses of modern day living to make the time to properly take care of ourselves.
many people just don't know what to do or how to do it .
As a result, we are currently failing, and obesity trends have continued to increase(9), and with that we have been seeing progressively more heart disease, strokes, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, dementia in our medical practices.
The Future Can Be Bright!
Consider for a moment the choice which you would make if you thought that you could swallow a ‘magic pill’ that would reduce your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, chronic illnesses and cancer by up to 80%.
Would you take it?…. of course you would.
I believe that things can change. We just need to look around the planet to see and draw inspiration from communities which have been succeeding. We need to empower ourselves as individuals and as a community collective. We need to make change happen, and drive the change ourselves. Each of us has the potential to be a positive role model for his/her friends and family.
........ Remember that anything worth doing, is worth doing right. You just need to be able to visualize the downstream benefits and be prepared to put a little effort into it.
In the end, the magic pill is within your own grasp.
Exercise regularly, Eat right, Reduce your stress, Connect to people.
You can live longer and more importantly live better
If your not sure what to do, accept your limitations and just ask for help
In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years.
Take care of your BODY; it's the only place you have to live.
Learn to relax your MIND
Love your family
Don't think 'How'......JUST DO IT!