Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Heart Chronicle, Part 4: Mostly for Men Only

I received three particularly interesting phone calls within a day or two of my surgery. All were from males. All were non-smokers, right around 50 years old. All lived alone. All expressed their concern for my brush with mortality, but I perceived something else behind their words and their cautious attitude.

Suddenly, I was doing the listening. And I guess that was okay because I had endured my crucible and survived and now I could be a kind of father-confessor for these “men of a certain age.” Each guy told me his feelings about his own current health, whether he ate well enough or exercised enough or worried about his blood pressure or had some family health history that gnawed at him.

It was really quite endearing, and I started to see how my heart attack was already serving a broader purpose: it had created awareness among guys who probably would just rather not think about these things.

Hell, I never wanted to think about ’em. I love cigarettes and coffee. I like rich foods. I love sugary citrus drinks. I like salting my French fries. I love a Fat Mo’s burger [local reference]. I like everything with a Reese’s candy label on it. I can devour a box of deluxe LU dark-chocolate cookies in one sitting. I like sodium-rich canned chicken corn chowder. I like to make my own tacos, and be generous with the sour cream. I put butter on everything. The list goes on.

Alas, like boxing, all that is a young man’s game. So, even if you’re a guy who does not smoke, there are things that demand your vigilance. It doesn’t take much time or effort or expense to get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked out, just to see where you’re at—and where you OUGHT to be at. (For the record, my numbers weren’t shockingly bad, but they were elevated, and combined with smoking, well...yeah.)

Making modest dietary adjustments can make a huge difference, and you can still have some of your favorite junky foods often enough. The exercise angle is also not that demanding: Just get out two, three, four days a week, WALKING. You’ll feel better as a matter of course—like a tiger, I hope—but also you’ll be doing ongoing maintenance on your cardiovascular system. (And thus helping yourself to avoid a costly, time-consuming trip to a hospital.)

Such changes can be interpolated pretty easily into one’s weekly routine, without a lot of denial. And here’s the fact: Males encounter cardiac difficulties 10 years earlier than women, on average. By age 45— whether you smoke or not—you are in a risk category, and that’s just the way it is.

Yes, fear is a psychological player in this scenario. Yes, it COULD happen to you. And even supposedly healthy people have heart attacks. But, you know, knowledge is power. Maintenance reaps good results and provides you a feeling of control. And really, the odds are on your side.

I guess, coming from a nicotine fiend like me, it sounds disingenuous, but... living healthy is its own reward. That’s a really good lesson to learn—and you don’t have to have a heart attack to learn it.

The Heart Chronicle (Part 5) is coming soon. Stay alert!

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