This Saturday marks the 11-year anniversary of the day I survived a heart attack when I was 31-years old. I was lucky that my friends didn't accept no for an answer when they insisted I go to the hospital after suffering strange symptoms while on a 60-mile bike ride. I had no idea at the time that these symptoms had anything to do with my heart. It turns out I had a blood clot in my coronary artery and would not have survived the night.
That was quite the wake up call for me at a time in my life when I thought I was in my prime. It opened my eyes to the fact that I wasn't living my best life, and that the stress of it was killing me.
I've told my story countless times over the years in the hopes that other women will learn their risk factors and the symptoms of heart attack, and take preventative steps to protect themselves. Today, I want to talk about the things I've learned since that day about lifestyle factors that could save your life.
Probably not, since most people don't talk about that part. So what does that mean exactly? Lifestyle changes?
For one, it means eating less animal products and more plant-based, whole-foods. I like to describe my diet as plant-based, since you can be a "junk food" vegan, which isn't much better than the Standard American Diet (SAD) of animal products, and processed foods high in calories, saturated fat, and sugar. I knew I wanted to transition to plant-based after reading Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn. The transition took time as I had to learn what to eat and how to cook since I was raised in a meat and potatoes household, and like most people, was addicted to things like cheese and sugar. But I did it, and I love the variety of a plant-based diet. And no, it's not about eating nothing but salad. There are lots of vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, among other things, that are delicious! Restaurants are offering more plant-based options (at least here in Colorado), which makes maintaining my diet easier.
Effectively managing stress is the next one that I needed to get a handle on. I've always been a type-A personality, and while being driven can be a good thing, it can be detrimental if you take it too far and don't have good coping mechanisms, or buffers for your stress triggers. I've shared relaxation techniques and presented a webinar, Stress Less, as part of the Healthy Habits Series available to Firefly site members, so I won't spend a lot of time on this subject, except to say that after my heart attack I prioritized slowing down and focusing on the things that make me happy. I left a stressful job for a more flexible one, and eventually changed careers altogether.
Moving more is another important factor in our mostly sedentary society. I was already exercising frequently as a triathlete, but I needed to add strength training, and balance and flexibility exercises to my mostly-cardio routine. I started walking more throughout the day versus training in the mornings and evenings and then sitting at a desk for 10 hours in between. Yoga changed my life by giving me another way to move, connect with my body, breath, and spirit, and settle my mind.
Other lifestyle factors that didn't apply to me are: don't smoke (I think everyone knows that), and aim for a healthy weight.
One more thing before I go - don't think "it won't happen to me," because with one in three Americans having cardiovascular disease, the chances are pretty good that it will.
From my heart to yours,