Steve was one of my best friends. He was the one guy you could always count on for sound advice and the bottom line. Everyone was shocked one morning recently when he dropped dead on the treadmill. Yep – prince of a guy – wrote him one hell of a eulogy. But I was more than shocked – I was hopping mad – mad at Steve for not heeding the many red flags that had popped up in the last few years. Nature lets us slide sometimes, but she gets really fragged when we keep ignoring her. She’s not interested in our little projects or our deadlines or our responsibilities or our hopes and dreams, or how much risk we’re willing to take. Nope – she doesn’t give a flying fig. Nature has rules. And she will be obeyed.
The 10 and 12 hour days, the nonstop travelling, the overeating, the quintuple bypass, the stent procedure, the wining and dining – Steve got away with them for a long time. The bypass was not a loud enough alarm. Steve talked about how much he had cleaned up his act, but it wasn’t enough. Turning down second helpings of rich food, or that third bottle of wine may give the illusion that it’s under control, but the actual cardiovascular physiology involved isn’t quite so forgiving. And that’s the point – it’s not enough to ‘cut back’ on one’s usual and customary foods, from the hog-sized portions, and to take those blood thinners and beta blockers every day, and hop on that treadmill. Nope, not after a heart attack. It’s the illusion of change.
Most of us think in terms of convenience – I’ll be able to cut back a little I guess, and forego the more obvious excesses, but let’s not get carried away here…
That’s the precise attitude that will get you carried away. In a pine box.
At 59 years old.
Common sense really: no refined carbohydrates, hydrogenated oils, pasteurized dairy, coffee, or alcohol. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a little meat. Except for the first 3 weeks following heart attack or bypass: then it’s the orange juice/ coconut fast. Every 2 hours. Simple.
Inconvenient? You bet. How does being dead sound? Apparently not that bad, because given this choice between lifestyle change and death, most will choose death. Like Steve.
People with heart problems sometimes play a little game with themselves. Especially those who have had bypasses. They acknowledge that yes, I do have a heart problem, but then pretend that a little daily exercise is all they need to make them healthy again, irrespective of all other considerations. Including diet.
This is a very risky plan of action, ultimately self-deceiving. As we have seen above, just because the new grafts they bypassed your coronary arteries with were relatively clean when they put them in doesn’t mean they’ll stay clean. In fact the opposite is more likely. Why on earth would they stay clean? The same lifestyle that clogged the old arteries will certainly clog the new ones. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Now heart muscle is different from skeletal muscle, like your biceps. Your biceps gets stronger as it gets bigger. Opposite for cardiac muscle: as it enlarges, it gets weaker, less substantial, flimsier, less collagen.
For the heart patient, if the heart muscle enlarged before the operation or the heart attack, that muscle tissue was weakened by 2 separate long term processes:
1. lack of exercise
2. muscle damage from refined sugars and hydrogenated foods
Alcohol is THE refined sugar.
So if you’ve had a heart attack or heart surgery and you think you can exercise your way back to a vital heart without a rigid new diet, you’re looking to find out whether reincarnation is for real or not, my friend. Because this time around will soon be over. That’s what all the statistics say. These new medical procedures are miracles of technology, for sure. They can temporarily extend lives. But heart attack, or the discovery of coronary artery occlusion for many people is their one and only wakeup call. In most cases the only chance of recovery and normal life span is a radical switch to a rigid diet with no deviations. Starting today. And for the first 2 months even more rigid than the New West Diet. Orange juice/coconut fast for 3 weeks, then fruits and vegetables, green foods, beans and rice, period.
Is it fun? No. Do you deserve it? If you’re lucky. Can you do it? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it?
Our comfort food patterns are one of the things we live for. To give them up requires a level of education and discipline that very few are up for. Too bad for the departed – in most cases their families would have liked to have had them around for a few more years.
Or at least the dog might have.
Everybody who drops dead of a heart attack dies with a full schedule – all the things they were planning on doing that week. 40% of them got no wake up call – the heart attack itself was their very first symptom. Next thing they know they’re hanging with Elvis.
So surviving a heart attack is already like winning big at the track, or at Caesar’s. You just won a second chance at life. That’s a big deal.
Nobody talks about stuff like this, usually because it’s too scary to think of. Who wants to chat about the odds of ol’ Dad kicking off this month? Doctors don’t talk about it for at least 2 reasons:
– usually they have little information on a survival diet
– they’re world-weary of people not following any of their advice – drinking, fast food, smoking, inactivity, etc. Who listens?
The human thing to do after a surviving a heart event is to surround yourself with people who won’t tell you the truth about how close the Grim Reaper is lurking about – here he comes choppin’ and reapin’ etc…. They don’t talk about your continued alcohol intake, or pizza and fries, heavy foods, or chips, donuts, ice cream, etc. Or the fact that you’re not playing the last card you’ve been dealt. That would be upsetting – to mention your determination to finish yourself off and act like you’re fine, you’re just as healthy as before, you’ll live a long life… . .
We’re so used to taking for granted the miracles of our bodies. Miracles like having the body convert nutritious food to useful forms, and then eliminate the wastes. Miracles like drawing in a breath of air and having the blood pick up the oxygen from the lungs, and then circulate it to every cell. Miracles like processing the worst junk foods ever created by man out of the body. These things are miracles that we take for granted every day. But they’re unimaginably delicate and tenuous, and conditional and so fragile. And not warranteed if we violate the conditions of the original contract.
So when one of these systems breaks down – like the circulatory system – that’s the signal that our normal life must come to a complete stop, re-evaluate, educate, and then renavigate — a total change of direction. Most times we get one chance. We might get away ignoring it for a year, maybe two, like Steve. But no more realistic hopes for longevity.
So, back to exercise. Of course it’s important for the heart patient – but only as one side of the coin. One half of the recipe for survival. Forget either half, and you’ll be dead as disco. After all you’re just flesh and blood.