Blog Category: Better Than Before

These easy heart tips could save your life
By Jane Wilkens Michael | Posted February 26, 2013
Elderly couple on walk with their dog.

Several months ago, before New York became inundated with snow, I took Damian, my beloved giant Rottweiler, to the local dog run. While I’m there, in walks a gentleman in a baseball cap and dark glasses. With him was the perfect playmate for Damian—an extralarge female poodle. We spoke at length as our dogs romped. I told him that I wrote a column for Spry Living and I also hosted a show on CBS radio. It was my goal to help everyone become Better Than Before any life crisis. He said how lucky it was that we met because he really needed some assistance for his wife who recently had had a heart scare and still wasn’t taking very good care of herself. She was depressed a lot, didn’t always eat right, and seemed to have lost interest in most of her activities. What lifestyle changes could I recommend to help her get her life back and her heart stronger?

That was so my area. I mean, what with all the columns I write on the heart—not to mention dealing with my own live-in Lawyer with the three stents. (I decided not to share the fact that he still eats rare steaks.) We began by going over each of the twelve rungs—the lifestyle disciplines—of my Better Than Before quality of life ladder, starting with Doctors Orders, as she had an appointment the following day. For Emotional Health, I explained the importance of making good health a group effort that they should embark on together. Nutrition called for more leafy greens. Fitness meant a doable exercise program, even if it was just walking. Furthermore, they should both worry less, ask their higher power for help, find other creative outlets, and research natural remedies—perhaps purchase some healing essential oils to add to the tub or for a relaxing, at-home massage. And if they did everything I recommended, they should give themselves a reward at the end of the week. “Just like our dogs,” I smiled, “we all love treats!!” When I was done with my lecture, he thanked me, said goodbye and he and his poodle left the run.

Fast forward a week later … this time I wasn’t in the run, but walking down a longer path with Damian. And who comes up alongside of me?  None other than my newfound friend in the same baseball cap and sunglasses. That day, though, he didn’t bring his dog.

“Hi,” I said, launching right into the conversation as he joined us on the walk. “How are you feeling? More importantly, how is your wife feeling?”

He stared at me for a second and then said. “Uh… my wife is feeling just fine, thank you.”

“Great! Great! Happy to hear that! Has she seen her doctor?”

“Yes. She recently had a check-up.”

“And? Is everything okay? Her cholesterol, blood pressure, blood test results, urinalysis? Her heart is good?”

“Yes! All good!! And no problems with her heart.”

“That is just such wonderful news!” I enthused. “And have you been eating your kale and Swiss Chard, exercising more and thinking happy thoughts?”

“Yes, we are eating our greens, we walk, and she’s been much happier lately!“

“I am thrilled to hear that!” I burbled. “Are you giving her a bath or massaging those essential oils on her at night? Maybe rubbing her feet as a little treat?”

He laughed. “How did you know she loves baths and foot rubs?”

After about a half hour of grilling him about his personal life and giving him even more advice from each of the rungs, we had reached the end of the road and he turned to leave. “By the way,” I said, puffing with pride that I had helped yet another family become Better Than Before. “How’s your dog?”

He looked at me strangely. “Dog? What dog? I don’t have a dog.”

All right. All right. Laugh if you will at the fact that it was mistaken identity, and I had been speaking to a complete and total stranger, who must have thought I was either extremely friendly, a remarkably talented psychic—or some sort of psycho stalker. But after I explained how embarrassed I was, he said not to worry. He had learned a lot from our conversation and will now start reading my Spry columns and listening to my show. So there you have it!

Thankfully, though, I am not alone in helping the health and hearts of the world. The Rite Aid Corporation, one of the nation’s leading drugstore chains with more than 4,600 stores in 31 states and the District of Columbia, is taking on heart disease as we speak. They are offering customers basic healthy lifestyle support backed by expert pharmacist counseling and 12-page, full-color Heart Health guides available for free online and at pharmacy counters nationwide. These guides were developed in association with the American Heart Association (AHA) to help customers learn the risks of heart disease, take control of these risks and overcome obstacles to decreasing those risks by making healthy lifestyle changes.

You can click onto the guide, but to get you started, here is some very important information created by the AHA called Life’s Simple 7.

1) Get active: If you get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day (like brisk walking), five times per week, you can almost guarantee yourself a healthier and more satisfying life while lowering your risks for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

2) Eat better: When you eat a heart-healthy diet, limiting alcohol and choosing foods low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, you improve your chances for feeling good and staying healthy– for life!

3) Lose weight:  If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of it is at your waist — you’re at higher risk for many health problems. If your body mass index is 25.0 or higher, you will benefit by bringing your number down below 25. If your BMI is 30.0 or higher, you are at significant risk for heart health problems. For help to determine what yours is, calculate your BMI now.

4) Stop smoking: Smoking damages your entire circulatory system and increases your risk for coronary heart disease, hardened arteries, aneurysm and blood clots. So if you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health.

5) Control cholesterol: Cholesterol is a waxy substance that our bodies use to make cell membranes and some hormones. But when you have too much bad cholesterol (Low-density Lipoproteins — LDLs), it combines with white blood cells and forms plaque in your veins and arteries which can lead to heart disease and strokes. The best ways to keep it in check, short of statins, is through exercise and a diet that is low in cholesterol, trans fats and saturated fats and high in fiber.

6) Manage blood pressure: High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. When your blood pressure stays within healthy ranges, you reduce the strain on your heart, arteries, and kidneys which keeps you healthier longer. Whether it’s normal or high (normal is less than 120 mm Hg systolic AND less than 80 mm Hg diastolic or <120/80) following the above lifestyle modifications – along with reducing sodium — is a heart healthy living plan for all of us.

7) Reduce blood sugar: Diabetes or prediabetes can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. If either of these conditions has been detected by your doctor, in general you should: Reduce consumption of simple sugars that are found in soda, candy and sugary desserts; opt for moderate intensity aerobic physical activity which helps your body respond to insulin, and take any prescribed medication. The good news is that by reducing your blood sugar, you can slow the progression of long-term complications.

Finally, if you ever see me on a walk and need further advice, I would appreciate you telling me if we’ve ever met before.

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