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Saturday, January 25, 2014

What It Took for Me to Commit to Change and An Artery Health Report in Relationship to Diet Vs. Exercise

Over the past year, in an effort to connect with other patients who have gone through what DH has gone through I have discovered many posts in various forums written by young-ish athletic men who have reported learning they have heart disease.  A typical post would say something to the effect, "I was running on the treadmill today and I felt tightness in my chest (and some reported just left arm pain).  This surprised me because I am very healthy and I exercise everyday.  I went to the doctor and now I'm on such and such medication because my cholesterol was such and such... or I ended up with a stent placed and I'm scared about my future......."

Exercise is protective against heart disease because it promotes the production of nitric oxide in the body.  Nitric Oxide helps to keep the arteries from hardening by healing the lining of the arteries which is made up of endothelial cells.  Endothelial cells need nitric oxide to heal when they are assaulted with something that causes them to become inflamed.

I'm calling the "person" above "young-ish" because he should be young enough to not develop heart disease, around the age of 40 or 50.  He's been running for many years, and because of this he has led himself to believe he is invincible.  He has confidence in his health, because of the running, but what he does not realize is that he is not 20 or 30 anymore, and his digestive system, through the process of overuse and aging, produces nitric oxide at much lower levels in his middle age years.  While running helps to produce it and helps to protect the arteries, he may not have enough because his body is not making it to the level it did in his earlier years.

I need to report that I believe that exercise is one thing that helped my husband, who was unknowingly  living with two severely blocked arteries, keep from having a heart attack.  I know this because he had developed collateral arteries that ran from the 100% blocked right coronary artery to his left anterior descending artery.  For lucky people like my DH, collateral arteries, sometimes, develop over a period of time because of exercise demands.  We are blessed that he was exercising, and it prevented a heart attack for him, but it did not prevent severe heart disease, and it time he would have had a heart attack.

A few months prior to DH's need for a visit to the catheterization lab, he noticed that when he did something strenuous, he would have mild left arm pain that would decrease as the activity went on.  I believe the relief in pain through exercise was due to the nitric oxide produced by the exercise.  But, this was not the case as he got closer to needing his stents which, at that time, resulted in almost constant chest and arm pain.

Despite the protection that DH did have from his exercise routine which was playing tennis two times a week and walking briskly 20 minutes a day, exercise did not prevent him from developing heart disease.  Despite exercising daily, he still had high cholesterol.  Researchers have now changed the magic number of ideal cholesterol from 200 down to 150 and high now means over 150, if you want to be heart attack proof. DH's was hovering consistently from 200 to 215 for many years.  Except for during our early marriage when we were eating scrambled eggs and hotdogs for breakfast, his cholesterol rarely went above 215.

I do know a lot of people that have high cholesterol even though they exercise on a regular basis.  A combination of a proper heart healthy diet and exercise provides more protection to the heart than exercise alone.  I have experienced this for myself, as I have gone through my three year journey to incorporate both into my life.

I am not saying that if you are a big meat eater, but you are a long distance runner, that you are still going to develop heart disease.  I am just saying, that don't bet your odds that you aren't developing heart disease, just because you are a distance runner.  A lot more plays into it, family history, triglyceride levels, etc., for me to just flat out say, if you eat the Standard American Diet you're going to have a heart attack, even if you run, but who knows what is going on in the arteries?  For me, myself, I want to know that I am doing everything I can to protect them.  I'm putting the effort in to keep them healthy by exercising, why lower my odds of heart protection with being reckless with what I eat?

In regards to heart protection, diet should be considered most important before exercise.  But, then as one is able to obtain a permanent change in diet, exercise should also be pursued. Of course, if you are a runner, it's going to be so much easier to just focus on diet, since you already have the second half down.

At the end of this post I am posting a  video posted by Micheal Greger M.D., who scours medical research which he makes available on his website

This interesting video shows that vegans who do not exercise have healthier arteries than long distance runners who are not vegan.

To me, if a person feels the need to change to a lifestyle that is more heart protective, it would be best to focus energies on learning how to eat a low-fat plant based diet first, and then when that lifestyle has been mastered one can direct the new energies found (as when I did this I found my energy increase greatly), to adding regular exercise.

This discovery for me was so relieving because, throughout my life, I have been unsuccessful in working on the diet and exercise lifestyle changes at the same time.

I have experienced the hard work of educating myself on how to follow a low-fat plant based diet for exactly two years now.  I was following this diet a year before my DH jumped on board.  I can say that it was not easy at first because I did not fully understand that I needed to be totally committed to this change until a little over a year ago.  What it took was a lot of reading, blogs, books, watching seminars on YouTube, etc. so I can learn and follow the model set out by others in following this diet.  I had to commit myself to being willing to try new foods, and most importantly, I had to realize I had to spend more time in the kitchen.

If you want to learn more about a heart protective low-fat plant based diet, you can look throughout this blog, and a good place to start is  Stumbling on this web site two years ago started me on my journey, and just in time for me to learn about the lifestyle as my husband was coming to need it.

I know committing oneself to the kitchen, as I learned I had to do, is not what most people want to hear. We have "places to go and people to see."  But, for me, I got so sick from my breaking down health that I couldn't get off the couch to go to those place, and see those people.

One day I had to say to myself, "You have to make an appointment with yourself in the kitchen everyday.  You are no longer designing a bedroom, or a living room, or a craft, or a future dream home, or trophy children, you are designing a healthy you, a healthy husband, and healthy children."

To help my husband, I realized that my new mission in life was to become a low-fat plant based chef in my own home.  The result of that is I was also helping myself.

For me, this also meant realizing I needed to give up my expensive gluten-free junk food (I'm a celiac) in order to make more money in the food budget to buy things like red bell peppers, pomegranates, and other fresh foods and vegetables that would make the diet more exciting.

For my family, that also meant giving up their junk food, and by not spending $3.50 on that extra carton of ice cream I was able to buy 3 to 4 pounds of oranges, or a nice, fresh ripe pineapple, or two pounds of black grapes, which for most of us in my household is like candy.

 Interestingly, what I found was that our grocery bill actually ended up going down $200 a month (and a couple months it went down $400!) with me being more organized and giving up the junk foods.

In addition, I also found that by staying on this diet and committing more time in the kitchen, the need to run out of the house for a quick meal to feed the family was eliminated. As a result, we are also saving about $100 to $200 a month on our food bill by not dining out.

Dh now takes oatmeal and baked potatoes to work to eat for his lunch and we are saving $50 a month on his lunch out budget.

In addition he was able to drop his heart medications, so that saves us monthly, as well!  He does have to stay on his very low dosage of Simvastatin, just because the doctor wants to keep his existing plaques from rupturing, but with a total cholesterol of 128, he does not need the Simvastatin for cholesterol control.

Other than that, neither he, nor I are on any other medications, no blood pressure meds, no insulin, no anxiety meds, (once prescribed for me but never taken and no longer needed), no antacids, no stool softeners, no steroids, no anti-inflammatories, no hormones, no thyroid meds (although I might end up on those due to the past damage from celiac disease).  How many middle-agers can get away with that?

All of this change effected a 20 pound weight loss the first year and maintenance the second year.  I had lost 30 pounds prior to that on another vegan diet that allows unrestricted fat, and I'm happy with my accumulative 50 pound weight loss and my weight maintenance of three years, which I have never been able to do my whole life.

This lifestyle change also resulted in a 30 point drop in my total cholesterol, down to 180.  I'm still working for that 150.

What has pleased me over this past year, in particular, is I have been able to sleep better, have more energy, and have the stamina to meet the increasing demands of my five remaining boys at home, three of which are busy teenagers.  My Raynaud's syndrome, a condition that makes my toes go numb when I get cold, has greatly improved in that I have only had two attacks this winter, and I used to have them daily.

In addition, I now have the energy to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, which I hope will help me to lose the last 20 pounds that I need to lose to get myself out of the overweight category on my BMI measurements, and get my cholesterol down to 150.

Never in the 24 years that I have been a mother, have I had the energy to run.  This week, however, I was able to run 1/2 mile, and I can walk 3 miles before I become fatigued.

 I can feel my cardiovascular system getting stronger, and my legs and arms getting stronger.  I feel muscles in my core that I have not felt before in 25 years, and I am no longer breathless when I exercise, so I feel my arteries must be cleaner.

I am not seeking to be a slim and trim beauty.  Losing weight used to be a vanity issue for me, but how I look to others is no longer my motivator.

I am old enough in years to know it is the spirit and a person's cheerful countenance that makes them attractive to others.  In my middle age years, I don't need, nor do I obsess with impressing anybody with how I look.

What I want is to get my weight down so that I can take the pressure off of my knees because the years when my BMI was 50% (and it's now 29%), my knees suffered a lot of damage, and even now that my weight is down, I suffer daily from mild to moderate knee pain.

My knees are a daily reminder, and daily motivator to keep moving, and yes, it hurts some days to exercise, but on those days I keep the impact low.  Lately, however, I feel that my knees are getting stronger, and I'm sure that is a result of the exercise, and the strengthening of my thigh muscles, and probably a result of wearing some better shoes too.

Having the motivation to save my knees and protect my heart, I have been able to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week for four months, except for two weeks when the VHS I was using to play my old Walk Away the Pounds Videos died.  I couldn't bring myself to pay $80 at Walmart to buy a new one, so I had to wait until one came up at Salvation Army for $10, and that took two weeks.

Anyway, with the four months of exercise, what I am feeling is muscle tone in my legs, and a stronger heart, and I am grateful to discover that a woman in her late 40's can feel better than she did at 30 years-old by sticking to a goal to change lifestyle, even though the implementation of that goal has taken two years.

I hope this will encourage those, particularly of middle age, who are seeking to make a lifestyle change for a healthier heart.  What I have learned is....

1. To be patient with myself.  If I failed to day, I can start again tomorrow.  It's not the end of the world.  I'm on a journey, and my goal is to stick with it, not abandon it when I miss one day.

2.  Lifestyle change comes overtime, not overnight.

3.  As the change comes bit by bit, so do the improvements, and some day years down the road, as it was in my case, you realize, "Hey, I'm doing so much better than I was two years ago!"

4.  No matter what your age, your body can heal.  Sure, some of the things that we do to ourselves can permanently damage us. For instance,  I can't reproduce the cartilage I have lost in my knees, but despite some loss of function, I belive I can and we can become better than we were.

For a middle age person, feeling better than I was, and having my DH feeling better than he was is a happy thing.  We are moving forward in health as we age, not back.  We feel younger and we look younger than we did a year ago, and that is a great blessing for two old codgers like us.  It as least gives us the feeling that we can be more useful than we thought we were going to be, which is a very happy thought.  It makes the time in the kitchen and in our exercise outfits worth it.

Here is Dr. Michael Greger's video.....

I hope you enjoy it.

Here's to moving forward to better health and happier days ahead!