About 25 minutes of reading time.
Bad food + Smoking + No Exercise = Heart Attack at 43!
On December 29th, 2018, I became a statistic.
I was one of about 805,000 people who have a heart attack in a year.
I am now one of the 18,200,000 people living with Coronary Artery Disease.
(Read more stats at the CDC.)
My life changed forever! In fact, as strange as it sounds, my heart attack gave me a better life.
I am Jerome Cloninger and this is my story of my heart attack recovery.
This is LONG, and most of it was written 364 days after my heart attack.
I ate what I wanted, smoked, and nothing bad happened–yet.
Before that terrifying day, I ate whatever I wanted, I wasn’t overweight, and I was never diagnosed with anything bad. I never really exercised in my adult life. You could say my daily exercise was going up and downstairs to go outside to smoke.
So there you have it, I smoked, and I loved it. The funny thing is that many people had no idea that I smoked! I smoked anywhere from 1-2 packs of cigarettes a day and “quit” 5 or 6 times. Because nothing happened yet that I was all good. I was one of those people that say, “Yeah, I need to quit and/or start doing this or that…” but never do. For some reason, it is socially acceptable to say that and not do anything about it. Why?
I LOVED (actually was addicted to) sugar even more than cigarettes. Oh, did I love sugar! I’d put 1-2 tablespoons in each of my 8-10 cups of coffee a day! It’s fair to say that I was a prime candidate for a heart attack. Honestly, I’m surprised that it didn’t happen earlier after learning all that I have.
The week before my heart attack.
We visited my mother-in-law in Colorado for Christmas and flew in and out of Atlanta. Atlanta is about a five-hour drive away from home. On Christmas Day, we went to try out skiing. I went down the bunny slope twice, and I was done. The craziest part is that I rode on a motorized belt that went from the bottom to the top! 😆 That confirmed that I was severely out of shape! Also, at 14,000′ altitude, my smoker’s lungs were NOT providing me the oxygen I needed!
We went sightseeing around Denver the next day. I had an episode where I had tunnel vision, broke out in a sweat, felt very agitated, got pretty grumpy, and didn’t feel well at all. Everyone thought I was having a panic attack, although I have NEVER had one in my life! So I laid down at her house, and all was back to normal in a couple of hours.
The next day we had one of her fabulous breakfasts. If I had one slice of bacon, I’m sure I ate almost a pound of it! It was some of the best I ever had! (I told you I ate whatever I wanted. 🤣) We flew to Atlanta the next night and got in at midnight, so we stayed at a nearby hotel. Then we got up and drove back to Tennessee. I was so tired. I drank eight of those Starbucks Doubleshot canned coffee drinks on the drive home because I was pretty tired.
The day after we got back I was home all by myself. The kids were with their friends, and Jessica went to work. Low and behold, everything caught up with me, and BOOM! It happened!
That heart attack was absolutely the scariest thing I ever went through in my life!
I was supposed to meet up with my Dad to go to my sister-in-law’s birthday party dinner (my car was getting detailed while we were gone), and I texted him to come on and get me. He said he’d be by later. I sent him a screenshot of heart attack symptoms. I broke out in a sweat, had tunnel vision again like in Colorado. My jaws hurt and were cramping. My left arm was feeling odd, then my left fingertips went numb, and my breathing was fast and shallow. While I was reading the symptoms, I had one quick sharp pain in my chest that felt like what I’d imagine if someone had stabbed me with a knife.
My dad saved my life.
Dad called me, and in a few choice words, he convinced me to call 911. I’m sure that Dad saved my life by convincing me to call 911 because I wasn’t about to do it. Naively I thought, “There’s no way this is happening to me. This must be something else.”
The EMS crew showed up, and I ended up riding in the ambulance to the hospital. They were going to keep me overnight and had a stress test scheduled for the morning. My troponin levels kept increasing, so it was a confirmed heart attack at only 43 years old! Troponin is an enzyme released during a heart attack. To say that I was scared is an understatement!
I’m not afraid to die. I know the good Lord has a place for me in heaven, but I still have things to do here! My two awesome kids and wife need me. I have things I want to do with them and still need to be here. So I prayed, questioned, and cussed myself. I prayed more.
The hospital, doctors, a stent, and a decision.
The doctors placed a stent and told me that I do have blockages in the other arteries. and although they’re not bad now, they WILL be unless I change my ways. I laid in that hospital bed feeling sorry for myself, but then I realized that I basically had two options. 1) live the rest of my days like I have been and selfishly enjoy my guilty pleasures while continuing to feed the disease, or 2) change my ways, so I can live the rest of my days the best that I can and feel the best that I can.
There is a real possibility that no matter how healthy I become or continue to do things right, any of those plaques CAN break loose at any time and cause another heart attack or even a stroke. Some would say, “Screw it, I’m gonna do what I want!” I said, “Dammit, I’m strong! I’m going to try to make up for the damage I did over the years, turn my life around, and make the rest of my life the best quality that I possibly can!”
The body is miraculous at healing itself.
I found out that the body can remarkably heal itself IF provided with what it needs! Even through heart attack recovery! Some damage is permanent, but so many ill effects can be fixed! Luckily because I went right away to the hospital without waiting AND because the blockage was in the circumflex branch, there was minimal damage to my heart. I would later find out that my heart wasn’t the only thing with damage. My lungs from all those years of smoking and all the artery and blood vessel walls from all the chronic inflammation caused by smoking, sugar, and lack of exercise.
My decision to be healthier would put me on a roller coaster of emotions, leave me confused, make me question myself, test my fortitude, and have me learn things over again as well as many new things.
This decision would also open up a whole new world where I never pictured myself being a part of! It would alienate me from some people and bring in new friends to my world. This decision changed and saved my life.
Breaking habits and commiting to change.
During most of the first year, I continually asked myself what someone could have told me to make me change? The answer is nothing. It took a heart attack to make me change. Unfortunately, I’ve learned that it takes something profound to cause many people to make drastic lifestyle changes. Given that, there are still people who think they “can’t” change.
Before I say this next thing, if you can relate to this statement, I mean no disrespect to you. Maybe it will make you think about your situation a little differently. I now know of several people who have had heart attacks, have COPD, high blood pressure, get Type 2 diabetes, etc., and they STILL WON’T CHANGE! I honestly don’t understand why that is.
It confuses me and I can’t quite put my finger on it. I want to beat my head against the wall when I hear people say things like, “I’d give anything for this to not happen to me.” Yet, they keep doing the exact things that enable that condition to occur. 🤦♂️ IF this is you, then here is something that I learned from a motivational image, “Nothing changes if nothing changes” in this case, it literally means, “You won’t get better unless you make positive lifestyle changes.” It is 100% true!
Knowing how great things can be after getting through the “suck of it” in the beginning and how worthy it is, I TRULY hope that anyone who needs to change will! That is one of the main reasons I created this website: to show people what I did and continue to do and show the results that can be achieved through a lifestyle change of healthy habits. Once I realized that I love living and my family more than cigarettes, bad food, and sugar, things began to fall in place, and my perspective changed. It wasn’t an “I’m losing or giving up this” but rather an “I’m gaining better health, a better life, and a better overall feeling” mindset. I’ve always been a determined individual, but I’ve never been more determined to change and get off of as many medicines as I could.
Quitting smoking was the easiest change!
The first month was THE MOST DIFFICULT MENTAL CHALLENGE EVER! I won’t sugarcoat it, I was also pretty irritable and grumpy many times (oh my poor wife… bless her heart… I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, JESSICA!) The doctors made me start on Step 2 of the nicotine patch because Step 1 would have constricted my blood vessels too much and be too risky for another heart attack. Nicotine and caffeine do that and increase the heart rate.
There are some benefits to coffee/caffeine, but I choose to not partake in the coffee anymore because it does increase the heart rate and constricts blood vessels. Perhaps a cup of black coffee a day wouldn’t be bad, but maybe in the back of my mind, I fear that could lead to triggering the sugar association/addiction that I used to have. Regardless, I feel so much better without caffeine and nicotine and don’t NEED them!
Anyways back to the nicotine patches, I did another week longer than I was supposed to before moving to step 3, and I think that helped. I did the same for Step 3. I have been completely nicotine-FREE since February 22nd, 2019! The nicotine was the physical addiction that I had to get over. As each craving passes, there are fewer active nicotine receptors in the brain, so it DOES technically get easier as each craving passes! Once I learned that, it was easier for me to think about–sort of like, “Yeah, I’m craving because those receptors are active, but by not feeding them, they’re dying, and there will be less to beat next time!”
Smoking and associations.
I associated smoking and the heart attack as putting my hand on a hot stove eye and didn’t want to do that again (yes, I accidentally did that once.) So in my mind, lighting up would be like putting my hand on the hot stove.
Another aspect of quitting smoking is associating activities with when I smoked, such as driving, going to the back deck, working for some time on the computer, eating a sugary snack, drinking coffee. All of those associations are triggers that are hard to break too. I quit going on the deck (but I really miss my chats with Jessica out there), quit drinking coffee (it just oddly happened, which was strange), I’d walk up and down the road after working for a while, and stopped all the sugary stuff. I think the sugary stuff was a definite link to smoking for me because all the times I “quit” before, I still did the sugar… but I didn’t have a heart attack then either, so I don’t know if that was a definite link but here is a very interesting article about sugars and tobacco. Also, did you know that nicotine makes cells insulin resistant? It does.
To this day, I have absolutely ZERO desire to smoke! I think it smells horrible and is just plain nasty. I can’t believe that some people didn’t know that I smoked! As a result, things smell better, food tastes better, I breathe better, and blood moves through my body better!
Things that helped me fight nicotine withdrawal cravings:
- Chugging a glass of ice-cold water.
- Slow and deep breathing for 1-2 minutes.
- Eat a square of 88+% dark chocolate by letting it melt in my mouth.
- Go for a short and brisk walk.
- Realize that smoking helped put me in the hospital and nearly killed me!
Changing my diet was, without a doubt,
the most difficult change of my heart attack recovery!
Changing the way I ate made quitting smoking seem relatively easy, especially at first! I was terrified to eat during the first month, and I unintentionally starved myself! I started out weighing 220 pounds (I’m 6’6”) and was 208 at the end of January. That’s 12 pounds lost in a month! I was told by different doctors while in the hospital, “absolutely no/low fat, no cholesterol, no sugar, low sodium, and only 2,000mg max a day, no red meat, no bread, no pasta, no carbs.” I was so confused, and more importantly, WHAT COULD I EAT?
Diets are contradictory and confusing.
I started researching the famous named restrictive diets… Vegetarian, KETO, Paleo, Vegan, DASH, Mediterranean, and _______. Every named diet contradicted each other somehow, yet so many people swear by them. All the diets can have varying degrees of success. I’ve found that a topic that will cause more heated debates than politics is dieting.
Many websites and so-called “experts” will confuse you in two seconds flat. Many studies are cherry-picked and quoted only to support the author’s narrative. The same goes for all of the Netflix, HULU, and Amazon Prime documentaries. I think I have watched them all. MANY good points to ALL of those named and restrictive diets and documentaries; however, I have problems with every one of them because of the good logical issues that others made.
Most doctors are NOT trained in nutrition!
So after a few months, I came to a simple and logical conclusion that I wish I had known about at the beginning of all of this. A doctor that filled in for my PCP one visit backed up my conclusion. He was very knowledgeable about nutrition, more than any other doctor I’ve ever seen. That’s because so few doctors get trained in nutrition! A sad fact is that I possibly had more formal nutrition training when I went to culinary school than some doctors that I’ve seen!
First, keep this in mind. The word “diet” is simply all of the food (and beverages) consumed regularly. Notice earlier I said “restrictive diets.” That is what most people think of when they hear diet… Restrictions, No carbs, No meat, No _____. Generally, these types of diets eliminate an entire macro-nutrient! WHY?! (There are a handful of medical reasons why this may be necessary for some people, but not for the vast majority population.)
All diets that have success have one thing in common.
I realized that NOT ONE of those named diets promotes added sugars or refined grains, which are simple carbs. I also learned that simple carbs cause the most inflammation. Inflammation is the root cause of most ailments in which people suffer! Simple logic tells me not to eat simple carbs. They are among the leading causes for many bad things to happen! Whole grains, whole fruit, whole veggies are complex carbs. Your body NEEDS good complex carbs, but in balance with fats and proteins. That balance can vary depending on your needs and goals.
From everything I’ve learned that you can eat that causes inflammation in the body. Common foods end up causing many illnesses and ailments, it is just a crock of BS! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want any BS in my food anymore. Kind of like the BS Free Eggs from Vital Farms.😆 (Great marketing!) So maybe my diet could be called “NOBS,” eh, I’ll call it Clean Eating.
There isn’t a single set of requirements for “clean eating,” and MANY interpretations of it! If you gave a recipe to ten people, you’d get ten different results. The same holds if you asked ten people what “eating clean” means!
To me, “clean eating” means “the most nutrient-dense, best quality of an item/product that I can get. These foods are as close to their natural form with as few ingredients as possible that will nourish my body.”
You could also call me a “flexitarian,” which is a “flexible vegetarian,” but I’m sure I eat more meats (mostly seafood and chicken) than they prefer, so I’ll stick with Eating Clean.
Eating Clean isn’t very restrictive.
Note there are some restrictions; however, I’m not restricting broad/natural form things. I’m restricting highly processed stuff that has little to no nutritional value. I often hear, “It’s too expensive to eat well!” My response is, “Good food costs more, but it’s less expensive than being in a hospital and on a list of meds!!!”
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of the 100% die-hard all-or-nothing types. I’ll still have a piece of pie on a special occasion, a cheeseburger every once in a while, and yeah, I’ll even reward myself with some KFC once every month or two, especially after a tough long sweaty run! Eating a “bad meal” won’t undo all the good that I’ve done, just like eating a salad won’t make me healthier. Many bad meals are what would make me unhealthy again.
Eating is so enjoyable now. There are so many flavors and textures that I’m now entertained when eating as I diversify my palate!
Added sugar is exceptionally harmful.
Do you know what happens to a car if you put sugar in the gas tank? It’ll kill the engine. Sugar will eventually kill YOUR engine if heavily consumed, and we as a population consume an EXCESSIVE amount of sugar! We are fighting or feeding disease for everything we put in our mouths to eat or drink. It is that simple, but it’s so hard to change lifelong habits! I discovered that my taste buds changed dramatically, and they continue to change! I NEVER EVER liked Brussels sprouts, but now I love them! Kale? Yeah, I love that too, and in fact, I now crave my afternoon kale, spinach, and berry smoothie! It took baby steps for that to happen, though, and it wasn’t overnight.
100% Monkfruit Liquid Extract was my saving grace in weening myself off of the sugar addiction!
Keeping track of what I ate.
Remember when I said I was starving myself because I was afraid to eat? One reason is that I was trying to calculate in my head how much sodium, sugar, and everything I was eating. I discovered an app called MyFitnessPal. I ended up buying the premium version, but you can log EVERYTHING you consume. Tie the food logger with a fitness tracker, and it’ll calculate how many more or fewer calories you need to consume to stay on track with your weight goal! Whether it is to lose, maintain, or gain!
Note, you MUST PROPERLY SET EVERYTHING UP! Make sure you get your REAL maximum heart rate (only use an age-based calculated result if you can’t get into the higher heart rate zones), height, and weight set in the activity tracker as well as in MyFitnessPal or MyNetDiary.
Counting calorie expenditure like this isn’t 100% because the fitness trackers aren’t 100% accurate, and we don’t log foods 100% correct all the time. Still, it can be very close and so much better than trying to guess how many calories you are eating and burning! You MUST accurately log servings; otherwise, it won’t even come close. Suppose you drank a bottle of this sports drink, but you only logged a serving. You actually consumed 2.5 more than a serving!
Food and exercise matter!
If you don’t believe that food (and exercise) can dramatically change your health, then tell me how else I could have gotten my cholesterol back to normal in only 4 months. From all the people’s posts I’ve seen in some heart attack recovery support groups, I know for a fact that it wasn’t due to the statin alone! Eating healthy and exercising consistently is paramount!
My cardiologist was genuinely amazed! He told me, “I need to get you in here to talk to some of my patients because you are doing great!” Here is a graphic that shows each of the four quarters for the year. Cholesterol/HDL Ratio should be less than 5, but ideally 3.5. Triglycerides/HDL Ratio & LDL/HDL ratio should be less than 2. Note, these months are for 2019. You will notice that January (at the time in the hospital after the heart attack) was a wreck! Look how high I managed to get my HDL (“good” cholesterol) in December! I coded my own cholesterol ratio calculator that will also allow you to compare to a previous test!
Long story short, exercise helped raise the HDL. Not consuming all the simple carbs like sugar and refined grains and eating more Omega-3 helped drop the triglycerides, and limiting saturated fat intake helped lower the LDL.
My Cholesterol / Lipid Panel Results History
Hover over the lines to see the values for each month.
“Optimal” Cholesterol numbers: Total < 200, Triglycerides < 150, LDL < 100, HDL > 60
I believe that ratios are more important than any single number.
Optimal ratios: Cholesterol:HDL < 3.5, TRI:HDL < 2, LDL:HDL < 2
There is much more that I’ve learned and discovered regarding cholesterol, so be sure to read my “managing cholesterol” article after this one.
Exercising for me really was basically walking upstairs to smoke for many years!
The doctors told me I needed to walk at least 30 minutes a day. I was like, “ummmmm ok.” It was cold for at least the first month, and I wasn’t supposed to be in the cold long (more doctors’ orders), so I didn’t walk much unless I went to the store. Towards the end of January, Dad brought me his old treadmill. To my amazement, I could NOT even do 15 minutes at a measly 3 mph!!! So I did 5 & 10 minute sessions. A few weeks later, I could do 15 minutes, 20 minutes, then 30 minutes! Boom! I’m getting in shape! That was at 3 mph.
Then I started bumping up the speed to 3.1, 3.2, etc. I got to 4 and thought I was Speedy Gonzalez! I mean, I was breaking a sweat and feeling good. Then the treadmill broke. The motor was shot as it was a very old treadmill, but it got me started on something that I will soon fall in love with. I bought a cheap treadmill from Wal-Mart and continued increasing the speed and time. I ended up getting to an hour at 5 mph, which is basically power-walking!
Venturing into running.
Martin Baker, one of my awesome clients, suggested that I get into running as he does. “Yeah, right,” I said! It wasn’t too long after that in April; we went to Myrtle Beach for my daughter’s cheer competition. One night I ran .3 (yes, only 3/10ths) of a mile on the beach. It felt so liberating! It was at that moment that I fell in love with running! My sister and brother-in-law are triathletes, and he is a coach. I showed them a screenshot from my Fitbit app of what I had done, and they were happy and told me to keep it up. They supported me and gave me some awesome advice, suggestions, support, and encouragement. I listened to most but wish I incorporated strength training-more on that in a bit.
That .3 turned to .5, .75, and then a 1 mile. I was pumped and had the idea that I want to run a 5K (3.1 miles) race on Thanksgiving, so that was my first big fitness goal. I ended up doing the run/walk/run method because I read and heard that it helps strengthen the heart and is less stressful on the body. A mile turned to 2, then 3, and the July 4th 4-mile race was coming up, and I DID IT! My first race was 4 miles!
Snoring & low oxygen at night.
In May 2019, while having a conversation with my doctor, I told her that I snored. She ordered an overnight oximetry test, and I had several minutes dip below 88%, so she prescribed me overnight oxygen! Ugh! 🤬 Yeah, it was one of those loud, obnoxious machines, but it wasn’t a CPAP machine, but just an oxygen concentrator.
By practicing deep breathing exercises, exercising in Zone 2 Heart Rate, eating more dark leafy greens, and even pineapple (including the core into smoothies as it contains the most bromelain), I read they can help with lung inflammation and help breathe easier which would, in turn, help blood oxygen levels). Here is a graph of my nightly average SpO2 levels. I recorded them every night with a unit I bought from Amazon that was a slightly different model than the doctor had me use in the test. Some watches now have this capability.
You can see how oxygen AND food have helped increase the levels. I’m not happy about this overnight oxygen, but hey, I guess that is the price of smoking, and it could be worse. UPDATE! April 16th, 2020, my doctor removed the Overnight Oxygen from my regimen! My Garmin watch records SpO2 levels at night, and I’m happy to report that as of March 2021, my overnight oxygen levels remain consistently in the 95-96% range!
Falling in love with running and racing!
After my first race on July 4th, I did the Crazy 8’s 8K (5 miles) race for FunFest in July and then another 5K at the Pinnacle in August. I decided I wanted to do something big before the year was up. Why not? I changed EVERYTHING about my lifestyle and I wanted to make a statement. My half marathon training had begun so I could tell the world that I kicked that heart attack’s metaphorical ass! That would be 13.1 miles if you didn’t know. During training, I suffered from an Achilles tendon issue that was basically from over-use and got inflamed from running on Stone Drive, which is heavily banked to the side. So I ended up walking more than running. I was bummed because I wanted to run! I spent a lot of time in Zone 2 heart rate–remember this.
In the meantime, I had some friends contact me and tell me that I’m inspiring them to make changes. One of them was Uday. I worked with him at Meadowview many years ago. He had a stroke in February and went through pretty much the same changes. We talked one day, and he said he wanted to run a 5K next year. He was walking 4-5 miles a day, and I told him he could do one now. So he signed up for the S’Mores Run, a 3.6 mile run (.5 of a mile over a 5K), and I told him I’d run it with him on November 2nd.
We started in different waves, and we couldn’t start together, but I had a new goal to run a sub 30 minute 5K by Thanksgiving. I DID THAT with this race as my 3.1 portion was 27:56, and Uday completed his first race! It was an emotional day for both of us. I’m still so proud of us! I really think Zone 2 helped me get there. (More on that in a bit.)
My first half marathon!
I had signed up for the Mayberry Half Marathon in Mt. Airy, NC, for November 16th, 2019. I chose this one because it is primarily flat with a downhill start. A week before the race, I developed IT band issues!!! I did everything I could to tame them and even took the week off running before the race.
The first 3 miles were smooth, and I thought this would be smooth sailing. At mile 4, the sides of my knees started acting up. They progressively got worse with each step. I didn’t come this far to quit, so I pushed on. Who knows where that mental strength came from. I remember crying at several points in the race. It felt like someone was beating the sides of my knees with every step with a leather strap. In the end, I couldn’t even bend my knees! I was waddling like a duck, but I did it, and I was still far from being last in my age group!
Thankfully my Mom and Stepdad were there, and they helped me get back to the hotel and took care of me by getting me situated, iced, etc. While they were gone, my sister told me on the phone that I absolutely had to start moving, so I did and did the lacrosse ball on the hips, and I was able to start moving better, but it was the MOST AGONIZING PAIN EVER! I plan on running that again and enjoy it! The next couple of months I rehabbed the IT bands and incorporated strength training 2-3 days a week. I WILL get my body as strong as my mind!
Celebrating by making statements!
On December 29th, 2019, the day of my “Heart Attack Anniversary,” I decided I would at least walk 12 miles. One for every month after the heart attack. I was feeling great, so I ended up running most of it. As I did with everything else that year, I ended up going the Extra Mile. I ended up doing my own Half Marathon and guess what… NO IT BAND PAIN! The legs were sore and tired, but no debilitating pain like the day I ran Mayberry Half, AND I did it faster! I really didn’t think I would be able to do this yet, but low and behold; I did it!
On December 29th, 2020, I set out to cover 24 miles keeping the tradition alive. Again, one mile for every month after the heart attack. I was so close to a full marathon that I decided to go for it! I was NOT prepared for this, but it wasn’t a disaster by any means. It was a huge accomplishment, and I know that when the time comes for me to run a marathon race, I will have an idea of what is in store. No, I’m not planning on 36 miles in 2022. 🤣
Staying in the zone.
Zone 2 is that it helps increase cardiovascular function and builds more capillaries, thus transporting more blood and oxygen. I truly think this helped me get off of the overnight oxygen. It is also a way you can lay down some serious mileage without a lot of stress on the body (26 miles is 26 miles is 26 miles though!😆) Oh yeah, it also burns a higher percentage of fat as fuel.
Zone 2 Heart Rate is 60-70% of your TRUE maximum heart rate. The “standard” 220-AGE is NOT accurate and can be way off! In Zone 2, your body primarily burns fat as fuel. Suppose you want to burn fat with minimal impact & stress on your body, EXERCISE IN ZONE 2. Zone 2 is pretty much a brisk walk for most people.
Another thing about Zone 2, if you spend about 80% of your weekly training time in this zone, your running pace will get faster at the same heart rate! This process takes weeks and months to see a difference, but I can tell you it IS working for me! Check out my body fat percent decline while I was mainly in Zone 2. (These types of scales aren’t 100% correct, but in February 2021, I did a hydrostatic body fat test, and that result was 15.3, and the scales showed 12.5. So these types of scales can be a tool to use to view trends, but know they’re not entirely accurate.)
My exercise balance is now strength training three days a week, 3-4 days of Zone 2 running, 1-2 days of speed/hill running, and the ever IMPORTANT full rest day. Even on the rest day, I’m moving. That is vital. My brother-in-law said it best, “I do this, so I don’t sit around and rust.” The hardest part was the first step, which applies to the first time at anything. After that, it gets easier until I make it more challenging, which results in progress. Set a goal, crush that goal, and that is how we grow. Whether you are recovering from a heart attack or anything else, exercise of some sort is crucial for getting better! Easy Zone 2 is a good place to be in.
Life is good!
Putting it all together, a year after the heart attack, I feel like I’m in my 20’s again, despite being 44 years old, and this is just my first year of change during my heart attack recovery!
My cholesterol levels and ratios went from bad to those that are to be desired WHILE my Atorvastatin (cholesterol medication) was reduced from the initial dose of 80mg to 40mg in April, then to only 20mg in September! My cardiologist says that he very rarely prescribes less than 40.
We completely dropped the Lisinopril (blood pressure medicine.) In fact, since doing that, my blood pressure is the same AND LOWER than when I was on it because I could eat more kale, garlic, and ginger. After all, I’m not on it anymore.
My blood thinner for my stent is no longer needed as of December 29th, 2019. The usual course is only to take it for a year IF everything is in check. Pills do great for addressing a problem, and I believe they are only a Band-Aid. They won’t cure the underlying cause, but in my case, no smoking, eating clean, and exercising regularly is the best medicine and is healing my body!!! We’re removing meds, dropping dosages, and I feel so much better and am not a slave to medication!!!
Takeaways of the first year, and I’m sure things will only continue to improve!
- My sense of taste and smell is so much better than when I was a smoker!
- Everything now functions better after having cleaner plumbing (arteries).
- I can do things that I never dreamed of being possible! I started running in April and went from running .3 of a mile to running a Half Marathon (13.1 miles) in November!
Enjoy eating healthy.
- Eating Clean is THE way to go. It is less stressful than staying in the confines of a set of ridiculous rules and allows for a wide variety of food! Restrictive/Named Diets are challenging to adhere to and do not always provide you with ALL of your body’s nutritional needs. Be sensible, though, and always get the best products you can that NOURISH your body without the BS… NOBS! I’m digging that! Maybe I should make that The NOBS Diet™. 😎
Inspiration is a two-way street.
- We can impact other people in profound ways and not even know it. People that I’m inspired by have told me that I inspire them. Sometimes I’m working hard at the gym towards this snapshot of how I want to be; random people (it’s happened more than once) that I meet says something like, “I hope I get to look like you one day.” It’s all pretty humbling.
Do you and don’t focus on others.
- “I want to look like…” can be very detrimental to your well-being! Don’t focus on looking like a fitness model or anyone else for that matter. Focus on being healthy, and the rest will fall into place, and you will enjoy feeling good about yourself, and any progress you see in the mirror is a bonus! David Goggins makes this point apparent (language warning.)
Be careful with cheat days.
- A cheat day may not kill you, but it sure can make the rest of the day and/or the next day a living hell. Don’t overeat something that you haven’t been regularly eating because it can and most definitely will send your gut into shambles! I don’t even like the term “cheat days.” Some days are simply healthier than others.
Statins’ side effects can be mitigated.
- Statins (medication for cholesterol) can cause muscle aches and pains. I found that taking CoQ10 in its active form, Ubiquinol is the best way to circumvent those and some other effects, such as memory loss, because statins block CoQ10 from being made by your liver, and we are already making less because we’re older! Statins side effects can suck, but they supposedly help with the artery walls in addition to the cholesterol, but so do a healthy diet and regular exercise. Maybe one day I can convince my cardiologist not to make me take them anymore?
Cholesterol itself is not the enemy.
- Cholesterol is NOT the main thing that causes heart attacks! Even having good levels doesn’t mean you’re clear. Particle sizes, numbers, and ratios are critical for determining risk; Heart attack recovery is NOT ALL about cholesterol levels like many people think!
Eating bad WILL make health conditions worse.
- Eating good food most of the time DOES a body good. It may not cure ALL ailments, but eating bad stuff WILL certainly make conditions worse than they have to be. Not eating healthy because “it doesn’t work because I have [insert rare condition]” is nothing but a lame excuse. It takes time to make an impact too. Quit drinking any soda, added sugars, and refined grains COMPLETELY for a month, and you WILL notice a difference. I drink pretty much only water, sometimes ginger tea and unsweet tea, but primarily straight-up water from my Brita® stainless steel water bottle.
It’s challenging, but you are worth it!
- It can be challenging to find time to eat better and exercise. I discovered that I MUST work on myself before I work for anyone else. If I don’t, then one day it won’t matter because I won’t be able to work at all because I could get to be disabled or even dead!
- Making smaller changes is much easier to do than significant drastic changes. Prioritize and implement.
Moderation can’t be measured.
- “Moderation” is a term that I feel people use to justify eating something they know they shouldn’t. Would you take a job with someone only saying it has a “moderate” pay rate? Probably not. I’ll eat some KFC chicken once a month or two if I run and sweat a lot that day. There, I put a measurable quantity and time to that, and it’s not “in moderation.”
Don’t be quick to dismiss as genetic.
- Genetics can play a part in diseases and conditions; however, it could be HABITS are what we pick up from the elders that make us develop conditions. For example, if mom and dad eat fast food every day and the kids do too, genetics didn’t make the kids obese, develop type 2 diabetes, etc. The poor eating habit of eating fast food every day did, and that is a learned habit and is NOT genetic!
Eat this, not that.
- MOST foods that are bought in a store are inadequate in some way. I love this site called “Eat This, Not That.” Start here and find out 100 of the unhealthiest foods on the planet. It is a good site, but they miss the mark on some things.
People get jealous, don’t let them bring you down.
- Not everyone fully supported me in going through my transformation. My feelings did get hurt, and when you go through your transformation, your feelings WILL get hurt too. You will become alienated by people you didn’t think would do that to you. You will question yourself during difficult times. Just be strong. Some people will support you. I will; just let me know! I’ve concluded that most of the people who say negative things (consciously or not) are actually jealous of my results. I’ve also had to learn not to get mad at those people because they can be struggling with many issues of their own. Sometimes I have to dish out a witty comeback line to repeat offenders. 😆
Prayer is good…
- I prayed a lot and I believe prayer is powerful, and that prayers get answered in ways that we don’t expect. I believe God answered my prayers by giving me the capacity to learn and make the necessary changes so my body could heal itself.
Dealing with Self-doubt, Fear & Negativity.
- Dealing with self-doubt, fear, negativity, and past failures is very difficult, ESPECIALLY while making such drastic lifestyle changes! Yes, there are “support” groups on Facebook for a given condition, but honestly, those just brought me down even more. It’s very sad to see people give up and simply succumb to a diagnosis. It doesn’t have to be like that! I did meet a couple of good people from one, though! They had their heart attacks a year or two prior to mine and were living proof and reassurance that great things can come out of the lifestyle changes I had been making. One of them, Clayton Ray, has become a great friend! I chat with him almost every day, and he’s been a tremendous help to me because he has gone through many of the same things that I have. That is good if you can find a friend like that! Something else that helped me was listening to David Goggins. I’m sure many people will find his words offensive and say he’s “yelling at them.” Still, his thinking shifted my perspective on many things, and that “yelling at them” means he’s saying the stuff that needs to be heard instead of buried in the back of the mind not being addressed. If you are struggling with this stuff, then I highly recommend his audiobook “Can’t Hurt Me, but even his Facebook videos are great too! Here is a really cool compilation that someone put together. The F-bombs were edited out but 💩 is said so, there’s your language warning for this one.
That video makes me want to go do something I’ve never done before! What’s next?
That is basically my story for my heart attack recovery. Most of the big changes happened the first year, but I continually refine, tweak, and experiment with food and exercise. After all of that, I think you can now understand why I can say, “My heart attack gave me a better life.”
Thank you for reading and if I can help you in any way, feel free to reach out. I love seeing people change their lives for the better! Always remember, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU SET YOUR MIND TO!
Eat Clean. Get Sweaty. Rest. Live Well!
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