By Mark Bedwell, RN, Cardiac Rehab
We men can be so busy taking care of fixing things and dealing with life’s problems, we can get complacent and think we can just get by doing nothing for our bodies. Then, while we’re raking the yard, we get a sharp pain in our left jaw, break out into a cold sweat and soon we’re on the heart cath table, with our groin shaved, getting unwanted cardiac news.
There is no getting around genetics. Some guys can eat carrot sticks while running marathons and still need a bypass one day. But, we need to do what we can to minimize our risk factors and not just think, “Oh well, it’s going to happen anyway.”
Let’s skip the lectures and look at what we can do to help our hearts, enjoy our lives and be there for those who love and need us. Consult your care provider before beginning any exercise program or altering your diet.
Your body has joints for a reason: it needs to move. Strive for 30 minutes a day of uninterrupted walking, riding a bike or swimming. Just move without stopping (unless you’re feeling bad or have symptoms) for at least 30 minutes. Start out five minutes four times a day and build up to 30. You can also bike, do water aerobics or simply sit in a chair and lift and lower your legs. Golf and walking the dog doesn’t count because you’re stopping and starting walking. That’s intermittent. Studies have shown that a moderate walk can be as beneficial as a fast run.
This can be a challenge here in the South where nothing is done without food. One time we had some friends coming over late and my sweet southern wife hopped up and said, “Well I guess I’ll make a cake!” I said, “Why? It’s 9 p.m. Is it their birthday?” She replied, “Men just don’t understand.”
When eating at home learn how to read serving sizes on prepackaged foods. Fill your plate with a moderate amount of food and be done. Balance your meals with fresh fruits and veggies. If you go to church, then you know that church folk can’t get together here in the South without feeding their faces. Be careful there. I’ve checked and finger foods are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.
Learn moderation boys. It’s okay to have a piece or two of fried chicken, or pizza. What’s not okay is to wake up, sit down, watch TV, eat bacon and eggs, have fried bologna for lunch, a can of Vienna sausages with hot sauce and crackers for a snack and then fill up on fried fish at a men’s gathering at church that night. Plan your meals for healthy options.
Keep bottled water nearby. Sugary sodas can pack on the pounds and literally transform you into a diabetic.
The biggest hurdle to overcome is learning that food does not have to be the center of your life.
Quit smoking. It’s just that simple. Nicotine causes your arteries to clamp down and stop perfusing the organs — all of your organs. Smoking also gives you cancer. And for those that “don’t inhale,” remember sometimes the doctor gives you medicine to go under your tongue because there it’s rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream. Same thing for a stogie that you just loll around in your mouth all day or dip.
As an advocate for men’s health and as someone who works in a gym with cardiac patients, it’s not that unusual for me to hear a senior man say something like, “I feel so much better after I workout and I’m off my BP medicine. I sure wished I had known how good this was when I was younger. I would have had a better life.“
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