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July 2009

Home is Where the Heart Is

I am an avid tweeter - you know, Twitter?  I love it, and in fact have 2 separate accounts to match each one of my blogs.  It is not always easy staying on top of all of the info, never mind remembering to be engaged and provide updates and info that seem to be "worthy" of reading.  There is a lot of fantastic information on Twitter - likewise, there is a lot in MISinformation as well.  In my attempt to look for all things heart related, I came across HeartHub for patients, which is part of the American Heart Association (AHA).  The site is great - it is a site for patients and caregivers and it is affiliated with the AHA - who better to back a patient website with all things heart related?  You can check out your risk level for heart disease, your BMI, and review various treatment options.  But as the index page of the site came up and I started to look a bit deeper, that feeling of disappointment that so often follows every time I look at most heart and or/ stroke related material emerged.

There were no young people (that I could see anyway).  When I say young, I mean people who appear to be younger than 40-45 or so.  Speaking from personal experience, I know that strokes can and do happen to anyone no matter what you look like, what your age is, or your ethnicity.  The site reminded me of a brochure I received upon being discharged from the hospital after my stroke.  An elderly couple smiled back at me - they were sitting outside in a chair and had their arms around each other.  The heading on the brochure read "Sex after Stroke" and the couple was probably in their late 70s - early 80s.  How could I (33 at the time) possibly relate to the couple on the brochure?  I did not think that the brochure would provide alternative birth control methods since I could no longer take hormones following my stroke, and somehow, I did not think that the elderly couple would need to worry about such issues. 

The situation is similar with HeartHub .  While the information is fantastic, I would love to see someone (other than a health care professional) who is at least near my own age.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are  campaigns to which I can relate.  As I was on my run yesterday, I ran my an American Stroke Association "Choose to Move" poster.  A young healthy woman - probably in her late 20s - mid 30s - was wearing headphones, had a smile on her face, and looked as if she was dancing.  She could have been me - and I could be her.  This I related to.

In the end I suppose what matters the most is that the information is there-  people see it and remember what kinds of resources they have access to.  My only concern is that if people do not see individuals "like them" on health-related marketing materials, they may ignore the resources and think "This could never happen to me", when it fact it can, and it can hit closer to home then they could possibly imagine.


What do you choose?

It is raining...again.  This weather really does not inspire me to want to much of anything except go back underneath my covers, pull out a book, and start reading until I drift off into some kind of dream like state.  But that is certainly not my reality (at least during the work week).  Instead, my reality includes a rather active lifestyle that involves a job that has me working 10 hrs a day, several blogs on the side, a passion for cooking, and oh yeah, I am also a fitness instructor!

Most days I choose to exercise.  I do it for many reasons aside from the fact that it is a job.  However, I would be lying to you if I just wrote that it had to do with the health benefits associated with being physically active, even though that is one of the reasons I choose to exercise.  I would also be lying to you if I told you that the primary reason for my exercising was because according to the American Heart Association, 80% of cardiac events in women could be prevented if women made the RIGHT decisions in their lives, such as choosing to exercise.  These reasons are good enough for almost anyone to make the decision to change their lives and become more physically active, however after having been exercising regularly for more than half of my life, exercise is part of my life.  It is non-negotiable and happens at least 5 days / week for about 60-90 minutes each time.

Yes, there are days that I do not want to put myself through the motions of my feet pounding around Boston's pavement as I run 5 miles, or go through another set of front shoulder raises with the 8 lb weights (does anyone have some 3 lb weights in the area???), but I do it.  I might be sore the next day, my body might tell me to do yoga one day instead of running, and I will listen to that.  However, I am at the point where I feel far worse if I do not exercise versus if I do exercise.  Upon finishing my workout I feel healthy, light, clean, energetic, calm, and happy.  I take pride in myself.  Exercise and staying physically fit and active is one of those reasons. 

There are so many excuses people give so that they do not have to take that first step - none of them work for me.  1 back surgery, 3 knee operations, 1 stroke, 1 heart surgery - exercise was not the cause for any of these tragic events, but it was what helped me to recover from each and everyone of the events.  Start small, and think big.  Only you can choose to make it happen.  Your health and heart will thank you.


Work Your Heart Out

Last week I started posting about the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women: Better U Movement.  This 12-week program is a way to take steps - one at a time - to understand and learn about the importance of heart health.  The steps are literal, as they should be when one is talking about heart health.  You can make over your heart, make it stronger, make it work more efficiently, and make yourself healthier.  You might ask me how I know this information, and my first answer would be that I am a fitness instructor.  However, the more important and even relevant response is that I suffered a stroke in July 2006 and underwent open heart surgery several months later.  Because my heart had been worked, running up stadium stairs, the 1996 Chicago Marathon, hundreds of step aerobic classes, laps around tracks, hours on a treadmill, and years perfecting squats and bicep curls, I recovered from the stroke and from the heart surgery and found myself back at the gym, back to getting my heart beating like it once was, less than two weeks after the stroke and less than two months after the heart surgery*.

Yes, years of working my heart actually saved it.  Every single day that I decided to exercise and to work out, I made a decision to save myself.  Yes, the stroke happened after I taught a step aerobics class (irony at its best...) but due to previous training, and a conscious decision to take care of myself, I emerged healthier that I was before, stronger than I was before, and more aware of what I needed to do to ensure that I could forever choose to make a difference in my life and the lives of others.


*While this time-frame worked for me, it might not be the most ideal time frame for all stroke / heart surgery patients.  It is always best to check with your doctor before starting / resuming any kind of exercise program.


A Way to be Better, a Better U..

In the saddest of ways, I learned about a new genetic kind of heart defect this morning.  It is called Brugada Syndrome, and one of the things that it does is cause sudden cardiac death do to sudden changes in the heart rhythm.  Learning about this hereditary heart disease caused me to think more about my own heart defect - an atrial septal defect.  The hole in my heart is luckily now closed.  It has been more than 2 years since my surgery, and almost three years since my stroke, but the emotions are still raw when I hear about people who are affected by heart or stroke-related illnesses.

Heart Disease is the nation's #1 leading cause of death and stroke is #3.  This is so frustrating because by making small changes in one's life, these numbers can decrease.  The American Heart Association just started a National Campaign to literally change and save lives:  the Go Red for Women:  Better U Campaign.

There are so many ways that you can make a difference for yourself and for the lives of others but for today, for right now, I am going to focus on wearing RED.  When I see people wearing red, I know that they are taking a stand against heart disease, heart-related problems, and stroke.  However, never has it meant so much to me as it did on Friday, 5 June 2009.  You see, my boyfriend, who literally saved my life on July 21, 2006 when I had my stroke, graduated with his PhD from MIT this past Friday.  MIT students have a tradition of decorating their caps with inventions - outrageous inventions.  However, when I saw Hector walking in his gown, hood, and cap, he did not have any kind of invention on his cap.  He looked grand, handsome, and all together serious as he stood out on Killian Court.  And as he caught my eye, he tipped his head...
Go_red and there it was.  The Red Dress that stands for everything that means life to me following my stroke and open heart surgery.

So join me and the American Heart Association's Better U Campaign.  Go Red, and live a healthier life. today.