ISSUE #8: Heart Disease & Genetics vs. Lifestyle & Being Fit vs. Being Health
Last week I mentioned that I’d share some kid-friendly tips in this issue. However, I had an email exchange this week regarding a topic that I think is more important; heart disease, which is America’s #1 killer. The email included the following quote from a reader, “I am a staunch person of faith who believes everything happens for a reason - and your newsletter came into my life just when I needed it.”
As someone who always worries that I’m invading your in box and “forcing” these ideas on my friends – most who never really asked to be on my mailing list – this email has me humbled. It also reinforces that I’m on the right path.
Obviously, these messages aren’t going to connect with everyone. If that’s the case with you, feel free to use the unsubscribe link at the bottom of this email. I WILL NOT be offended. Even if everyone unsubscribes and I’m just left with the reader above – and I'm able to help them – then it’ll all be worth it.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Here’s what initially prompted that email. Their spouse recently had triple bypass heart surgery, which came as a shock because they “always assumed, as a lifelong athlete, they would be somewhat immune from coronary artery disease.”
Unfortunately, we’ve been lulled to believe that we’re immune because we’re active. While that’s true to some degree, it’s also true that you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. I too used to live by John L. Parker Jr.’s adage in the cult classic Once a Runner, “If the furnace is hot enough, anything will burn” but that’s not the case anymore.
After receiving that email from my friend I came across this interview of Dave McGillivray, who’s the race director of the Boston Marathon. He started having heart issue in 2013 before he was even 60. “I was having difficulty breathing at the beginning of runs. It would last 10 to 15 minutes or so, then I would walk a bit, then continue running. It felt like I was running at altitude. Given my endurance history, this was embarrassing to me. I didn’t look forward to my runs anymore. I didn’t want to run with anyone else, which was a bit sad in itself. I wanted to protect “my little secret.” While I don’t wish this on anyone, I do appreciate Dave sharing his experience so that we can be on the lookout for similar symptoms in ourselves – or our training partners.
McGillivray went on to say that a CAT scan and angiogram showed severe blockage and chronic heart disease. He thought, “Really? Me? Someone who has covered 150,000 miles since he was 12 years old? That came as quite a shock to me.” I see a theme here; how can someone so active develop heart disease?
He started taking medication, made some lifestyle changes, lost weight, and thought it would be enough to avoid open-heart surgery. He was able to avoid it for 5 years, but not permanently. In 2018 he underwent surgery to fix an 80% blockage, as well as 2 other arteries that were blocked 40-50%.
The article also talks about his family history of heart disease and genetics being “stacked against” him. While I get that genetics play a role, we have to keep in mind that families grow up in the same environment and they eat the same foods. If everyone in your family eats terrible and they all have heart disease, is that genetics or lifestyle choices? As I’ve heard mentioned before, genetics just loads the gun, lifestyle choices pulls the trigger. So while genetics need to be considered, let’s make sure we’re not using them as an excuse.
I have a t-shirt that says, “The Fit Shall Inherit the Earth,” however, I think it should say, “The Healthy Shall Inherit the Earth.” Seriously, as I get older I hear of more and more fit runners dying before the age of 65. That’s way too young! And quite honestly, with many running friends in their 60s, I’m worried for them!
By the way, a Whole-Food, Plant-Based lifestyle is the only diet proven to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.
Recipe of the week:
Thank you for all the positive feedback I received regarding the chili recipe I shared a couple of weeks ago. Since it was such a hit, I am going to start sharing some more recipes. This week I’m going Mexican with a Black Bean Quinoa Enchilada Bake that I literally make once a week. While the recipe does call for cheese, I just leave it off and it’s still delicious. Here’s my secret twist, add a chipotle pepper in adobo sauce for a smoky taste – start with a little if you’re worried about overpowering the dish. Another option is to use green enchilada sauce instead of red. I like red the best, but will mix it up from time to time.
What I’ve been and watching and reading:
Last Sunday I read The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann. It’s a short parable about business (and life), which they boil down to 5 laws. I won’t give them all away, but, for example, the law of valuestates that your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment. I wouldn’t say it was earth-shattering advice, and I kind of saw the ending coming, however, it was a fun read that only took a couple of hours.
Here’s a fun, non-graphic video (2:20 long) about a new way to look at the dining experience.
“Every runner should understand that fitness and health are not the same thing. They’re connected in many ways, and higher fitness almost always means better health, but you can also have a long exercise history and still develop heart disease, like me.” – Dave McGillivray