In the ‘month of love’ we see stylised hearts everywhere. To most people they’re just a cheesy marketing gimmick, and most of us don’t even think of
the real thing. Until, that is, it skips a beat – or stops.
‘Be gentle with my heart / it’s been broken and torn apart …’ So sings Natasha – and so says everyone who’s recovered (or is recovering) from a heart attack. And Valentine-themed February is a good time to take stock of that awesome and astoundingly efficient muscle in our chests constantly beating out the rhythm of our lives – especially if it has ‘been broken and torn apart’.
According to statistics released by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, five people have a heart attack every hour in South Africa. Scary stats. And, okay, we all know that a healthy lifestyle and plenty of exercise are essential ingredients for preventing heart attacks and other health issues – but what if the ‘horse has already bolted’? Is there any value in closing that stable door?
The answer is an unequivocal – but qualified – yes!
There’s nothing like a near-death experience to get you to reassess your values – and your lifestyle – and a cardiac incident is a ‘message from the heart’ to let you know it’s time to take control of your life – and lifestyle. But it is tempting to overcompensate, so probably the one message you should ‘take to heart’ is to ‘listen to your heart’ – and to your doctor.
A study of 1,574 patients at the Johannesburg Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre from its inception in September 1982 to July 1988 showed that cardiac rehabilitation was definitely effective in prolonging life and improving quality of life – but that it was not without its risks.
During the course of the 480,000 person-hours of exercise accumulated by the 1,574 participants, there were four episodes of cardiac arrest – three of which were fatal. That’s not a lot – it’s one heart attack in 120,000 patient-hours of exercise, and one death for every 160,000 patient-hours. Those are good odds, but they indicate that exercise after any form of cardiac event is not without its risks. So don’t go it alone, don’t be tough, don’t be macho, get professional advice, don’t overdo it, and listen to your doctor. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
It’s easy to fall into a pit of despair and think your life is over, but it isn’t. Cardiac rehabilitation really works. A different study – also at the Johannesburg Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre – documents 387 patients between June 1986 and July 1988. Most had had a heart attack and/or a bypass. The stats are interesting. On admission, 73% of participants smoked, 26% had high blood pressure, and 34% had high cholesterol. Fifty per cent dropped out, but those who stuck with the programme showed significant weight loss, lowered cholesterol, and increase in peak oxygen uptake (probably largely due to cutting out the ciggies).
The programme was multi-pronged: diet, exercise, stress management, and – possibly the hardest one for the addicts – quitting tobacco. Most importantly, it was not seen as an alternative to medical treatment but as complementary. Cardiac rehab is a combination of lifestyle and medical interventions. It’s likely to involve a team of experts including, but not limited to, cardiologists, biokineticists, dieticians, occupational therapists and/or psychologists.
And the good news for people living in residential estates – most of which have networks of safe, scenic walking paths – is that walking is possibly one of the very best cardiac rehab exercises.
Cardiac rehab really works, and it’s never too late to start. Find out more by chatting to your health care provider, and check out the list of Heart and Stroke Foundation-approved practitioners (www.heartfoundation.co.za/heart-support-directory).
The traditional Valentine ‘heart’ is not based on the shape of an actual physical heart, but on the shape of a woman’s butt – a very perky woman’s butt. Which kind of works anyhow, as the lifestyle choices for a healthy heart are much the same as those to develop – and keep – a perky butt.
• Don’t blame yourself. Accept the changes you need to make, but don’t give in to guilt.
• Take it slowly – it’s a long game.
• Don’t try to do it alone – accept the support of family and friends, and the advice and assistance of knowledgeable professionals.
• Listen to your heart – stop if you feel remotely uncomfortable.
• Make it fun. Explore your estate or any other safe, scenic spots, look at birds, admire the scenery, learn to identify the plants. Maybe get a dog.