February is the month where we turn attention to affairs of the heart. Of course, there is Valentine’s Day on the 14th, but it is also American Heart Month, designed to raise awareness about heart disease and how you can prevent it.
Today s post, is written by Dr. Bob Murray, co-author of Food & Fitness After 50, and he shares his personal story of open-heart surgery and coming back strong.
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, accounting for over 600,000 deaths each year. Heart disease is an umbrella term for a number of heart ailments that include coronary artery disease (the most common heart disease), problems with heart rhythm (arrhythmias due to electrical problems), congenital heart defects (heart problems that we’re born with), aortic aneurysm (enlarged, weakened aorta which is the main artery in the body), heart failure (due to fluid accumulation in other parts of the body), and cardiomyopathy (enlarged, stiff heart muscle).
When heart disease is identified, there are many interventions, some of them surgical, that can address the problem, saving countless lives each year. For example, coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque (cholesterol and other substances) in the coronary arteries that feed the heart cells. Too much plaque narrows the arteries (atherosclerosis) and restricts blood flow, causing angina and eventually a heart attack, often with permanent damage and weakening of the heart in those who survive. Healthy diet and lifestyle habits (no smoking), regular exercise, and medications are the go-to steps for treating coronary artery disease. When the arteries are too clogged, bypass surgery or the placement of stents to widen the arteries are common surgical procedures.
Open-heart surgery is a common procedure and not just for coronary artery disease. For example, Bob had an electrical problem (persistent atrial fibrillation), Ed had a plumbing problem (coronary artery disease), and John had a mechanical problem (congenital valve defect). All three needed open-heart surgery to fix their problems.
There are many ways our hearts can malfunction, and when open-heart surgery is needed, this life-saving procedure takes a short-term toll on mental, physical, and emotional health, not to mention a reduction in physical activity that can quickly erode fitness. Many people who have had open-heart surgery say that it takes at least six months to feel normal again. Six months can feel like an eternity for active people who are anxious to return to their normal activities as soon as possible. That desire can help people adhere to healthy diet and activity guidelines following open-heart surgery, but as Bob, Ed, and John can each attest, doing too much too soon can prolong the recovery process.
Our bodies are capable of overcoming the trauma of horrific accidents and major surgeries—if given enough time and the right approach to recovery. Damaged tissues and a traumatized nervous system require time to heal, a gradual process that can be spurred along with good nutrition, ample rest, and the right amount of physical activity: not too much, not too little. Pushing too hard, too soon stresses cells that are still healing, slowing the repair process and possibly causing even more damage. The same is true with the nervous system. The soreness and exhaustion we feel after surgeries and illnesses are important signals for the need to rest and allow healing to occur unimpeded.
Whether it’s major surgery, a sprained ankle, the flu, or chemotherapy, periodic setbacks to health are a fact of life. As we age, such setbacks become more challenging, especially for those with existing health problems. Bob, Ed, and John returned to their active lifestyles, although each complained that their recovery took longer than they had hoped. And each admitted that trying to do too much, too soon likely made their recovery more difficult. Bob relied on a combination of swimming, bicycling, and strength training to return to a new normal, a stop-and-start-again process that took at least two years. Ed was the quickest to get back to normal function; Ed gradually increased his walking, chores, and weight lifting over six months and that approach did the trick. John bicycled and strength trained, gradually increasing the duration and intensity of his efforts, paying the price of daily exhaustion whenever he overdid it. A year or so post-surgery, John was able to exercise normally, and his aches and pains disappeared.
Recovering from a major illness or surgery not only takes time, it also takes patience. We can help our bodies recover through proper diet, light activity, and especially rest, but we must remain patient enough to allow our bodies to recover at their own pace.
For more information on optimal nutrition and exercise check out our new Food & Fitness After 50 web page.
Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.