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Heart Health: Exercise Helped When a Dreaded Fear Became Real

three women after race

That Friday evening began like any other. When Deb C. (middle) sat down to watch “Jeopardy!” she had no idea how scary things were about to get.

“I started having all the classic symptoms of a heart attack,” says Deb, who was 57 at the time. “I felt like someone was sitting on my chest and someone was squeezing my heart. Then my left arm started tingling. I knew right away, and I said to my husband, ‘I’m having a heart attack.’”

Deb was right. Her quick thinking helped save her life, and so did her history of being in excellent physical condition from years of running and working out at a fitness studio.

Deb, a schoolteacher, spent the weekend in the hospital and is recovering through thrice-weekly visits to cardiac rehabilitation. She hopes to get back to running and working out within a few months.

As shocking as the heart attack was, Deb says she had been preparing for something like it. Both her parents had heart disease, and that was part of her motivation for staying physically fit. 

Raise Heart Health Awareness This Month

February is American Heart Month to promote awareness of heart health and help prevent heart disease.

“There’s a lot you can do to prevent heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States,” says the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “You and your friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues can begin by working together to meet your heart health goals. Move more, work on your weight and salt intake, quit smoking — it’s all easier when you have social support.”

Exercise is super-important to maintaining a healthy heart.

As the institute says, “The good news is you can lower many heart disease risk factors such as ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels, increase ‘good’ HDL cholesterol levels, and manage high blood pressure by simply moving more. Aim for at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) each week.

“Exercising with a friend, family, or co-worker makes sticking to these activities easier.”

For instance, you can:

  • Take a yoga or fitness class with a friend. You can even take a virtual class online with a friend in another city.
  • Work on your fitness goals with your spouse or roommate.
  • Go for a daily walk with a neighbor.

‘Think About What You’re Doing’

Deb knew all of that, and she exercised almost every day. She was in small-group fitness training at a local studio. She even ran two marathons.

Deb’s father had died of a heart attack at age 50. Heart disease plagued her mother, as well.

“It was in my genetics,” Deb says – and she was determined to take care of herself to prevent or minimize health problems. “But I didn’t expect it to happen this early.”

Of course, it could have happened earlier or been much worse.

Medical staff told Deb her healthy lifestyle was a bonus in her recovery, and she believes it helped save her life that day.

The small-group training has been invaluable, she says – strengthening her core, building her knowledge, and even leading her to become a yoga and spin-class instructor part-time.

“I’m hoping to get people thinking more seriously about their health,” she says. “Think about what you’re doing and how you take care of yourself.”

Talk to me to learn more about how exercising regularly can strengthen your heart health. And see your doctor if you have any medical questions. Take the time to learn so you can enjoy the time to live.

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