My Beautiful Heart ????

February 14, 2019

An echocardiogram technician told me I have a beautiful heart and that got me going. What makes for good heart health? What role do genetics, lifestyle, and environment play?

Dr. Erica Pitsch talks about the Framingham Heart Study, John talks about congestive heart failure and Mended Hearts, and Saurabh shares how yoga and meditation help his stress level and coping with myotonic muscular dystrophy. For additional tips on heart health, check out the Harvard Heart Letter.

Earlier podcast episodes you may find of interest:


Welcome to Glass Half Full with Leslie Krongold she shares her stories experiences and knowledge of living and coping with a chronic health condition learn about tools and resources and hear inspirational interviews that help you to live a life filled with quality and dignity with two decades of support group leadership Leslie’s ready to help you make lemonade out of life’s lemons are you ready are you ready every year there are a few diagnostic tests i need because of my myotonic dystrophy some of these tests are to monitor my heart because many of us with myotonic dystrophy have electrical conduction issues and eventually require a pacemaker a couple of weeks ago i was at my local Kaiser Permanente hospital getting an echocardiogram if you’re unfamiliar with this test it’s not painful it’s just a bit awkward you lay or lie half naked on your side the technician rubs something like Vaseline on your upper body and presses deeply with a probe while looking at a screen displaying your beating heart my session lasted for about 30 minutes

Mary Lou, my echo echocardiogram technician, commented that i had a beautiful heart this was a surprise i didn’t interpret it as a flirtation but a great conversation starter i asked her what other hearts look like what made mine so beautiful she told me about dirty looking hearts from years of smoking she sees a lot of hearts and assured me that there are many differences i envisioned her writing poetry based on the beating heart she looks at for hours and hours each week later that day as i swelled with the news about my beautiful heart i realized valentine’s day was approaching and that’s how this episode came about i suspect the health of our hearts is due to many factors some genetics some lifestyle choices and some environmental factors we have little control over according to the American Heart Association ideal cardiovascular health is a combination of four healthy behaviors and three health measurements the behaviors are not smoking maintaining a healthy weight exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet the measurements include total cholesterol under 200 milligrams per deciliter blood pressure under 120 over 80. and fasting blood sugar under 100

Not adhering to those guidelines can result in all sorts of problems including heart failure stroke diabetes and the list goes on in fact in a recent issue of the university of California Berkeley wellness letter there’s an article about the relationship between heart health and brain health many studies have found that cardiovascular risk factors in middle age are associated with the likelihood of developing dementia later in life back to the behaviors i don’t have anything to say about smoking or healthy weight but diet and exercise are something I can speak to

You can probably find many dietary plans focused on heart health on the internet in producing some of the newsletters i read i found something about nuts this is based on a Swedish study that found people who snack on nuts three or more times each week had a lower risk of atrial fibrillation so add nuts to your diet in an Australian study with nearly 1 000 older women those that ate three or more servings of vegetables each day fared better than those who ate two or fewer servings each day the study also found cruciferous vegetables that would be like broccoli cauliflower those were the most beneficial one of my favorite newsletters is Dr. Andrew Weil self-healing a few years ago in an article titled rethinking dietary fats and heart health he gave a thumbs up to butter and a thumbs down to red meat and processed meats in terms of their impact on cardiovascular health in the tufts university health and nutrition letter i made a minute study with middle-aged men those who ate higher amounts of protein were at a higher risk of heart failure than those who ate less protein and i think we’re really talking about animal protein so maybe just maybe my heart is beautiful because i gave up meat over 30 years ago

Enough about diet let’s turn to physical activity physical therapy professor Erica Pitsch at the UCSF school of medicine had this to say during a recent interview i’ve seen a lot of people that you know it was multiple diagnoses that have a good exercise ethic and they tend to fare better and there was actually a study number of years ago called the Framingham heart study which followed people for decades and people who exercise have less probability of dying of anything and was it in general thousands of people in the city yeah oh no in the us okay yeah great this is yeah it’s called the Framingham oh now i gotta google it now Framingham heart study but yeah no it’s it’s the exercise improves overall survival in general you can find the link to the Framingham study on the glass cellphone website as well as links to two previous podcast episodes with professor Pitsch one is about stroke survival and the other episode is all about balance and falling i admit it’s difficult to glean the best dietary advice from research since one month there’s a study that finds eating eggs to be nutritious and the next month there’s another study advising against eating eggs but with physical exercise it seems fairly conclusive that movement is key whether it’s walking working out at a gym or just remaining active in your home doing chores in 2017 there was the PURE study and PURE is an acronym for prospective urban rural epidemiology study it was written about by the American college of cardiology and the article library found that just 150 minutes of physical activity each week reduces cardiovascular disease and deaths so i mean ultimately you’re still going to die but during the study’s time there was an eminence of prolonged life when compared with a group of people not exercising for at least 150 minutes per week okay so that’s 22 minutes of exercise each day i can do that are you up for that challenge let that be your valentine’s day gift to yourself and your loved ones

As i mentioned we don’t have complete control over all the factors that may result in heart complications my beautiful heart may have benefited from my father’s genetics because i know my mom’s genetics passed on the myotonic dystrophy gene

For this episode i wanted to include a few people i know with heart conditions the first is John, a retired attorney in Oakland, who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2017. I met John on a patient advisory council and Kaiser Permanente for the previous really year i had been declining in terms of my ability to breathe and my ability to walk in distance at all i used to be a backpacker and I could walk you know five or six miles a day with 50 pounds on my back at altitude and that was that was great it was one of my favorite things to do and gradually i began having less and less ability to walk until it got to the point where i really couldn’t walk more than maybe 100 yards or something without having to stop for breath so any one night i was in bed laying on my back and i felt that i didn’t i couldn’t breathe i mean i had to breathe but i didn’t have enough air so my wife suggested i go in which i should have done a long time ago but it just never occurred to me that i had a heart thing because I’ve always been healthy and right away they figured it out that i had what’s called congestive heart failure which means that the heart is not pumping efficiently so what that meant and why i felt an air hunger was that i had a lot of fluid in my lungs the heart wasn’t pushing the fluid throughout the body and my lungs were filled with fluid and that’s why i couldn’t get enough air to feel like i could properly breathe a lot of heart people with congestive heart failure they have to sleep at a recline or even sitting up for that reason so it’s a life-threatening thing it’s it’s it’s not uncommon and uh and they have a whole great big protocol at Kaiser to to deal with it and they have done that and I’ve been treated quite well and they put in a device which regulates my ventricles the lower chambers of the heart to get them to be synchronous which is one of my problems was they were beating a different time and then if I’m at a higher risk to go down with a with a heart attack so it has a defibrillator built into the device that i carry around in my chest with wires that go down into the heart to pick up the electrical information from the heart and put it into the computer and you know and it does its job and one of our advisory council meetings where we both volunteer at Kaiser John mentioned a group he attends mended hearts so i asked him about it you can go on their website it’s a national organization and it was started in Oakland by a cardiologist at Sutter hospital and i haven’t learned all the things that they do but the things that i have learned are they have a meeting once a month they bring in a speaker of some sort or some sort of a presentation sometimes it has to do with hearts and sometimes it has to do with something else like the last one was about you know life enhancement one of these life coach people and so she put on her talk that’s one piece of it the other piece obviously is that it’s a sort of an affinity group where people who have some kind of a heart issue go to meet other people who have some kind of a heart issue so that was actually the reason that i was interested in it was some peer contacts with people the third thing that they do is is they have a visitation program so you’re trained as a visitor you have to learn different things that they want you to know about like you know HIPPA rules and the things that you do and don’t say to a patient and you don’t comment on their treatment or whether that’s good or bad various things like that and so what happens is you sign up and you go like four hours a week and you just show up the nurses on the floor have already asked different people well there’s somebody from men at hearts coming would you like to talk to him or her and they say yes or no so once that’s happened then you show up and the nurse says the lady in room 13 wants to talk to you and that’s what you do is you go in there and just talk so it’s obviously a support kind of a thing but the idea behind it is that if you’re a person who has some heart condition and you’re in the hospital you’re an inpatient it’s really helpful to have somebody who’s also had some kind of a heart condition come and talk to you up here not one of the medical people i think that’s the biggest thing is the visitation

i asked john how this experience has changed his life and what he now does to remain healthy they did a bunch of expensive things for me they did a catheterization where they run a camera on the end of a wire up into your heart and somehow manipulated around the different arteries to see whether there’s any kind of a blockage there was none i didn’t have any disease in my arteries so that was good because it wasn’t like okay well if you start eating this strictly vegan diet and leave out all of these different things which i really really didn’t want to do then you can you know maybe turn this around and i didn’t i wasn’t in that category they have a heart health nurse at Kaiser and she goes over all of the things that you should be doing and gives you a pretty extensive booklet about it you know like no salt and avoid this and that alcohol is one of the big ones no smoking that sort of thing so i now take about six seven pills every day that are for my heart to help it get work better not get better but work better and then when they put that device in my chest they told me that you know in around six months you’re going to start feeling a lot better and that is true i now I’m able to go to yoga twice a week for an hour and a half and today’s my yoga day and then I’ve started recently a personal training program at the y in an ideal case i’ll be able to go to the y three days a week and then i can use the swimming pool there and swim so i can have a lot of activity and i do have a lot of activity that’s what I’m doing right now and you know i just feel better i have more spring in my step people look at me and say there’s more color in my face my wife says well you’re standing up straighter and you don’t have a furrowed brow all the time and so yeah you look a lot better you know and that’s true i feel a whole lot better i don’t feel normal in terms of you know how i felt 10 years ago or but you know i do feel but for the fact that i that i tire easily i would feel pretty normal i don’t have any other issues during the day well thanks to modern medicine huh you bet yeah you bet and modern medicine has really come a long way i remember when i was growing up in the 70s hearing about so many men who died from heart attacks my own father had a heart attack close to 20 years ago he’s still thriving with the help of stents and drugs i also had uncles on my mother’s side of the family who died from sudden heart failure which was the common way people with myotonic dystrophy died which brings me back to the echocardiogram in kg and halter monitor i wear every year to see how my heart is doing in an earlier podcast episode all about adventure Rob who has myotonic dystrophy and his share of heart issues celebrated his recovery from cardiac surgery by climbing mount Everest now his story admit is a bit extreme but there are others in my patient community that are also thriving in spite of cardiac issues Saurabh who lives in San Francisco and works in the financial industry has a pacemaker he practices yoga and meditation to mitigate stress which exacerbates his heart condition and he also sees an ayurvedic practitioner as well as western doctors his treatment also includes an ayurvedic supplement called arjuna which is from the bark of the arjuna tree by the way ironically storm only lives a few miles from me but the phone connection had interference I’m trying to reduce some of the noise yeah so i was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy in 2009 they pretty much had told me when i got diagnosed the most people who get this diagnosis tend to have heart issues and on the subsequent followers of cardiologists i had electrical conduction problems and they said they would need to follow up with me uh every six months yeah i was diagnosed with a problem called injured flutter initially which is irregular heartbeat and so i had to go and get a surgery done which corrected that but that led to a another form of irregular heart rate heat which is very common with people 60 years and older when i was 30 in that age as for literal population with atrial fibrillation i had to go on meditation because people with natural population tend to be at the highest stroke and i would follow up every six months around the heartbeat at some point time i started getting shot disease and my cardiologist suggested getting a photo monitor done for about two weeks and those two weeks the device that they put on me if i had a disease file which is supposed to press the button and when the results came out and i pressed the button when i was getting those dizzy spells they figured out that my heart was missing at that point time and because of the missing piece they decided to go in for the basement i don’t do a lot specifically for my heart health but i do things which try and be the healthier life overall this would also help my heart i exercise i do yoga and i also try and get some cardio exercises and uh you know i think the problem is the conduction problem so i definitely take that into account and not take my heart rate up too high when i exercise that you know i also meditate to keep stress away because i realize my regular beats were definitely [ __ ] up a lot around stressful situations so i meditate and that helps me manage my stress i did speak to an ayurvedic practitioner she suggested a medicine called arjuna which is supposed to protect your heart health in general use it as a substitute for anything in normal school um it’s easier to have it as a capsule there’s so much more to explore about the heart for example i wanted to include the role love and intimacy may play with heart health but i just didn’t have the time but i invite you to listen to an earlier podcast episode for valentine’s day with Dr. Danielle the link is on the Glass Half Full website and Dr. Sheypuk who holds the title of sexpert for the disabled community introduces the topic of dateable self-esteem the episode is called sassy in a wheelchair and now my valentine’s day gift to you

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