Saying “No” to the Big One

If you are fortunate enough to remember the old ’70s sit-com, “Sanford and Son”, you will remember how the main character, Fred G. Sanford, the old junk dealer would call out to his deceased wife, Elizabeth, grab his chest, feigning a heart attack after the realization of some troubling situation.

“It’s the big one! You hear that, Elizabeth?  I’m comin’ to join you!” These exclamations were heard frequently during the course of the series.  While his phony heart attacks were hilarious in the series, I was reminded of the serious nature of these events when a friend of mind told me about an uncle who just had a heart attack over the weekend.  This uncle, who was in his late 40’s, he explained, appeared to be almost 10 years older as a result of being overweight and from smoking multiple packs of cigarettes everyday.

It is upsetting when anyone has a heart attack and people usually link words like “unfortunate” and “premature” to deaths resulting from heart attacks.  But in reality according to the CDC, heart disease, along with cancer and strokes account for over 50% of all deaths in the US.  These deaths are considered in many cases preventable, and are due in large part to “four modifiable health risk behaviors—lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use, and excessive alcohol consumption”.

This means to give the “Big One” a slip and reduce your chances of dying from one of these forms of death:

  • Get Moving.  Begin and maintain a habit of rigorous physical activity, such as a regular exercise routine or physical work
  • Review your diet.  Increase the amount of vegetables, fruit, fish, lean meat and foods rich in Omega-3’s. Reduce the amount of processed meats and carbohydrates, deep fried foods, sugar, artificial sweeteners.
  • Cut out the tobacco. Quit smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco
  • Limit alcohol use to no more than an ounce daily for women and two ounces for men.

Back in the mid-nineties I worked with a guy who was in his late 30’s who already had two heart attacks. By the time I met him he had lost a significant amount of weight.  My own father died at 61 of a massive heart attack.  While he was physically strong, he didn’t do any regular exercise and he chain smoked a few packs of non-filtered Lucky Strikes everyday. Not exactly a winning combination for longevity.

I became convinced early on that if there were things that I could do to keep from cashing in my chips early, I would do it.  When doctors discovered that I had high cholesterol when I was in my mid 30’s, I avoided the prospect of being on medication for the rest of my life by starting a body building regimen, and dramatically altering my diet.  When I turned 50 I was diagnosed with liver disease and early stages of kidney failure.  My doctor, Bruce Corwin, MD, told me these were reversible and I decided to take him up on that and for a whole year I stepped up my game.  Exactly one year later, he gave me a clean bill of heath and said that there was no sign of the diseases.  All this through physical training roughly 3 times per week and tightening up on my diet.

While there is no guarantee that any of those chronic conditions may still affect you, it is still better to take control of your own health.  You cannot control everything, such as unknown genetic issues that may up and bite you in the rear.  However, by developing strong fitness habits that literally only take minutes per week and reworking your eating habits, you can potentially hold off the Grim Reaper just a little longer and add to the quality of your life, as you are able to continue enjoying youthful activities such as dancing, hiking and sex.

(Ironically, Redd Foxx, who played Fred Sanford, passed away at the age of 68 in real life from an actual heart attack on the set of another sitcom in the early nineties.)

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