I may be doomed to die young. This fact was made clear to me recently after my 61-year-old father had a heart attack. Fortunately, he survived, but I know that heart problems are often hereditary. So I telephoned my grandfather in Sweden last week to ask him if our family has a history of heart problems. I was shocked by what he told me.
His own father died of a heart attack at the age of 49 and I was stunned to learn that three of his brothers and one of his sisters had also died of heart attacks when they were even younger. Even my grandfather, who is 81, recently underwent heart surgery. I now want to understand how he has survived against the odds and perhaps more fully understand how I can improve my own chances of avoiding the same fate as so many members of my family.
My father suffered his heart attack on 1 October this year while he was at the gym. He was rushed to hospital where surgeons performed bypass surgery. Fortunately he made a speedy recovery and is now back on his feet. But why did he have a heart attack? He does not have an unhealthy lifestyle; he eats well and exercises regularly.
He suffered a heart attack because of his genetic make-up. His body is conditioned to suffer heart problems. The only reason he survived is because he is fit. I have since been studying the subject and have learned that I am also at risk. I now have to decide how to prepare for something that may be inevitable.
At the time my father had his heart attack I was training for my first half-marathon. This meant I was already in an intensive fitness regime. The news that my father had become ill further spurred me on to stick to my training, and on 2 December I completed the race.
Brian Tracy taught me the importance of discipline, something that I could not have completed the half-marathon without knowing. He says:
“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.”
I left Sweden 14 years ago, and since then have not remained in close contact with my grandfather. This was the first time we had spoken properly in over a year but I needed to pick up the phone and learn more about my family’s medical history. What he told me convinced me that I have to live a healthier life. I know that we will all die some day, but I also know that we can put that day off for as long as possible by getting more exercise and eating a healthier diet.
The combination of my father’s heart attack and the conversation I had with my grandfather gave me the push I needed to commit to a lifestyle change. I have since read books and articles on how a healthier lifestyle can help to prevent heart problems.
One of those books is ‘The Zone’ by Barry Sears. In it he describes how to revolutionise one’s life plan, how to lose weight and how to get the body and mind back into balance. From chapter one I knew that telephoning my grandfather had probably saved my life, and I am now getting the information I need to live a longer and happier life.
Like me, there is a history of heart attacks in Barry’s family. He explains that he is a genetic time-bomb and that his body is programmed in a way that makes it more likely he will suffer from heart disease when he is older. It was a shock to find out that I am the same. However, because I now know this I can face the fact and make the difficult choices that need to be made.
In the couple of weeks since completing the half-marathon I have found my discipline slipping. Although I have still been exercising several times a week, my diet is not as healthy as it was when I was training for the race. It is also Christmas, which doesn’t help!
My grandfather’s warning has pushed me back on track. I will be fitter, I will lose more weight, and will gain more strength. I have already signed up for my next half-marathon on 10 March 2013 in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I know that if I am to complete the race in a good time I will have to commit to regular training sessions, healthy food and almost no alcohol. I did it before, so I can do it again!
So, why do I push myself so hard to be fit? In the short term I just want to feel healthy. I now have more energy, I am happier and I can perform to a higher level. In the medium term my goal is to run a full marathon before my 40th birthday; and in the longer term, I want to live full life and be around to see my son graduate from university.
I have learned that it is only when we are pushed to the edge of a cliff that we are forced to change. It is only after knowing failure that we can decide on what needs to be changed in order to win. For me my father’s heart attack and what I was told by my grandfather were a stark warning. I am now determined to take control of my own destiny by changing the things I need to change now.
Fat before fit. Drunk before sober. Unhappy before happy. It seems like that we have to fail before we win.