Family History of Cardiovascular
By Budd Coates - from
The last thing a guy wants to be called
is a mama's boy. He wants to be a man, just like his dad. Well, for me and my
four siblings, maybe not. My dad died of heart disease at age 43. Up until that
time, he smoked, drank alcohol in excess, and ate poorly. Then there's my mom.
Though she always struggled with high cholesterol and blood pressure, she drank
moderately, quit smoking more than 30 years ago, and after my dad died, cleaned
up her diet and started exercising. In fact, in October, she won the 80-to-89
age group at a local 5-K. Fellow racers commented to me, "Now we know where you
get it." Maybe being a mama's boy isn't so bad.
I began running in
high school and continued when I went to college. Over the next 20 years I
applied the principles I had learned studying exercise physiology to my
running, which helped me clock a 2:13:02 PR at the 1983 Boston Marathon and
qualify for four Olympic Marathon Trials. Still, due to my genetics, my total
cholesterol always hovered in the borderline-high area.
reached 40, and my daughter and son became more active, there was less time for
Dad to train: I dropped from logging 90 to 110 miles a week to 45 to 60-still
high for most people, but about a 50 percent decrease for me. I also let my
diet slide. On hectic days, fast food replaced healthy, homemade meals. My
weight increased almost 10 percent and my total cholesterol rose 20 percent. At
43, the age my father was when he died, I got an electrocardiogram and stress
test. I passed with flying colors and felt relief. But I shouldn't have.
Had it not been for my job as
director of employee health and fitness at Rodale Inc. (publisher of Runner's
World), I wouldn't have known about a new test for gauging early heart disease:
the 64-Slice CT scan. This cutting-edge, noninvasive heart scan takes multiple,
finely layered, 3-D images of your heart, which can alert doctors to otherwise
undetectable soft plaque (which can cause blood clots that lead to heart
attacks). Studies have shown that this scan is 90 percent accurate at detecting
blockages. And so, in 2006, our company teamed up with Arthur Agatston, M.D.,
cardiologist and author of The South Beach Heart Program, to offer this test to
employees as part of our annual health screening. Dr. Agatston contends that
early detection of heart disease (using this test) and aggressive prevention
(using diet, exercise, and medication when required) will make heart attacks a
thing of the past.
In March, at age 49, I went to Dr.
Agat<00AD>ston's office in Miami to receive a full workup. The heart scan
procedure was simple: I was injected with a dye to make my blood vessels more
visible and was slid into a scanner as an X ray spun around me, capturing
images of my body. The process took less than 10 minutes. Then I repeated the
exams I had six years earlier-a treadmill stress test and electrocardiogram (as
well as a carotid-artery ultrasound). All three indicated that my blood flow
was strong-no sign of obstructions.
Later the same day, Dr. Agatston gave
me the results of the scan, which revealed plaque buildup in one artery,
something the other tests had missed. Bad news. Dr. Agatston suggested a
statin, a prescription medication, to reduce the plaque and lower my
cholesterol (236). Familiar with the drug's possible side effects (see "Pills
to Pop," page 42), I asked for a more natural plan of attack. Dr. Agatston told
me to improve my diet and supplement it with fish oil (which contains
heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids), and also recommended I exercise more. He
said whatever I could add to my routine would be helpful, so I started doing
My new routine
had immediate benefits. For almost 10 years I had coped with an arthritic joint
in my second toe. Going down stairs first thing in the morning was
unbearable-until the end of the second week of my new diet. I got to the bottom
of the stairs one morning and realized that I had actually walked down, not
eased down with the help of the banister. Turns out, not only are omega-3s
proven to lower cholesterol, they are also effective at offsetting arthritis.
Six weeks into my new lifestyle, my total cholesterol dropped 20
units, I lost three pounds, and my running improved. Because my toe was no
longer painful, I could do more speedwork. I ran a four-mile race and finished
in 21:24; it was the first time in four years I dropped under 22 minutes. Three
weeks later and another two pounds lighter, I ran a half-marathon three and a
half minutes faster than the year before. I had always known that running was
good for my health, but I had forgotten that "good health" was also good for my
running. My preventive measures seemed to be working, and I was preparing to
schedule CT scans for some of our employees. I told my younger brother Mike
about the test as well.
Take This to Heart
Countless times I expressed concern about my 41-year-old brother's weight, lack
of exercise, and poor diet. On September 23, Mike had a heart attack. Doctors
found two obstructions: One artery was clogged 75 percent, the other 50
percent. He had surgery to clear the blockages and was sent on his way with
instructions to exercise and eat better. High levels of undetected soft plaque
were in his vessels, however, and on October 5, he suffered another heart
attack, this time fatal. The wrong brother got the heart scan.
Mike gotten the 64-Slice CT scan at his last physical exam (which was a year
before he died), he probably would have known just how advanced his disease
was. He probably would have taken more serious steps to overhaul his
lifestyle-if not for himself, then for his wife and four kids.
have a family history of heart disease, insist on receiving the CT scan-even if
it's not covered by your insurance. Sure, the $1,000 price tag seems steep, but
think about how much you've spent on running shoes and apparel over the years.
Spend the money on yourself. Don't forget your running partner, spouse, or
sibling, either. Be as relentless as you are in the final stretch of a race.
Your heart is worth the extra effort.
Copyright © 2006
Rodale Inc. All rights reserved.