March is National Nutrition Month, but any small diet change can improve your heart health

The American Heart Association is using National Nutrition Month to help spread the word about the important role your diet plays in reducing your risk for a heart attack or stroke. In my new book, Optimize Your Heart, I spend a fair amount of time explaining caloric intake, macronutrients, micronutrients, fiber, water, etc, etc. I even point to the DASH diet as a great guide for anyone who needs structure and discipline in their diet. That said, even just a small change can be all you need to start eating more healthy. Here’s an extract from my book:

When I first changed my diet, I didn’t just go on a diet. I found them too overwhelming and quite tasteless. My tongue and brain had been used to delicious comfort foods for the better part of 40 years. Switching to a DASH diet overnight was going to set me up for failure, not success. Instead, I started with small changes to my diet. Whole wheat wraps instead of white bread. Veggies instead of fries. I even—dare I admit this as someone who lives in the South?—switched from sweet tea to unsweet tea. Mercy!

When I asked Lindsey Pine about this, I was thankful to hear that I had taken the best approach for switching to a heart-healthy diet. “You’re not destined to eat a boring, bland diet if you’re eating for heart health,” says Pine. “Make one change, conquer it, then move on to the next change to add on to your new healthier lifestyle.” She suggests slowly adding more vegetables, berries, and omega-3 rich foods such as salmon, nuts, and seeds. The good news is you don’t have to completely eliminate the tasty indulgences from your diet. “You can still eat treats. It’s about balancing those healthy foods with treats,” encourages Pine.

I could have posted this on March 1st and placed an entire month of healthy eating pressure in front of you, but I didn’t. Instead, use the remainder of March to make small changes to your diet and see what sticks.

Need an example of how you can still eat delicious food while making manageable changes? Take look at what I ate this week. Instead of a BLT dripping in mayo and accompanied by french fries, I ate this delicious Turkey BLT with spring onion aioli and a side salad. An easy and healthy switch!

Turkey BLT

Optimize Your Heart audiobook now available on Audible and Amazon

I’m excited to share the news that Optimize Your Heart is now available as an audiobook on both Amazon and Audible!

Jason Felisbret
Jason Felisbret narrator

While I contemplated narrating it myself, I realized that listeners would pay more attention to my Anglo-Southern accent than my advice for preventing a heart attack or stroke. Instead, I worked with the excellent Jason Felisbret–a professional book narrator, voiceover artist, and Air Force veteran–whose authoritative and soothing voice will entice you to listen to Optimize Your Heart in one sitting! He even delivered the corny humor, I sprinkle throughout the book, so well, he had me LOLing!

You can listen to the teaser audio here:

 

If you already have an Audible account–or considering getting one–you can found Optimize Your Heart on Audible. You can also buy the audiobook version of Optimize Your Heart through Amazon.

 

Wear Red on February 5th to raise awareness of women’s #1 killer

Prior to my heart attack and stroke, I always believed that the number one killer of women was cancer. While I continue to support groups such as Earlier.org, the American Heart Association has made me keenly aware that cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer of women, claiming the lives of one in three women. In fact,

  • CVD kills one woman about every 80 seconds.
  • CVD is the leading cause of all maternal death.
  • About four million stroke survivors alive today are women.
  • More younger women than men are having heart attacks.
  • New data suggests younger generations of women, Gen Z and Millennials, are less likely to be aware of their greatest health threat, including knowing the warning signs of heart attacks and strokes.
  • Over 40% (about 43%) of Hispanic adult women age 20+ have CVD.
  • More than half (57%) of black women have CVD.

I would not blame you for feeling sad and depressed by the above stats, so let’s move on to the good news: 80% of cardiac events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes such as moving more, eating smart, and managing blood pressure.

With that in mind, February 5th is Go Red for Women day. Now, I know what you are thinking! “But, Andy, I have enough on my schedule, please don’t tell me I have to walk a 5K or host a healthy cooking class on Feb 5th!”

Nope. Don’t worry. All I am asking you to do is a) wear something red on February 5th, b) read the Go Red for Women guide to women’s heart health, and c) share that link and/or a photo of you wearing red with the hashtag #WearRedDay (and if you are in the Triangle, NC area #GoRedTriangle).

Easy enough?

Please join me in sharing the message that heart disease is a big risk for all women, but is also something that can be prevented!

 

Listen to your cardiologist now so you don’t flatline later, a survivor’s story

One of my strongest motivations for writing Optimize Your Heart was to remind everyone that you are never too young to start thinking about your heart health. In fact, sometimes the warning signs can come so early that they can easily be dismissed because, well, you’re too young for it to be anything serious, right?

Dean S. was in excellent shape (a former competitive swimmer in college) yet started having warning signs at the age of 30. He recently bought my book and shared his personal story with me. With his permission, I am sharing it with you.

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“Nobody has a perfect heart. Most people don’t find out what’s wrong with theirs until something bad happens. You’re one of the lucky ones!”

That was my cardiologist.

I was 30 years old, in great physical shape, with no medical history that would indicate I was anything but a normal, healthy person. But there I was, talking to a cardiologist about fainting spells that had sporadically occurred since I was young.

heart flatlineTurns out I had vasovagal syncope hardwired into my heart – a condition that had gone undiagnosed until that point and a condition that made me a ticking time bomb. One day, because of it, he told me I would need a pacemaker. As a cocky 30-year-old, I refused to believe that, until one night, years later, when I went to the emergency room with chest pains. As I lay on a bed in one of the bays, an EKG operator on one side and a nurse on the other, I looked at my wife and said “I’m gonna pass out”.

What ensued after that (I am told) was 2 minutes of total chaos. Continue reading “Listen to your cardiologist now so you don’t flatline later, a survivor’s story”

Use prayer and meditation to lower your cardiovascular mortality by 30%!

As they prepped me for surgery, I watched the frenzy going on around me. I saw the anguish in my wife’s eyes but was not sure why. My brain could not comprehend even the simplest of questions asked of me during my evaluation, yet right before I was given the anesthetic that would send me into what could have been my final sleep, a sense of clarity and peace washed over me. I prayed to God that I trusted that my life was in His hands and if my time was up, then I look forward to being in His presence. God had other plans for me.

Not only did His plans include a miraculous recovery from a massive stroke but, two years later, He inspired me to write Optimize Your Heart as a practical guide to help others lower their risk for a heart attack or stroke. Those that know me well know that I am a faithful, albeit imperfect, follower of Christ. They also know that I am not the kind that will beat non-believers over the head with a Bible but instead follow Christ’s greatest of commandments:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

With that in mind, Optimize Your Heart is not written in a way that a non-believer should fear. I don’t have to continually quote scripture in order for you to see the miracle God has performed in my life. Yet, in the chapter about the importance of reducing stress, prayer and meditation is something that, anecdotally, many have found to be beneficial, but is also backed by science.

Prayer & Meditation – Spending time with God, or with your inner self, is a great way to block out the stress in your life and find peace. Prayer was the most important part of my stroke recovery and is key to Lisa O’Rear’s heart health, too. “Prayer and a relationship with God is what keeps me going,” explains O’Rear. “I survived my stroke because God is merciful and gracious. I do my best to cast all my doubts, worries, and fears upon Him.”

Heart health benefits also come from using meditation to help clear your mind at times of stress. A meta-analysis study led by Maxwell V. Rainforth, Ph.D. in 2007 found that meditation helped reduce stress, blood pressure, and lowered the risk of cardiovascular death by 30 percent.

The next time you feel your stress levels rise, find a quiet place, find a quiet voice, have a quiet conversation, and find a little peace.

 

Order Optimize Your Heart on Amazon Button
 

P.S. When deciding to write today’s post I grabbed my own copy of Optimize Your Heart and opened it to a random page. Not so random, as the selected page was about prayer and meditation. 🙏🏻

Set SMART goals as New Year’s Resolutions to increase success in 2021

With 2020 in the rearview mirror you may think that you are going to be unstoppable in 2021 and have new year’s resolutions in mind that, as of right now, you feel nothing is going to get in the way of you achieving!

Then, you wake up on January 1st and realize that it’s pretty much just like any other day. The calendar has changed but daily life goes on–and often gets in the way of that mega resolution you set to lose 50lbs, run a marathon, or squeeze back into the jeans you wore in college.

I’m not saying don’t aim for the stars. That kind of motivation is important. What I am saying is that you shouldn’t expect to change years–perhaps decades–of behavior in just 12 months, just because you assigned it the designation of a new year’s resolution. Instead, keep that 2021 new year’s resolution as 2020s “new decade’s resolution” and instead set a SMART goal for the coming year.

What is a SMART goal?

Below is an excerpt from my book Optimize Your Heart where I explain SMART goals and unpack them with you.

When it comes to setting your short-term goals, the American Council on Exercise recommends the SMART method: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

Specific – Don’t be ambiguous with what you wish to accomplish. Don’t just say, you want to “get healthy.” Instead, be more specific with your goal, such as “I want to run a 5K race.”

Measurable – Make sure your goal is something that can be easily measured. For example, don’t set a goal to “improve my cholesterol numbers” when you can set something more measurable, such as “I want to reduce my LDL cholesterol by 30 points.”

Attainable – Set a realistic goal. A good way to do that is to ask yourself, how attainable do I believe my goal is on a scale of 1 to 10? “I want to lose 20 pounds in one month” would probably score a 1 or a 2 out of 10, whereas “I want to lose 6 pounds over the next month” may be more achievable for you and thus score close to a 9 or 10.

Relevant – Running a race—of any distance—may not match up with your interests. You may have a knee injury that prevents you from even considering such a notion. Make sure your goal matches up with your motivation for optimizing your heart health. If you want to be able to go biking with your children, the goal of being able to cycle 10 miles in one outing is much more relevant.

Timely – Pick a timeline for any goal you set. Perhaps go as far as setting a timeline within a timeline. Anyone else recalling the movie “Inception” after that statement? If you want to lose 6 inches from your waist over the next 6 months, why not also set a goal of losing one inch each month?

As far as 2021’s new year’s resolutions go, picking something that is Attainable is probably the most important. Better to pick a resolution you confidently feel you can crush in 2021 than one that crushes your motivation because it was simply too unrealistic.

Get the Optimize Your Heart Fitness Journal to track your diet, exercise, and health over 90 days

Are you commencing to begin your new journey to better heart health but need a little helping keeping track of your progress? Perhaps you know you need a little accountability but prefer something private and tangible over an online, complex app. Either way, I am excited to announce the new Optimize Your Heart Fitness Journal!

Consider it a companion to my book, Optimize Your Heart (the title probably gave that away).

This 90-day exercise, food, and health journal is the perfect notebook for anyone looking to keep track of every success and stay accountable.

Studies show that it takes 66 days to form new habits. With the Optimize Your Heart Fitness Journal you get 90 days of tracking, journaling, and log keeping. Perfect for getting in shape and feeling and looking fabulous!

You’ll keep track of all aspects of your health, including:

  • Journal your daily aerobic, strength, and flexibility training
  • Track your diet by logging your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack foods and calories.
  • Measure your daily weight, blood pressure, and heart rate.
  • Monitor your sleep, energy, and hydration levels.

Get your copy of Optimize Your Heart Fitness Journal today and go from commencing to begin to ain’t no stopping me now!

Don’t let the COVID-19 pandemic stop you from a life-saving visit to your doctor or ER

With all of the reporting on how busy hospitals are handling the coronavirus, it can be easy to think that they will be too busy to help you with your own health issues. They are not!

WRAL News asked me to help spread this important reminder to go see your doctor, urgent care, or ER, should you have any health issues.

So, what did happen to me? Well back in August, I felt some strange tingling in the hand and foot on my right side. A few years ago, I would have ignored it. However, a stroke survivor is at higher risk of another stroke–and this was on the same side as my massive stroke in 2018–so I decided to quickly see my neurologist. Thankfully, the scans were all clear and we determined that the tingling was from mountain biking and excessive use of my computer’s trackpad (I was writing my book). A few small changes and the tingling went away.

It could have been much worse, so don’t ever delay your own personal health issue while you wait for COVID-19 to subside.

A 304 lb awakening helped a 40-year old optimize his heart & run the Boston Marathon

I have followed Gary Snow’s fitness efforts on Instagram for some time now. Once I learned that Snow had previously recognized his many risks for heart disease early and worked to optimize his heart health, I just had to include his story in my new book, Optimize Your Heart.

Below you’ll find select extracts from Chapter 4, where I use Snow’s efforts to turn motivation into goals and, finally, healthy habits.

For Gary Snow, an IT technician for a law enforcement agency, it was a realization that he had reached his highest weight of 304 pounds, had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even a fatty liver—all at the age of just 40. “My doctor told me that all my blood work indicated that I was not only morbidly obese but in severe danger of a heart attack,” recalls Snow. “I had to make a change or else I would likely not live to see my kids finish school or get married.”

Gary Snow started running races, from 5Ks to full marathons, to keep himself motivated towards better heart health. “My overarching goal, I think, is to continue to live healthy to be a good example to my children and those around me.” Snow continues, “As far as immediate goals, I always try to keep a race in front of me. Having something to train for helps keep me focused.”

“Just know that there are no shortcuts. The hardest part is taking that first step and keeping yourself determined to be a healthier you,” encourages Snow. At last check, he has lost over 110 pounds in the last six years, and has run both the Boston and New York marathons. Snow realized that, just like running a marathon, you often find even the most difficult journey is better when you use the help of others. “Surround yourself with a supportive network and lean on them when you need to.”

Great job Gary! Inspirational!

You can follow in Snow’s footsteps–running the Boston Marathon is optional–by picking up a copy of Optimize Your Heart.

If you have a story that you think will be an inspiration to others, please let me know!