Dick Clark died April 18, 2012 of a massive heart attack. He was 82 years old and is considered America’s “oldest living teenager.” My question is, could his heart attack have been avoided? Could mine–or yours? Heart disease remains the number one killer in America. It steals the quality of our lives and takes our loved ones from us too, too soon.
We can’t get around the facts. Americans suffer some of the highest heart disease rates in large part due to our issues with obesity and lack of exercise. I’m the first to admit that it’s tough to get in shape, to give up certain foods and hit the gym on a regular basis, but I also know after witnessing heart disease with my dad that heart disease doesn’t just kill you fast, it’s something you suffer with, something that impacts the quality of your life for years, something that can alter your loved ones and caregivers lives.
If you remember, Dick Clark suffered a stroke back in 2004, which meant had arteriosclerosis. It silenced the voice we had grown to love and count on. What you may not know is that he also had type 2 diabetes. “Two-thirds of people who have diabetes die of either heart disease or stroke,” Dick Clark shared a few years ago. “That was enough for me to stand up and say, ‘Whoa, I’m in that group…’ ”
Dick Clark is truly representative of what is happening in America, and especially to our men. Dick Clark wasn’t particularly heavy, so is heart disease and all of its “side dishes” (strokes, diabetes) come with just the “build-up” (literally) of life? Just how hard do we have to work at staying healthy to avoid this early killer?
Do we give up fat? Meat? Salt? What else? Do we hit the gym 30 minutes a day? One, two hours? What’s it going to take? Diligence, yes, but also a bit of know-how. Quality of life over quantity.
First, *and I can only speak for myself, it’s time to drop all processed foods. They’re simply no good. I heard Heidi Klum say recently that she “avoids anything that comes out of a box or a bag.” I also need to have a few meatless days a week, but it’s not just about going meatless, it’s also about what you replace that meat with–heart healthy beans and steamed or roasted veggies.
What stands in my way?
Stress and exhaustion.
I reach for the bag or the box, for the greasy/juicy hamburger when I’m tired, when I’ve worked too long, when I’ve let regret and worry (living in the past or in the future avalanche my thoughts and bury my body in oh so familiar bad habits.
As I grow older I am even more aware of how much I value sleep and how being crazy-busy (as I used to like to call it as if it were a badge I wore proudly) just isn’t cutting it any more. I used to equate busy with important, but even I no longer believe my own lies (illusions).
I’ve also found that I can’t bully myself into a healthier lifestyle.
It’s got to be about joy, not guilt or shame.
Eating beautiful, clean foods. Learning to celebrate with a bowl of cherries and a handful of almonds instead of a red velvet cheesecake (the occasional bite is fine, but restaurants won’t bring you just a bite!)
It’s about dancing any hour of the day (I take Zumba classes). It’s about long walks, meandering bike rides, and even a few challenges–signing up for a 5-K.
It’s about laughing, and recognizing stress and exhaustion before it’s tied me to its bumper and taken me on a cross-country tour. It’s about turning OFF the media and crawling into bed for a glorious night’s sleep BEFORE I fall asleep on the couch at midnight in a TV remote surfing coma.
It’s about being content, letting go, forgiving, and loving what is. I still struggle, still get worked up, still default into panic mode, but I am finding that it’s lost its appeal. I’d rather lay down my frantic thoughts. I’d rather not get worked up about what s0-and-so said. More often than before, I’m choosing quiet joy.
I know that something–heart disease, Alzheimer’s, who knows what–will eventually get me. We don’t just die. We die of something, but that something doesn’t have to live with me and rob me of precious years, even decades. I’ve always said I want to go out big–a bungee cord that snaps or the rip cord that doesn’t rip when I’m 92. I want my friends to spread the word of my demise by saying, “You’ll never guess how the ole’ gal left this world…”
Can I prevent my own heart attack? Can you prevent yours? Is it too late?
No, I don’t think it’s too late, but it does take the proverbial wake-up call. It does take a deep, life-changing/thought-changing jolt that reminds us again and again, even when we’re tired, even when we’re stressed, to make that first, and then another, and then hundreds of little choices and changes, not simply to avoid “the big one,” but to live now–cleaner, sweeter and simpler.
I miss Dick Clark already, but I realize now that I’ve missed Dick since 2004–eight years that “America’s eternal teenager” struggled with the ripple-effect of America’s number one disease. Dick, I danced to American Bandstand all those years ago and in my heart we’ll always dance.
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