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May 19, 2012

Heartbreaker

Thirteen years ago today, my dad died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was 61 years old. Sometimes it feels like yesterday; sometimes it feels like a lifetime ago.

For me, grief has been a good teacher. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that life can change on a dime. So when things seem to be going well and rolling along, I always try to remain humble and grateful because you never know what’s coming next.

My dad’s favorite view from the deck of my parents’ house

The other invaluable lesson is that your health is everything. As someone who now has a family history of heart disease, I’d like to share with you some staggering facts. Each year, the American Heart Association (AHA), in conjunction with the CDC, the NIH, and other government agencies, compiles the most up-to-date statistics on cardiovascular disease (which includes heart disease and stroke).

From the 2012 report:

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.  It kills 800,000 Americans a year.
  • In 2008, it accounted for 1 of every 3 deaths.
  • On the basis of 2008 mortality rate data, more than 2,200 Americans die of CVD each day, an average of 1 death every 39 seconds.
  • In 2008, CVD killed about 150,000 Americans who were 65 years old or younger.

Major risk factors that you can control with behavior modifications and/or medicine:

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

I think pipe smoking and lack of regular aerobic exercise were the nails in my dad’s coffin. The scary part is that he had had a physical a few weeks before he passed away, and he passed those tests—including blood pressure and an EKG—with flying colors.

Take it to heart

Believe me, I haven’t turned into a vegan triathlete with a Type B personality. But I don’t eat burgers everyday either. Although marathon training in 2010 was admittedly more extreme than my normal routine, I’ve found that moderation is key.

So I’m about to head out for a leisurely run on this sunny Saturday afternoon. It’s my way of celebrating my dad’s life while walking the talk.