Running toward prevention

In have a 5% chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.  That’s not so high, but it’s higher than I want it.  Most of that risk is due to my cholesterol and my age.  I can’t do anything about the latter, but the former is under my complete control.  Cholesterol medications can improve my cholesterol significantly.  So can proper diet and exercise.  That’s not true of everyone; some people will never improve without medication, but I’ve found that my numbers respond at least somewhat to lifestyle modification.

Around the same time I last checked my cholesterol, my wife was headed to Washington, D.C. to help out a friend at the Marine Corps marathon.  Her friend’s brother was a Marine Corps major and was killed in Iraq six years ago.  Needless to say, it wasn’t his heart.  He believed strongly in what he did, and gave his life for his Marines and his country.  His friends and family have honored his memory by raising money for injured Marines and their families, a sad necessity. In my daily work I see preventable death and illness every day, but not the kind caused by rockets and gunfire.  I was happy my wife could be in D.C. to help out.  I couldn’t be there, but I was at least helping others at home, helping to prevent illness and death.

But like many people who work for a living, I’ve sacrificed a bit of my own health along the way.  A colleague of mine, about 15 years my senior, had a major heart attack at work earlier in the year.  That scared me.

Last week I was at a party, a fund-raiser for local schools.  The hosts have a beautiful home.  Everyone looked lovely—on the outside.  I knew that many of them had had their own struggles: mastectomies, insulin pumps under their shirts, bypass scars hidden by high-neck blouses, tattoos from radiation therapy.  Everyone has a story, if they’re willing to tell it and you’re willing to listen, or even bother to ask.

As I thought about this, I stood and talked to one of our friends there.  He’s an avid runner, one of the crazy ones.  Like most runners, he’s happy to share advice about running and I drilled him on how to get started, especially with the Midwestern winter coming.

I don’t want to be a cautionary tale, a bugbear people invoke over donuts.  I resolved to cut my risks.  Many others can’t, but I can.  In the process, I can give encouragement to others.  I agreed to train for 10K so that I can run with my friends at next year’s Marine Corps Marathon.  I made plans to cut out one of my evening shifts to add sanity to my schedule, and to run mostly in the mornings.

I haven’t run in years, and was pretty apprehensive, but so far, so good.  The first run felt fine, but for days afterward, my quads and shins were a mess.  I couldn’t run again for several days.  But I’ve run several times since and I’ve seen clear improvement.

And mornings are beautiful.  The cold air is so clear.  I walk out and see Orion in front of me.  Deer scatter as I head down the road.  And it’s quiet.

I hope to hell I can keep this up, for my friends, for my family, and for myself.

10 Comments

  1. That’s great. I’m not able to run due to osteochondral lesions of the talus in my ankles but I use a stationary bike and also work out with a personal trainer.

    Do you belong to a gym or have exercise equipment at home so you can exercise when the weather is too lousy to run outside? I used to live in Michigan so I know what the weather is like in the winter.

    Anyway, it’s great that you are taking care of your health.

    • I planned for winter running. So far so good. No time at this point to go to a gym, so the walk out the door aspect is critical.

  2. D. C. Sessions

     /  December 3, 2011

    I’m on low-impact for the rest of my life, but I’m trying to make that a lot of low impact. Every morning I spend 45 minutes before breakfast in the room I have set up for exercise: stair machine, weights, and stationary bicycle — plus a wide-screen display for reading or movies to keep me from boredom.

    Works pretty well — I was back on the routine as soon as I was able to get the new knee on the bicycle. My problem here isn’t Michigan winters, it’s Arizona summers (for about six months) but I’d advise having an indoor alternative for when you can’t safely run. Given that one of my breaks from the routine workouts was a tibial fracture from slipping on ice …

  3. Dianne

     /  December 3, 2011

    the former is under my complete control

    I have some doubts about the “completely” part, but I’m glad your cholesterol is at least largely responsive to treatment. Be aware, though, exercise is, to some extent, addictive. I haven’t been able to exercise much for two days due to a virus and am truly cranky about now.

  4. Old Geezer

     /  December 3, 2011

    If you run enough times in succession it becomes a habit. It’s good to have a positive habit and one you look forward to. If you can find a non-competitive running partner to share your runs with it is even more fun and each of you will support the other on those days when you just don’t want to…

  5. Hey palmd if you’re gunna get into running now, you should learn the 100 Up method of running from what i understand. It lets your legs work as shock absorbers so you don’t injure yourself. From the research i’ve done (admittedly, only enough to figure out that it feels funny to jog like that but it doesn’t hurt after reading about it and trying it) it’s good for sustaining speed for long distances. You don’t need special shoes or anything.
    Here’s an article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/06/magazine/running-christopher-mcdougall.html?pagewanted=all

  6. I really wish I liked running. My Trophy Husband was a runner in college, and he makes it look easy. I just can’t help but hate it. Fortunately there’s enough snow out back to kick some classic tracks around the open space. (It’s too icy to ride my Midlife Crisis Bike!) Good luck!

  7. Claire H.

     /  December 9, 2011

    The first one isn’t bad; the second’s a bitch, and after the third you feel like this might work. As soon as I’m in working condition I would love to come visit and maybe you can take me for a run 🙂

    Love,
    Claire

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