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Episode 2 – From Heart Attack to Running and Golfing

Learn about the journey that our client Stephen went through from having a heart attack 18 months ago, to running, golfing without fear. An amazing journey of health improvement and happiness.

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READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE.

Ashley: Hello everyone, thank you so much for tuning in. Today’s second episode is a really special one and it’s something that’s really special to me. Because I have a client that I’ve been working with for quite some time and we’ve gone through an amazing journey together. And I wanted to use this as an opportunity to celebrate his accomplishments but then also as an opportunity to inspire others who are going through some of the similar challenges that he has. So I would love to welcome Stephen. Stephen, thank you so much for being on today’s episode.

Stephen: Happy to be here.

A: Awesome! So, would love to really get down and talk about your story and what led you to us getting acquainted and us working together. So if you could tell us a little bit more about yourself and how long we’ve been working together.

S: I guess we’ve been working together right about 18 months. I sought out some help getting in shape after a bit of a health situation. I had a heart attack and I was just transitioning out of the Cardio Rehab Program that they had. And certainly, your results or success is dependent on going through that process. And I wanted to be able to continue that but also with some supervision and somebody with a strong knowledge base to help me through that process which is what led me to you. You know, back when you had your brick and mortar operation going. You know it’s really been very beneficial for helping me stay on track and continue to recover as well.

A: Wow! So you had this pretty significant event that happened. That was, I mean it changed a lot, and eventually, you got out of this Cardiac Rehab which is no walk in the park. And it’s definitely when it comes to Cardiac Rehab, we need to make sure that you’re monitoring your vitals, your heart with your response to everything, and you got to a point where it’s you’re ready for the next step. And I do remember that conversation vividly and when we first met I was so excited. Because to be able to work with someone coming from your background and my knowledge in Cardiac Rehab, Orthopedics, and Athletics. I was really excited to be able to put all that knowledge to use and it was really exciting that we got together. Can you tell me a little bit more about what your life and health were like? Actually even prior to this event and then, what were you experiencing?

S: Yeah, sure! You know, like many guys getting into middle age, the weight had been creeping up. I had some lower back issues that popped up pretty regularly. Which could be pretty debilitating, kind of had me a little skittish about truly working out. You know, diet wasn’t great obviously. And my weight had really kind of crept up to actually just over 200 pounds at one point, which was a kind of a fair amount for my frame. You know, so I was still fairly active with a lot of walking every day prior to the heart attack. But you know, kind of the heart attack was definitely the eye opener that I needed to make some overall lifestyle changes to diet and exercise. I’ve always felt better when I’ve been exercising. So it was, in addition to kind of doing the rehab, needed to address the issues with the back as well. To really be able to kind of keep improving and keep progressing. So, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job with that. You know, the back still creeps up every now and then, but when it does, I now recognize what I’m doing. I have my regular back exercises that I do. Kind of from a maintenance and prevention standpoint and that’s enabled me to really, kind of go after it from the overall exercise standpoint.

A: For sure, yeah! You’ve certainly come a long way and the great thing is it’s not, it’s because of your hard work and your commitment to your health and to your ability to feel good. Let’s talk a little bit more about your back pain. Do you feel as if in the past that it was the back pain that actually limited your ability to exercise on a regular basis and be more active? Or do you think it was something else?

S: Yeah! Well, it was a combination I think. You know there are certainly some things that you know. Golfing, for instance. I’ve enjoyed golf, you know when I was younger. But really had essentially given it up because I just couldn’t do it with the back. It was just too much stress and strain, and that would usually trigger issues with the back. It was kind of, it was like the L3 – L4 and then the sciatic pain that would go down the legs when it flared up and it was just debilitating, to say the least. You know, so yeah! That certainly impacted. But diet, too much wine at night, and too much red meat through the week were certainly an equal or bigger contribution than just the back. But certainly, I had- I just kind of let myself go a little bit and as a result, I had an eye-opener certainly as to needed to get back and back on track and start taking better care of myself.

A: Yeah! And again it’s an amazing change that you made. You went from experiencing stability and back pain, also in addition to the fact of the accumulation of just eating and drinking all this and then leading to this event. But now we made some pretty solid changes and as a result, it’s pretty great. Because… Tell me a little bit more or tell the audience, tell us a little bit more about some of the things that you’ve gained, since us, over the past 18 months of us working together.

S: Yeah! I mean, well there have been you know many overall. You know certainly, you just feel so much better every day, about 25 pounds lighter, kind of redistributed some of that weight. Certainly gotten significantly stronger than I’ve been in years. As far as my cardio, you know, when we first started, we really had to watch the heart rate. It was still kind of on max heart rate restrictions, kind of had a pitch count. So we had to watch that while I was working out. That’s no longer an issue. The restriction has been completely lifted. But my heart rate, even when we were just doing something pretty light, it was- we were running up against that cap and now really, does my heart rate ever get up to that level? Even now I’ve been able to incorporate running into my exercise regimen now, which I haven’t done it in years. We’ve certainly been able to make it more efficient and heart rate now kind of tops out around 145, 150 and I can sustain that, for you know, half-hour, 40 minutes of running which is something I never dreamed I’d be able to do again. And you just, you know, you wake up every day feeling so much better. You know part of it’s the whole kind of holistic approach with the extra exercise. Some of the strength training, the functional strength training that we’ve done. And more important even the rehab, I find that with our weekly sessions to be tremendous. Anytime there’s something bothering me we get it under control quickly and that enables me to keep going without ever having to really stop and rehab. So it’s been yeah, the whole package has been great. You just, you feel so much better and you know, able to do anything. There were no restrictions at this point, which is not where I was 18 months ago.

A: Man, what a ride! It’s been from having a ton of these restrictions, keeping an eye on your heart rate, keeping it on how your back is doing. Now we’re at a point where you’re feeling great, lost 25 pounds, your back feels a lot better. You’re absolutely right. When we do get together, there’s an opportunity for us to discuss like, “Hey, how did the past week go? What are your biggest issues?” One of the things that I love about my job when it comes to us getting together, even on a virtual basis is, you can tell me the ache or pain or the flare-up that you have and we work through it together. Being able to see, “Does this feel better? Or does this not?”, and having that translate on over into everything that you do, and getting to the point where I think, we’re probably running a fair amount of probably a couple of times a week now this year so far, is that right?

S: Yeah! I am running a few days a week. And you know, certainly, when I first started, it was just, I kind of started with this run-walk program and oh man! I was gassed. You know, and now I can go out on the longer run and be going for, 40-45 minutes or more. So it’s a real testament to the ability to build up the overall stamina cardio and just the strength as well, which enables me to do it. So it’s been great.

A: Yeah! So there’s certainly been a lot of accomplishments, a lot of things gained during this. So if you were to highlight the biggest achievement, the biggest benefit that you’ve had over the past 18 months. What do you think that is? If you had to rank it.

S: Yeah! You know, I’m not sure. It’s the overall health, it’s just you know, feeling good every day. And really, the heart situation never even enters into the back of my mind at this point. I’m working out pretty hard, which has been thoroughly enjoyable. Yeah! I think it’s really just the overall transition. I’ve cleaned up the diet, you know I’m out doing something from a cardio standpoint every day and it’s enjoyable. If there’s a day where I’m doing more of a rest, you miss it. And you always feel better. You do feel better after exercising and I now have the ability to do it without worrying about any aches and pains. It’s been a, we’ve had a clean well-defined program that we’ve been following and it’s been great because it’s not something I’ve really had the ability to do on my own. When we first started the relationship, it was kind of, back when it was the brick and mortar, back in Hoboken. The transition to the virtual as a result of the pandemic, it’s been pretty seamless, which I guess is probably the biggest surprise for me. So it’s been great.

A: Yeah! For those who are listening, Stephen and I, we started getting together at the beginning of 2020 and I was actually living in California at the time and the brick and mortar gym was in Hoboken. So Stephen and I actually had the opportunity to get connected and talk over the phone, but he was working with another coach of ours. But then with the pandemic happening, I realized that it’s important for us to be able to work with our clients individually and provide the most important aspects of what is needed for their health. So whether it be, in Stephen’s case, strength training, keeping an eye on the cardio as well but then also monitoring the back issues. Being able to have that seamless transition from in-person to virtual was really key to keeping the continuity through this. 

Now Stephen, you talked about one of the big things about cleaning up your diet. So tell us a little bit more about what you were, what it was like before you had your big event, and tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing now, from that from an eating standpoint.

S: Yeah! You know, it was the diet, I definitely slept. Probably eating out a little too much, too much in the way of fried foods, too much and I certainly enjoy red meat and I was not afraid to have it. That took a toll on my blood work. You’d show up with the cholesterol and everything and I’ve really kind of cleaned everything up. I enjoy fish, we’ve really cut there, I haven’t cut the red meat out entirely but I mean, I still have red meat now and then because it’s good. But actually, eat a lot more fish, eat a lot more lean proteins, certainly up the vegetable intake, which has been good, it’s benefited me certainly from the weight. I’ve dropped a few inches off the waistline, which is nice, and you always feel better.

A: Awesome! Yeah! You know, I love red meat myself and I would say that one of the things that I’m very proud of over this pandemic was my ability to cook a really good steak. And my wife and I were gonna go out to dinner and there’s a… I usually, when we go to a restaurant like an American restaurant, I usually go with the steak. But because we’ve been cooking rib eyes and everything at home really well, I’m gonna end up going towards something else. But you pose a really great point about the fact that we don’t necessarily have to eat red meat as often. And in fact, I mean, I know for me, I love eating. So when I eat more vegetables, I can prolong the eating experience, which is really really helpful. 

Throughout all this, I mean what’s interesting is that making changes to any part of your life is a challenge. And what I find is when people go to, from say one extreme to the other, it becomes very challenging. There might be some fast results, but then the ability to sustain it is a little bit more challenging. One of the things that I find that you do a particularly good job with is staying consistent. So what do you think helped you stay consistent throughout this entire process or throughout the past 18 months?

S: Yeah! You know, I guess from a diet standpoint. I guess I just try and hold myself a little more accountable by logging the foods that I have in my fitness app. You know, I’m not counting calories. I’m not even counting the macros or anything. I’m not on a diet per se, as much as just eating healthier, and following much more of just a heart-healthy type diet. And then just, but I do find for me, just logging or tracking the foods and going back and looking at it every week or so. So you know where just kind of, where you are from a general standpoint. It helps form a little accountability. 

For the exercise, on that part of it, I’ve been incorporating the running and kind of tracking that, just trying to build up some stamina, kind of a running program. And then the weight training, it’s you know, following the app and the exercise routines that we’ve set up there. You know, but just having that kind of programming, I guess, what you’re going to be doing. But you know, I’m not a slave to any of it either. If there’s a day that I missed and so be it, you just keep going. But just having some of that consistency has been beneficial and I always feel better after exercise. So why not feel good?

A: So it seems as if this consistency is kind of driven by your, in a way of like a self-reflection, self-awareness of being able to, I mean, even from a nutrition standpoint, just looking at what you’re eating, already changes your behaviors. But then even on an exercise standpoint, listening to how your body feels. If your body feels amazing after exercise, then in a way, we technically will stop at nothing to feel good. Because it seems like you know the benefits of what you’re doing with that. So that level of awareness, of how you feel with everything that you’re doing is huge throughout this entire process. And that is one of the great things about us, as Physical Therapists, Strength Coaches, is being able to provide that vessel, that opportunity, where you have a program to follow. So there’s very little room or wiggle room to just talk yourself out of it but then also provide you that structure, that is really helpful, especially from a consistency standpoint. Because there’s so many other responsibilities that we have in life, there’s so many other things, and to have to think about, “Well, what am I gonna do for a workout today? What am I gonna do from my eating standpoint?” It can make things pretty challenging, is that correct?

S: Yeah! Just the fact that I’m out there searching every app in the world, trying to find the next great exercise routine because we already have something that’s there. What I particularly like about the program that we’ve been utilizing, is the ability to customize it based on how I’m feeling that week. If I have some mobility issues in the hips then you immediately change it up and gives me the ability to work on that and keep moving. So having the consistency but also that maintenance as we go along, I think has been pretty beneficial.

A: So consistency, maintenance, keeping everything in together. But then ultimately, the ability to apply it to you and what you need is definitely a really important thing. Because of the fact that there are so many different programs that are out there that you can just follow from an excel spreadsheet or even just you can search for exercises for back pain or sciatica or even like, “How can I improve my hips?”. But one of the big challenges is that you’re looking at this article that’s meant to speak to millions of people or a super generalized program. But we’re actually able to get down to the bottom of a lot of the problems. So instead of having to spend a lot of time trying to figure stuff out on your own, we get on with our weekly meetings and our sessions and we actually work this stuff out and all of a sudden, in a matter of a few minutes, we can make you feel a lot better and have you get back into doing everything that you love.

S: Yeah! That really comes through every week, when we have those virtual sessions. Just how quickly the little nicks and dings get addressed so that I can keep progressing. So it’s been great and I appreciate it.

A: Absolutely! And I am so happy to be working with you. So we reflected on the past, we’re talking about like, what you’re doing right now. Let’s talk about the future, what are you looking most forward to? Just like a future standpoint in regards to your health, what are you looking to achieve? What’s on the horizon for you?

S: Yeah! You know, I get, well, I guess part of the future, I’ve been able to, whereas in the past, due to the back issues, I had given up golf. Well I’m now playing golf again, just starting to try and play again. So that’s been very enjoyable. I’m actually down in Florida, relaxing with some golf right now. And also next year, I’m gonna be getting back out there, looking forward to getting back out there and skiing. Which is something I’ve always done and really enjoyed, that had kind of been curtailed a little bit. But you know, now getting back in shape, feeling so much healthier. I’m just looking forward to getting back out there and leading a much more active lifestyle than I feel I had been doing prior to 18 months ago.

A: Cool, yeah. So getting you back into golf, would you say now, it’s just like relearning, making sure that you’re able to clean up your technique a little bit. And so then that way, you can end up hitting that 300-yard drive.

S: Yeah! Hardly, only if it’s in the cart, I’ll drive up to 300 and drop. Yeah! Basically, I really haven’t played in four or five years. So I’m just kind of starting from the ground up and trying to relearn the swing, trying to get some consistency. I guess the nice thing now is, I’m not worried about swinging and pushing myself. Looking forward to it, I’m still just kind of working on the swing and looking forward to getting out on the golf course here in the next week or so, to actually play around.

A: Awesome! And we were actually getting you somewhat ready to actually even hit the mountains. But unfortunately because of the pandemic, going to the mountain was just an unrealistic part of it. So I’m really excited later this year at the winter 2021 – 22, get you back on the slopes and enjoying the great outdoors and doing that without having to worry about being in shape or having to worry about your knees or your back. So that’s really really exciting to hear. 

Now Stephen, if there are people or there are some people out there who are kind of going through the same starting journey that you were at before, so for someone who wasn’t in the previous situation that you’re in, do you have any words of encouragement or advice for them when it comes to getting back on track or making changes towards their health?

S: Yeah! I guess, for me, I think the hardest part was really just starting it right? I mean starting the process and then sustaining. I think in the past, maybe there’s a number of times where I’ve started working out, maybe push it a little too hard out of the gate and then next thing you know you’re kind of on the shelf again. I think the difference here is that I’ve been able to start and then we have the ability to address those aches and pains that creep up for me, pushing it a little too much from time to time. Keeping it under control so that I’m able to sustain it all the way through. The tough part is starting it and then getting to the point where it becomes part of your regular routine and just following through because it’s enjoyable.

A: For sure. I enjoy working with you Stephen and it’s great. Now with that being the case, getting started is probably one of the hardest things, it’s the hardest hill. So do you think it’s helpful to actually even ask for someone with their expertise to force some help, to guide them through, even just the beginning stages of this journey?

S: Yeah! I mean absolutely! I always know I have a weekly session with you, to keep the process going forward. So there’s a level of accountability that comes with just having the appointment. We’re able to set some goals, reevaluate those goals as we go, make changes to the program on the fly. And I think that brings additional accountability for myself and just having the appointments and having the process and that’s been very beneficial. I’m not searching for answers because I know I have a resource that provides those answers. And it enables me to continue on down that. Down the line of being healthy.

A: Very cool, Stephen. This is great. So for those who are listening, if you’re going through a similar beginning stage that Stephen went through, the hardest part is gonna be getting started. And there’s a lot of different obstacles underway, but the key thing is that there’s people that are there to help you, whether it be myself, whether it be a trainer or another Physical Therapist. There are people who are there to support you throughout this entire process and that you don’t have to go through this alone. As you’ve heard, Stephen said that one of the things that he really enjoys is the fact that we meet on a weekly basis. So we’re able to one, reflect on how the week has been, reflect on how he’s feeling. But then the biggest part is being able to take the necessary action steps that are gonna be able to facilitate even more change while also being consistent. And there’s gonna be barriers along the way, but the thing is you’re not in this journey alone. 

So Stephen, thank you so much for letting me take this journey with you. It’s exciting, it’s so great to see and I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to being on this episode. So thank you so much and I’ll see you next week.

S: Absolutely, been a pleasure. Thanks so much.

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