The HeartSense Helpathon

Helping Each Other Have Good Health

The holidays and cold weather are upon us and with them come stress, overeating, bad food choices, and less incentive to exercise.  So HeartSense is fighting back.  Today we begin a helpathon, a series of blog posts, some by guest writers, some by me, on ways we can help each other be fit and prevent heart disease and other illnesses.  In the coming weeks we will discuss different types of exercise, eating healthy foods, losing weight, and throwing away stress. A couple of friends I talked with on Twitter prompted me to begin this series.  One asked my advice on how to lose the extra weight she has put on.  Another shared that he has felt overwhelmed and tired this month. In the midst of all our commitments to career, the holidays, family, friends, and special projects, we need to make time for ourselves.

Do you have tips you can share with the rest of us on exercising, eating right, busting stress, losing weight, staying serene and happy and healthy?  Please let us know in the comments below and in weeks to come.  I would love to hear from you. 

We who have experienced heart problems have much in common with our friends who have met the challenges of cancer. We all need to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Jody Schoger, a well-known cancer advocacy blogger and communications consultant with a passion for cycling and walking kicks off our Helpathon with the first of our posts on exercise.  Don’t be scared off by the distances and time Jody puts into cycling and walking.  Start the exercise habit and do it regularly, even for 20 to 30 minutes a day.  I think you’ll find the joy she gets from these great exercises.

Jody Schoger turned to exercise to help work her way out of two health issues as she explains below in her delightful account of becoming an accidental athlete.  She is now cancer-free after receiving a diagnosis of stage IIIB breast cancer in 1998 and she is a constant advocate for other survivors as a member of the Breast Health Collaborative of Texas, running a cancer support group, and helping plan Life Beyond Cancer’s annual survivorship conference. She explores healthy survivorship and women’s cancer issues at her blog Women With Cancer, http://womenwcancer.blogspot.com/.

The Accidental Athlete

Thirty years ago if someone told me I’d be cycling 170 miles over the course of two days I would have said:  Why? 

Why in the world would anyone want to subject themselves to something like that?

Today, at 57, my answer is “because I can.”  I am fit enough, in body and spirit, that I can cycle one mile after another in Texas where I live, up long, graded peaks in Colorado, or across the rolling hills of Iowa.  This is the measure of good health, a blessing I’ve had to work hard to first achieve and then, maintain.

By nature, I’m a sloughed.  I’m not at all coordinated, nor do I have any particular athletic gifts.  Let me be honest.  I don’t have any athletic gifts.  My greatest asset is the ability to put one foot in front of the other.  I can walk, I can ride a bike and I can usually have a big laugh at myself.   Given my preferences, I’d squirrel away the winter months under a down comforter with a pile of books, quilt projects, and some Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. 

But things change.  We grow up, we grow a little wiser.  With that comes understanding of who we are, the gifts we have, and how to make the best of them.  In my case, two different health conditions moved me forward – chronic depression and cancer.  I’ve been knee-deep in both.  The path through clinical depression following the death of my mother when I was in my early 30’s led to permanent changes that helped me cope with breast cancer a decade later.  My deep understanding of cancer’s emotional signature evolved from family history, beginning with the death of a beloved uncle from Hodgkin’s disease.  Both of my parents died of cancer before the age of 60.  My breast cancer appeared in 1998 and then my husband was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2001 and again in 2004. At some point in our lives, we need to re-learn how to take care of ourselves in the basic, essential ways, from healthy eating to a deeper look at how we think about and react to stress.  Therapy helps you haul off the real garbage and discover more creative ways to deal with daily debris. 

Helping Each Other Have Good Health

That is how I recovered from depression and how I recovered from cancer.  I walked my way through, and out of it.  The most empowering walk I’ve ever taken was the day I started chemotherapy.  My port had been installed.  I tucked the pump that would dole out adriamycin and cytoxin for three days into my overalls and set out for a walk.  Because I could.  It seemed bizarre, funny, and weird to me that I was out as plain as day, going about my business, and I was a cancer patient.  The thoughts didn’t all add up but that didn’t really matter.  The walk did.

I started a new garden.  I made a bucket list and started quilting, something I always wanted to do. I later switched from walking to cycling to cope with the side effects of a new treatment.  Cycling, since it is a more intense form of exercise, was the best thing I could do to combat the side effects of tamoxifen – severe hot flashes, depression, and thinking difficulties.

Following treatment, I started training for the Avon Three-Day, which is now run by Komen and less rigorous than it used to be.  In 2001 it was a sixty-mile walk, twenty miles a day for three consecutive days.  What a blast!  I followed their training plan, which was excellent. When I’m training for a cycling event I like to cycle four times a week (Mon, Wed., Fri., and Saturday) and walk on alternate days.  

The beauty of walking is you can do so any time of day, anywhere.  I usually take the dog out for at least an hour.  Our minimum walk is probably thirty minutes.  Cycling is more time-consuming but provides greater aerobic benefits.  My rides range from 20 – 45 miles, so the time spent ranges from 90 minutes to four hours.  You have to factor in traffic, stoplights, and pit stops.  On the weekends if I’m training for a specific event, I’ll travel to another location away from city traffic for greater stretches of highway.  In March my husband and I are traveling with a group from The Woodlands to cycle the wonderful expanses surrounding Big Bend National Park.  The weather should be perfect.

The key is to find an activity that you enjoy, know you’ll maintain, and works for your schedule. 

If you want to do the first best thing for your health, take a small step forward. Take a walk. Take a longer walk the next day. You’ll be amazed by the feel of fresh air pumping through your lungs, then suddenly realize that you’ve walked five miles and lost track of time.  Once this happens – and it will — if you keep taking those small steps – it is impossible to go back. 

 And please, take it from this accidental athlete, you won’t want to.