They say that every cloud has a silver lining, but heart attacks sure seem like a stretch. Can anything positive come out of these life-threatening incidents?
Just ask Raffy Espiritu. Since suffering a heart attack last year, the 43-year-old Vancouverite has picked up these easy tips for getting more active and eating healthier, one small step at a time:
How to get some easy exercise
Walk to lunch
“Don’t take your car, just walk,” Raffy suggests. If you brown-bagged it, walk to a park bench a few blocks away. Or choose a restaurant, cafe or grocery store a few blocks from your office to eat your meal. Getting up from your desk and out of the office will help clear your head and renew your focus. Even a few minutes of light exercise like this can work wonders on your mood and physical health. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, guys who walk 5 city blocks in a day lower their risk of heart attack by 25 percent.
You should be dancing
A regular at hip-hop dance classes, Raffy says his heart attack made him realize that “life is finite and very precious. Now I’m the kind of person who’s not afraid to express myself or have fun in the studio. I have one life to lead, so I just put it all out there.”
Of course, you don’t have to join a class to get your groove on. Kick off your shoes, turn up your favourite tunes, and dance like nobody is watching. (The cat doesn’t count) Turns out that 30 minutes of getting jiggy burns up to 300 calories. Add your significant other to the groovy mix, and you could end up burning even more calories in the boudoir.
Take the stairs
Swap the elevator or escalator for the stairs at work, as Raffy suggests, and you’ll burn around 10 calories per minute while strengthening the biggest muscles in your legs. If a climb takes five minutes, and you make the climb twice a day — when you arrive and after lunch, let’s say — you’ll burn around 100 calories and slide a 10-minute workout seamlessly into your schedule without any fancy equipment or a gym membership.
How to eat healthier
Swap fries for salad
“Now I’m eating a lot more salads,” says Raffy, who mostly goes with healthy greens, not fatty fries as a side dish at home or when eating out. A side of fries contains about 300 calories and 20 grams of fat, while a fresh and crunchy side chef salad with vinaigrette dressing has a third the calories, nearly a tenth of the fat, and is packed with vitamins and fibre.
Avoid the vending machine
“I’m definitely more aware that eating too much sugar can be bad for you, and that fresh foods are better for you than foods filled with preservatives,” Raffy says. One easy way to dial down your sugar intake and favour fresh foods is to buy healthy snacks at the supermarket or corner store instead of turning to vending machines. Swapping potato chips for nuts, cookies for bananas, and pop for club soda, for example, will make a big difference to your weight and overall health in the long run.
“I want to enjoy life, and part of that is being compassionate with myself,” Raffy says. “I’m more aware of what I’m eating, but I’m also not going to stress about it. If you really want a bag of chips or a scoop of ice cream, then go for it. Just recognize that you’re rewarding yourself, and it shouldn’t be an everyday thing.”
Believe it or not, research suggests that treating yourself once in a while helps you stick to a healthy eating plan. Controlling cravings isn’t easy, and if you never satisfy those cravings it can be tempting to bail out completely. You’re only human, right? But if you know a well-earned reward is just around the corner, it’s easier to stay the course.
“If you’re doing more for your health today than you did yesterday, pat yourself on the back and keep doing what you’re doing,” says Raffy, whose inspiring full story you can read here. “My doctors told me that some of my heart attack was due to unhealthy habits — my diet could have been better, and I used to smoke. They also told me that by building up my arteries with regular exercise, I had actually saved my own life. That blew my mind!”
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Adam Bisby is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and father of two. He’s been covering men’s health for over 20 years. As well as researching and blogging for Don’t Change Much since 2015, Adam’s award-winning work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and National Post newspapers.