Have you ever experienced a heart attack or a severe case of angina. Let me describe it to you.
I had my first “episode” back in the early nineties, I was 42 at the time. I was in high-tech sales, a pressure-cooker for stress. I was also in a local political race and the election was one week away. I was severely out of shape, not overweight, but sedentary.
I had just returned to my office from a sales call. I took off my coat and I felt a sharp pain run down my left arm. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. It was like a red hot iron rod running down the inside of my arm. My chest was feeling tight, like my rib cage just became two-sizes too small for my body. My breathing was now labored. I felt myself breaking into a cold sweat. All of this came on me in about 30 seconds.
Because I am a man, I didn’t call 911 (I don’t stop to ask directions either), I calmly put on my suit coat and told my secretary I was leaving for another sales call. Then I drove myself to a hospital where they whisked me away to the Emergency Room. They immediately hooked me up to every conceivable contraption and they confirmed that I was having a heart attack. I do not recall my blood pressure, but my heart rate, at rest, was 140. I wasn’t having a good day. (weeks later I discovered I was the third sales exec to have a heart attack in my office that month)
Eventually they were able to get me back to normal. I was blessed that there was no evidence of any damage done to my heart. Weeks later I was subjected to a stress test and medication was prescribed to suppress my heart rate.
Since that time I have had a couple of other episodes, such that I now know that all the factors that put me over the edge are behavioral. Too much work stress, not taking vacations. Staying up late and not getting sufficient rest. Too much news and talk radio. Not eating well. Consuming excessive volumes of caffeine (like 6 shots of espresso send me into atrial fibrillation). Not getting any real exercise.
It’s all about misplaced priorities. We tend to say the things that are important are A,B & C; and then we get distracted and act on X,Y & Z. We have become subjugated to the tyranny of the urgent, at the expense of what is truly important.
I have made a concerted effort to ovecome all of those behavioral issues over the past 15 months, and as a result I have been able to reduce medication by 2/3rds.
You may be asking why I am writing about this, well once you have experienced the pain and fear of a heart attack, you are ever vigilant, not wanting to experience it again. You have heightened awareness regarding any irregularity with your heart. Every time you push yourself physically you have a little part of your brain, sitting back observing what is happening. This was particularly obvious to me when I began doing CrossFit. Any cardio or MetCon taxes me, but it is good. I know my heart is stronger. I know that the impact of physical stress from exercise is beneficial, while the emotional stress of work or sleep deprivation are deadly.
So when I am doing 40 Burpees, swinging kettle-bells for 20 minutes, or doing 30 snatches I experience pain. Some of it is exhaustion. Some of it is a desperate shortness of breath due to the exercise. But the chest pain is sweet. It is pectoral muscles being pushed, pulled and twisted for the first time in decades. I’ll take all the pain CrossFit can dish out on the outside of my ribcage, to keep the pain away on the inside.