Think heart attacks hit only fat, old smokers? Think again

Published: Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The face of a heart attack is not at all what I thought it was.

It's much, much scarier.

There I was, marching along on the treadmill during one of my twice-weekly CHIP (Cardiovascular Health Improvement Program) workouts, when I started to chat with the really fit-looking guy on the treadmill next to me who had just stopped running.

I told him that I couldn't wait to run, something I've always wanted to do.

Neither could he, he admitted, but he had to build up to it.

So I couldn't help but ask him how he got involved in the CHIP program.

Turns out that, at the age of 43, he had suffered his second heart attack. He'd had his first one three years ago, a month before his 40th birthday. His second was last January when the stent that he had received his first time around gave out.

I'm just happy I didn't fall off the treadmill when he told me that.

Angelo is a 43-year-old RCMP officer.

He doesn't have a history of heart disease in his family.

He hadn't smoked in 10 years.

And he was only about 15 pounds overweight.

But the combination of a high-stress job and really poor eating habits contributed to his suffering his first heart attack.

When I asked him whether he was nervous about exercising, he just laughed.

"What are you going to do?" he asked rhetorically. "Stay home and cry about it? You've got to keep living."

Angelo isn't the only one in my group to have suffered a heart attack at such a young age. Tony, another member of our group, had his at 48.

Most people tend to think that people who have heart attacks are seriously overweight, older and smokers. But that's just not the case.

"We're seeing more and more young people coming to the program," CHIP counsellor Sabrina Pillay told me. "And we're seeing a lot more women in their late 40s and early 50s."

Pillay says stress is a big factor. "More and more of them are in high-stress jobs and just don't have the time to take care of their health."

Not all the men in my group have had heart attacks. A couple of them are there for prevention, because they know that their lifestyles could stand some improvement.

After meeting Angelo, it seems to me that that's a pretty good idea.

Teens Adam and Katina are still going strong.

Katina Goulakos, 15.
Adam Manning, 15.

The hot and humid days we've had lately have left them both a little less than enthusiastic about playing outdoor sports, but both survived the experience.

Katina had a good time at the recent cooking classes they attended at Loblaws. She liked the breakfast sessions, where they learned how to make healthy versions of things like smoothies, muffins and an omelette, her particular favourite.

"It was really neat because it had a Mexican twist to it," she told me, laughing, "with a tortilla and salsa and vegetables, and it was so good - and it was something I would have never tried before."

Adam, on the other hand, loved the food-court outing, which Katina unfortunately had to miss.

After a nutrition session on eating out, the group of 23 kids went to the food court at the Eaton Centre and, bearing in mind what they had learned, chose a meal that they liked. Their choices were then reviewed by one of the nutritionists on hand.

Adam chose well. While he may have thought about the fries and pizza, he settled for a chicken wrap and a fruit smoothie.

All the kids did fairly well. Let's hope they continue that when not under the scrutiny of the nutrition police!

Feeling good

This summer has been amazing. I feel so much healthier and better about myself. My confidence has increased so much and I have a completely new outlook on life. When I first came to camp, I wasn't really sure that's how I wanted to spend my summer, but I'm so happy I did. Today I was on the treadmill; the old me would have stopped in the middle of it but I kept telling myself not to give up and I didn't and it made me feel so good. My family and friends have been so supportive. They try not to eat "fatty" foods around me and tell me to keep it up because I'm doing so well. I know they believe in me and that's why I am not giving up. It looks a lot harder than it is, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.

Ah, that smoothie