Recovering From Open-Heart Surgery

One of my friends is in pretty impressive condition but when you know what he has gone through, the condition he is in is nothing less than awe-inspiring. Here is the story:

About seven years ago, I was diagnosed with severe mitral valve regurgitation. This means that my mitral valve, the most important of the four valves in the heart, was not closing properly and a significant amount of blood was flowing backwards into the left atrium. This, in turn, forced the heart to work harder and was causing it to enlarge. If left untreated, this would have eventually led to congestive heart failure and an early death. So, basically, I had only one choice: open-heart surgery.

Luckily, my cardiologist had trained at the Mayo Clinic, the finest hospital in the United States, and he referred me to the best heart surgeon at that hospital. While many surgeons treat leaky mitral valves by replacing them with artificial valves, my surgeon used a technique whereby he fixed my native valve by carefully trimming the excess tissue and inserting a ring around the valve to prevent it from enlarging. By repairing rather than replacing the valve, my surgeon saved me from a lifetime of taking blood thinners (which pose a definite risk of stroke and other complications).

I was 39 at the time of my surgery and I was in excellent physical condition, so I was not particularly worried about whether or not I could bear the surgery. And I had an insurance policy that would cover the surgery, which cost a total of US$63,000. Needless to say, as an American, this was no trifling concern.

When I woke from the surgery in the step-down unit, I was literally a different person. You cannot have your sternum sawed down the middle and your heart stopped for 20 minutes without it having some deep effect on your being, even if you have no conscious recollection of it. I was up on my feet 24 hours after the surgery and I remember shuffling to the bathroom in my room and looking at myself. I had a strip of tape down the middle of my chest. And I felt like I had been run over by a Mack truck. But, I was alive.

I stayed in the hospital for four days and then I was released to a nearby hotel. I remember stepping out of the door of the hospital for the first time. It was fall and the cold Minnesota wind seemed to blow right through me. I know right then that I was much, much weaker than I had been when I walked into the hospital.

But, when I got home, I started my rehabilitation right away. I went for walks in the woods, going a little further and a little faster each time. I also did breathing exercises with a device that the hospital had given me.

Then, exactly one month to the day after my surgery, I climbed a small 350-meter mountain near my house that I used to climb every day before my surgery. I climbed at a snail’s pace and I stopped frequently for rests, but I made it. For me, that marked a major step in my recovery. From that point on, I stopped thinking of myself as an invalid and started to think of myself as a normal person.

Slowly I stepped up my workouts, adding swimming and biking to my usual hiking routine. While I feel that I have lost about 10% of my former aerobic capacity, most likely due to deformation of the left ventricle that occurred prior to my surgery, I don’t feel any major deficits. And I take no medicine and require no special precautions in any activities.

Since my surgery, I have climbed 4095-meter Mt Kinabalu in Borneo, and I have crossed a 4700-meter pass in the Himalayas with a heavy pack. I felt no unusual strain and I feel like I could probably get up to 6000 meters given enough time to acclimatize.

In closing, my advice to anyone considering mitral valve surgery is this: Find the very best surgeon you can. Go for a repair rather than a replacement. And, whatever you do, don’t think for a moment that open-heart surgery means the end of your active sporting life. After open-heart surgery you can run marathons, climb mountains and live life to the fullest.

Walking to Washboard Abs

A couple of years ago I conducted yet another one of my little experiments. I set out to see how effective walking workouts are in terms of fat loss.

Now, I was already pretty lean at that time. I guess, I must have been around 12% body fat but the “ripped” or “cut” look still eluded me.

My dietary approach was pretty good but not as good as my fat loss diet course in EBU (www.easybodyupgrade.com) and O2E (www.obese2ease.com).

For many years, I have used and tried out lots of different diet & exercise approaches. I’ve never taken someone`s word for it but always made a point of trying out certain exercises and diet plans for myself. This allowed me to accumulate heaps of useful hands-on data.

So, here I was, putting early morning walking workouts on an empty stomach to the test. I walked on a daily basis. Every morning, after a cup of black coffee or tea and on an otherwise empty stomach, I went for a 45 minute walk around my neighborhood. It was pretty early, so the city was still sleeping and there was hardly any traffic in this part of town.

While I did not walk slowly for sure (I am naturally quite a fast walker…), I did not especially push the speed during these morning walking sessions either. I just walked at a steady, relatively fast pace, trying to be disturbed as little as possible by the few traffic lights that were on my route.

After only 5 of 6 workouts, the fat loss I experienced around my midsection was quite astonishing. The external oblique, which are abdominal muscles to both sides of your trunk, became pretty visible after only a week`s training.

External Obliques

As I mentioned before I was already quite lean at that time, but the direct effect of daily walking workouts on an empty stomach were astounding, nevertheless. I must have dropped 1 or 2% body fat in a week.

Walking (or even hiking) is often ridiculed by “real” athletes and sports people. Unnecessarily, in my opinion. I am a big fan of walking (and hiking) and go for longer walks whenever I can.

Below is an excerpt of the “O2E” Audio Class Step 2, which explains a little about the muscles and joints involved when walking:

“Walking is fundamental to our physical, mental and emotional well-being. To walk is a very basic movement of man. The walking movement recruits the strongest joints and the strongest and largest muscles of the human skeleton as the prime movers.

The hip joint and the surrounding muscles of the hip, the gluteus maximus, often called the glutes, which are the muscles of the backside, the hamstring muscles on the back of the upper leg, the quadriceps, the muscles on the front of the upper leg and the muscles of the lower leg all work together when taking a step and moving forward.

The secondary movers are the muscles of the back along the spine and around the shoulder joints. As the arms move rhythmically to the movement of the legs and the muscles of the shoulders and neck as well as all the small muscles along the spine receive a gentle workout.”

Walking workouts make perfect sense at every level of fitness. And, as I found out in my little experiment, walking workouts done on an empty stomach in connection with a smart dietary approach promote definite fat loss.

They can be done at almost every weather and almost everywhere. Everyone can adjust the pace to their individual needs. Everyone can start at a length they can easily handle and increase gradually as they get healthier, fitter and lighter.