Have Some Heart

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We had a corporate doctor at MegaCorp who politely reminded people that if they are over 35 years old, you are much more likely to pass away from a heart attack than anything else.  You can see it on this infographic form the UK’s National Health Service (2015):


Still, I was surprised by my heart attack the day after Christmas.  Many people have asked me if I had a family history of heart problems or any of the key risk factors.  The short answer is no.  I’ve been healthy and expected to be able to enjoy a healthy retirement.

In fact, I’ve tracked my heart attack risk for more than a decade.  I was in an executive health program at MegaCorp starting in 2003 and every year got a full physical and measured the likelihood of a ‘cardiac event’ through the Framingham Risk Score.  These scores are based on a study commissioned by Congress in 1948 that have been continuously tracked thousands of patients and resulted in 3,000 peer reviewed findings.

If you haven’t checked out your score, you should:  https://www.mdcalc.com/framingham-risk-score-hard-coronary-heart-disease

My risk of a heart attack over the next 10 years stood at 5.6% – prior to actually having a heart attack.  That’s just over half the average risk (10%) of someone my age, but as the law of averages says, ‘anything that can happen, can happen.”

Here is how I profiled against the the key risk factors that you find listed on the American Heart Association website:

  • Family History? – NO
  • Age >45? – YES
  • Male? – YES
  • African-American? – NO
  • Diabetes? – NO
  • Physical Inactivity? – NO
  • High Blood Pressure? – NO
  • High Cholesterol? – NO (statin)
  • Smoking? – NO
  • Obesity? – NO (but overweight)
  • Life / Work Stress? – NO
  • Excess Alcohol Use? – NO
  • Illicit Drugs Use? – NO

I share this background to illustrate the point that we can’t know what challenges we are likely to face in retirement and the best we can do is be on guard for them.  There are some risks here that we can’t control (age, sex, family history, race), and others that we certainly can (exercise, smoking, weight. etc). 

My biggest opportunity is to eat better.  I’m pretty social and love going out to eat with friends.  While I weigh much less and am in better shape than when I was working a few years ago, I still know I can eat out less or eat better when I do (salad, anyone?).

Just as you plan for your financial risks in early retirement, you’d be selling yourself short if you aren’t also addressing your health risk factors.  As you can see on the chart above, heart disease or a cardiac event of some sort is far and away the most likely health issue to catch up with you.  Why not start working on them now?

Image Credit: Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Have Some Heart

  1. Great reminder. Before I retired, I attempted (inconsistently) to exercise (mostly running). It’s so easy to become overweight, while working in the corporate world of conference rooms, constant travel, and high stress. I have always been relatively athletic, and never truly obese, but I knew that I needed to get healthier and lose weight when I retired nearly three years ago. I immediately started running and lifting weights consistently again. I treated it like my “new job”! I dropped 25 lbs over the first two years of retirement (I am still working to drop another 10 lbs). I still need to consistently eat healthier, but I feel better than I have in the last twenty years (now 54 yo). It’s hard to know the real damage that 25 yrs of corporate living caused, even when you look relatively healthy in the mirror. Thanks for the cautionary reminder. I hope your good rehab continues, and brings you another 50+ years of great health.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Thom – I appreciate the well-wishes. Cardio rehab is going well and I feel like I am at 98% after just 3 weeks. I thankfully didn’t lose a lot of strength or conditioning when I was ‘down’ from the heart attack. Like you, health became my ‘job’ when I retired and I dropped about 25 pounds. Love of food and eating out is always a challenge and I ‘found’ about 10-15 pounds of what I had lost. I find that diet is about 80% of weight management vs. exercise, so that’s what I’m focusing on now. All of last year I ordered maybe 1 salad, so this year I’m pledging to have 2 healthy salads a week. That would be a 100x improvement. I’ve had zero fried foods, burgers, or sweets as well. It’s all helping the rehab, I’m sure!


  2. So happy you were able to get swift medical care. Men over 50 and women over 60 should consider a CT scan – earlier if more risk factors. This will show if there is plaque buildup and if there are blockages. ~50% of women have zero plaque at age 60. The rest do and it is important to know if mild, moderate or high. This is not a fun test and one you don’t do frequently but it really helps cardiologists to come up with optimal treatment. I just did one (incidentally I belabored whether necessary or not and your heart attack notice on social media pushed me over the edge). I learned I have mild plaque and it really made me take seriously the lifestyle changes needed to reduce cholesterol & triglycerides and lose weight etc. Plus, my doctor can better leverage statins to slow future plaque. Hopefully, I’ll see 98 and 91 years like my grandmas. But who knows – they lived relatively low stress lives compared to life in the corporate world :).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great to to hear you went in for it and got some actionable results. I actually have another CT scan of my heart coming up. Because they were busy placing the stent, they didn’t have time to fully check everything out. Has me a little nervous, honestly. The physicians assistant said you can’t really do anything to clear plaque out once you have it. The key is knowing you have it early.


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