You may not have known Billy Mays but you certainly must have known Michael Jackson. The latter got most of the media coverage—and for good reason. He recorded the best-selling pop music album of all time and virtually everyone can recognise the beat of many of his songs. He was simply an amazing performer. Then there is Billy Mays. If you don’t know him, he was the ubiquitous television pitch man for a huge diversity of products. His beard, friendly demeanor, pure skill at promoting products, and often nearly over-the-top enthusiasm made him memorable.
Both of these men were 50-years-old when they passed away. Both of these men died of sudden cardiac arrest, a common outcome of heart disease. These facts together shook me quite a bit. Fifty years old? I am slightly over 40—still far from that magic number. My kids would merely be college age when I am 50. I have many things that I want to do in life, and the thought that my life could easily end—or my quality of life could rapidly fall at such an early age made me think about the future—and other things I can do now to protect it.
I have invested quite a bit of time and energy in my own life— and I am sure you have in your own—building the foundation for a great later life. I have projects lined up and a couple of books on the way. I want to be able to enjoy the benefits of these things in my golden years as I play with my grandchildren.
So I have decided to do something about it. For my family, for my health, for my finances, and for my long-term future, I am going to develop healthy habits that directly reduce the chances of heart attack—and also help with preventing other diseases, such as diabetes.
I made a resolution to improve my health through a mix of more exercises, better eating, some more rest from work and I hope to keep up the progress.
I simply started by asking my doctor what I could do to reduce my chances of heart disease as I grow older. He suggested eight things, all of them pretty simple but economically rewarding:
- First, don’t smoke. Nicotine raises your blood pressure (not good) and the tar reduces your lung capacity and makes exercise more difficult (not good). It also increases your risk of many other lung diseases.
- Second, exercise. If you don’t exercise at all, start really slow. Don’t just start running 5 kilometres first day—instead you can Just go for a walk. The goal is to raise your heart rate to a reasonably elevated level for a sustained period, and continuous movement (like walking) is an easy way to get there—so am told.
- Third, eat more greens (get me right, I didn’t say drink more greens). Eat broccoli, spinach, bonongwe, and leafy vegetables generally.
- Fourth, eat fewer meats – am struggling on this one but really trying. I was advised that going vegetarian isn’t necessarily the best option, but reducing your meat intake is a good idea.
- Fifth, eat some nuts. Nuts contain fiber and also contain vitamin E, one vitamin that tends to be deficient in modern diets.
- Sixth, cut down on your sodium intake (salt). In other words, don’t dump table salt on your foods when you have not even tasted it – a bad habit most of us have. Sodium directly raises blood pressure and we already get enough sodium in our normal foods without extra salting. I am grateful to one convert, Charles Kamoto, Airtel Malawi’s CEO, who gave me a good pep-talk on this a couple of years back.
- Seventh, try meditation or relaxation techniques. Stress elevates your blood pressure and causes all kinds of health issues. Take some time to calm down and psychologically deal with the stresses in your life. I am sure your doctor will tell you how to de-stress. Finally, cut down on your caffeine. Caffeine also raises blood pressure.
Most of these changes are not very hard to do in your life. As with any behavior change, take it slow. It’s simple to protect your life’s investment with a few little changes—hospital beds are no good—and dying pre-maturely is even worse. If this seems to be talking to you, it simply is because it really is.
Blessed week-end to you and yours!