Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Very Scary Reminder of Why Healthy Lifestyle is Important

I was pretty irritated to see my sister’s name pop up on my caller ID when I heard my phone go off at eight o'clock Monday morning.  I answered anyway.  Her voice was trembling and frantic: “Vanessa, I’m at the hospital with mom.  Dad’s in trouble.  Call everyone.  Get here as fast as you can.  Call Kalin!  Get her home from Philly now!  This is serious!”  Not having any idea what was happening, I jumped out of bed and started calling each of my four other sisters.  Moments later we were all crying in the emergency department.  My dad was being
rushed into surgery.  He had suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke and was experiencing heavy bleeding in his brain.

A hemorrhagic stroke usually occurs when a weakened blood vessel in the brain bursts resulting in blood accumulating in the brain.  This happened in my dad primarily because of his long-standing high blood pressure.  That morning a weakened vessel ruptured under the high pressure, allowing blood to escape into the brain tissue.  Here is a more detailed visual to understand exactly what happens.  High blood pressure is one of the many health issues that we hear all over the media.  As a health coach, I regularly warn people of these risks. Yet, despite this issue being ever present in my life and studies, it has been difficult to fully comprehend the real devastation it causes.  

My dad in his younger days
A according to the CDC, high blood pressure affects 31% of American adults, a staggering figure that is likely a gross underestimate because many people are walking around undiagnosed.  Diet, sleep, stress and alcohol have massive implications on whether or not your blood pressure is within a healthy range.  Many people’s lives have created the perfect storm.  My dad is a successful lawyer.  This means 12+ hour days at the office followed by sleepless nights preparing for trials, unhealthy eating, and a few drinks per week to “take the edge off”.  This scenario probably sounds familiar.  My dad's lifestyle has become not only the norm for a huge population in our country and increasingly around the world, but almost essential for succeeding in our society.  We have cultivated this as a society through our need for a fast-paced, success driven and convenience fueled world.  No one has time to prepare food, practice meditation, or exercise.  As my dad said yesterday while heavily sedated and barely alive: “well...this is really inconvenient.”

During a conversation I had with my dad several months ago, I said “Dad, I’m really worried about your high blood pressure.  We need to do something about it.”  He responded, “Why are you just now concerned?  I’ve had high blood pressure since 1998.  I’m on medication for it, and my numbers are normal.”  What my dad didn’t understand was that just because the medication was controlling the blood pressure day to day, it wasn’t fixing the underlying reasons that it was high in the first place.  High blood pressure is one of your body’s ways of communicating to you that something isn’t right.  Your heart can’t call your brain on the phone and say: “Stress is too high, diet is a mess, and you’re not sleeping enough, HELP ME!”  You can only mask it with medication for so long.  Eventually, your body will shut you down and force you to rest...often permanently.

By no means do I mean to vilify my dad.  I love him, and I’ll be here to support him 100%. Although my dad’s physician had the right intention when he informed my dad that he needed to change his lifestyle, advice like this is simply not helpful enough to anyone who has determined that they're too busy to make meaningful change to their lifestyle.  In fact, he is too busy to take on reading and dissecting which nutrition information is accurate and relevant or to teach himself how to cook new foods.  It is overwhelming to know that you have to make such a huge change to your life.  What information is accurate and what applies to you?  The thought of it all becomes so overwhelming and confusing that it does seem impossible, and most of us simply don’t have time to conquer the impossible on our own.  As busy and driven people, we know that we have health issues that need addressed, but we feel good enough today to keep doing what we’ve been doing. One morning though, you might wake up and realize that you've pushed it off one day too long.

My dad a few months ago at my sister's graduation
My reason for writing this piece is not to tell you how to control your blood pressure.  It’s rather meant to urge you to start controlling all of the health issues that you know deep down are the real priority but which you can’t seem to find a way to prioritize.  You cannot outrun, mask, or ignore these problems.  A friend of my dad’s stopped by to visit him today: a 59- year-old lawyer with “borderline high blood pressure” himself. When I explained to him what was happening with my dad, his face betrayed his calm demeanor.  He was scared.  He asked me tons of questions about what it means, the prognosis, how to fix it, was it genetic?  I advised him that though genetics may load the gun, your environment and choices really pull the trigger. I assured him that it’s controllable through diet, stress management, sleep and exercise and that change happens quickly, but it must become priority number one. 

Hopefully my dad’s experience will be enough to really show him just how important this is.  It has definitely reminded me just how important the work we do at Sweat and Butter really is. Each of our newsletters touches on one of these issues: sleep, stress, food and movement, and each is filled with great information on how to improve them.  Do one thing differently today: instead of saying to yourself “That was a great article. I’ll have to remember that”, I urge you to do it now!  If you can’t do it alone, we can hook you up with a health coach. Our number one priority is to prevent as many people as possible from ending up like my dad and the hundreds of thousands of Americans every year who waited just one day too long.

Vanessa Alberts is a co-founder and health coach at Sweat and Butter. She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and holds a master's degree in Health Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University. She coaches clients to optimize their health and happiness through nutrition and personal evaluation. She can be reached at 

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1 comment :

  1. Vanessa, my thoughts are with you and your family. I hope that your Dad is ok and improves. I think of you often and am glad to see you are back and doing so well. Thank you for your newsletter and I am hopeful that it may help me put off "one more day". I hope you and your family can enjoy a little bit of Thanksgiving. Warmly, Colleen Coleman


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