(Editorial) Ask the Advocates: Lifestyle Changes (Part 2)
Struggling with new limitations
My advice is, with medical guidance, to make an honest assessment of your condition in terms of limitations, and then develop a reasonable plan for how you can expand your physical boundaries. I say reasonable because it has to be a plan that can be implemented gradually. Reasonable goals related to diet and exercise, for example, can provide daily positive reinforcement that provides more motivation for continuing the plan.
The reinforcement is both physical and mental. It helps to counteract the depression that can accompany the limitations. Momentum builds until you reach a goal and then you can reassess. It is important to realize that we are in it for the long run. Every day of success guarantees more good days in the future. I believe that movement is the key to good living. It’s hard to quantify the benefits objectively, but I know what the results would be if I became sedentary: a poorer quality of life and a shorter life as well.
The first bit of advice I would offer is to find a support group or system to be a part of. I promise you are not alone and it helps to talk with people that understand your limitations. There is no reason, especially in the age of the internet, you should be fighting this alone. Along with a support group, talk to your physician about your concerns, and ask for ways to improve your limitations. You can also ask for advice from people in your support group for ideas, but it is always best to run these ideas by your physician to make sure it's safe for you personally. Even if you can’t reverse your limitations, you may be able to keep them from getting worse down the road.
Lastly, I would suggest accepting your new limitations and be happy with who you are. This may seem like you are giving up, but in reality, you are letting yourself be happy with who you are. Yes, it’s not fun being limited in things you used to be able to do, but it's even less fun when you can’t do those things and you are not happy with yourself because you can’t. You may not be able to control your new limitations, but you can try to control your mental well-being and keep a positive mindset. You’re still the same person you were before the limitations.
My experience with limitations in cardiovascular recovery is, well, limited. I was fortunate (if one can call it that) to have had my diagnosis and surgery when I was relatively young: 44 years old. I was also in good shape at the time so the physical recovery went quickly. My limitations these days are mostly psychological. Sometimes I wonder if I’m overdoing it. Sometimes I worry that I’m not eating healthy enough and that that occasional hamburger will hasten the next blockage or worse. And sometimes I think that the shortness of breath I feel when active may be yet another cardiac or pulmonary problem, particularly with the heightened anxiety these days.
My advice to anyone suffering from some of the same issues as me would be to be smart and simply live life. It serves not at all to be fearful. There’s a big difference between following the dictates of common sense - healthy food, exercise, and awareness and constant overarching worry. We are indeed more susceptible than others to bacteria and viruses that lurk in the world.
But I take smart precautions today. My mental attitude is increased when I follow my rules: take my meds regularly, keep to my scheduled checkups, be kind to myself. I don’t force myself to do anything. Even though I am not a moderate person, I try to live more moderately and calmly. Stress will make me crazy and, once again, sick. So I take time each day to do a little reading, keeping a journal, and some meditation. Sometimes that lasts 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes one minute. But it’s the little attempts we make that serve our minds and bodies.
We cannot stop living. I refuse to. I have my marching orders that I live by as one with CV disease. But if I live in fear, I am giving in to the disease as opposed to being one who simply acknowledges it and takes joy from this generally joyous world.
Do you use exercise to help manage your heart failure?