Baby boomers urged to make lifestyle changes

Jim Day
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Gordon Phillips, 68, of Stanley Bridge has made some health changes to his lifestyle since having a heart attack in November, 2011.

Gordon Phillips says his heart attack was a wakeup call.

He knows others are not so lucky. Each time he hears of a heart attack claiming a life, he realizes if not for good fortune he could have suffered the same fate.

Phillips, 68, of Stanley Bridge never used to give much thought to the possibility of encountering health problems.

His lifestyle, he believed, was a relatively healthy one for the most part.

Sure, he smoked from age 16 to 30, but he put that dangerous health habit to rest more than half a lifetime ago.

He ate well, at least at home, where fried foods usually did not make an appearance.

However, in his many years running a flower shop, fast foods and frozen meals were staples of his diet on the run.

Phillips describes himself as a long-time social drinker who consumes alcohol in moderation: glass of wine with a meal, a beer or two on a hot summer day.

And he has always enjoyed an active lifestyle with hockey, baseball, swimming, kayaking, cycling and jogging providing plenty of exercise over the years. Standing six feet tall, he weighs 172 pounds today, just 10 pounds or so more than he did when he was 20.

Over the past 20 years, he has gone to his family doctor at least once a year for a physical. The doctor never pointed out a need for him to make any notable lifestyle changes.

Then boom.

"The heart attack came out of the blue, a total surprise to me,'' said Phillips.

On Nov. 8, 2011, Phillips woke up around his usual time of 7:30 a.m. with a strange feeling in his lower rib cage. Tightness moved up his chest. His arms started tingling. He sat on the end of his bed in agony.

He wasn't necessarily thinking heart attack, but he knew the situation wasn't good.

Paramedics provided immediate care before taking him to the hospital in Summerside. He was sent home after five days. He went to Halifax where tests showed a major artery was blocked.

After receiving the needed medical attention, Phillips went through the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Change of Heart cardiac rehab program.

He describes the 14-session, seven-week program as "really informative.''

As a result, he pays greater attention to his diet, eating healthier as a rule. He also walks more regularly, typically 45 minutes a day. He does daily exercises as well to strengthen his body and his heart.

"We're a strange animal when you think about it,'' said Phillips.

"Why wouldn't you change your lifestyle before something (bad) happens. We think we are invincible.''

The Heart and Stroke Foundation is warning baby boomers that without immediate action, they may spend their last years in sickness, disability and immobility.

CLICK HERE FOR HEART HEALTH TIPS

A new poll by the foundation found that while 80 per cent of Canadian boomers think their doctors would rate them as healthy, their self-reported lifestyle choices show otherwise.

A huge majority of boomers reported not eating enough vegetables and fruit (85 per cent), more than 40 per cent are not getting enough physical activity each week, one in five (21 per cent) smoke, and one in 10 are heavy drinkers.

Despite these lifestyle habits, more than a quarter of Canadian baby boomers don't feel concerned about how healthy they will be later in life. Three quarters don't know that they can reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke by up to 80 per cent with lifestyle modifications.

"The lifestyle choices that Canadian boomers are making directly contribute to living the last 10 years of their lives in sickness,'' said Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson.

"The good news is that if lifestyle changes are made now, many Canadians can considerably reduce the effects of heart disease and stroke. It is possible for us to take charge of our heart health, reduce hospitalizations and immobility, significantly improving the quality of our lives.''

Although Canadians are living longer, according to Statistics Canada, on average, there's a 10-year gap between how long we live, and how long we live in health. This gap is mainly due to heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions.

Organizations: Heart and Stroke Foundation, Statistics Canada

Geographic location: Stanley Bridge, Summerside, Halifax

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