My Medical Emergency; This Happened Todayby Jon Benson
Sometimes you have to nearly lose it all to realize what you truly have.
I can honestly say that I have come close to death several times in my life. I've had my share of accidents, medical emergencies, and a near-fatal accident while driving.
But there was something about just laying on the gym floor today with two doctors hovering over me that gave me serious pause.
Time for some major reflection.
Now, before you get too alarmed (for those who know me, or just think I'm a pretty good guy... ; )... fear not. I did not have a stroke or anything like that, thank goodness.
What I did have was a major drop in blood pressure... so much that I came dangerously close to entering the "coma" zone.
I kid you not.
And trust me... I felt like I was slipping fast.
My girlfriend was there with me. I had her kneel down and, just like Spock in an old episode of "Star Trek", I had her slap me several times in the face. Hard!
"If my eyes roll back, hit me harder."
The doctor probably thought I was nuts... but I know that's one way to elevate my blood pressure.
So, what happened? Am I falling apart at the relatively young age of 46? Is my dietary and exercise advise dangerous after all?
No... and here's why:
I actually VOLUNTEERED for this.
Before you think I've totally lost my marbles, hear me out. If you listen to the rest of the story, you'll see that not only has my advice been of great value when it comes to exercise and dietary strategy... it actually ended up saving my butt!
Really Bad Genetics Meets The Cath Lab: A Wild Encounter
First, the "volunteered for this" bit needs explaining... right? Right.
If you read my first book, published in 2004, called "Fit Over 40" (read more ) then you may recall that I went into great detail about my poor genetics and horrible health in my early and mid-30s.
Since then, and knowing exactly how bad my genetics are for such things as high blood pressure (oh, the irony!), heart disease, and stroke, I adopted the dietary plan and exercise routine I use to this very day. The very ones I cover in "The Every Other Day Dietplan" and "7 Minute Body."
(If you don't have these books and want them, you can get both here...
oh, and I have a short video up on this page if you have not seen on a 1-minute fatloss tip... )
Now, let's get real folks: Dietary power and exercise MAY not be enough to overcome really bad genetics when it comes to certain diseases. And being ever curious, I wanted to know exactly how my own health was doing on my plan. So a month or so ago I paid a visit to the hospital to have some tests ran. All my yearly check-ups were okay, but I wanted a closer look at my heart... and I mean "literally".
I wanted to be "cathed"... this is where they insert a camera into your heart, going up the femoral artery in your right leg, and take a look around. If they find anything dangerous, like a clogged artery, they can fix it right then and there with a stent. A stent is a metal device that presses plaque against the artery wall and opens up a clogged artery.
Of course I hoped I would not find such a thing... and certainly nothing worse. I mean, can you imagine? "Mr. Benson, you need a quadruple bypass!"
I could not, that's for sure... and I was fortunate because, as you probably guessed, I didn't hear those words from my doc.
It's hard to get a cath done as it's a risky procedure. I can't even tell you how I managed to pull it off ... that's how touchy the hospitals are when it comes to this kind of stuff. Afterwards, I volunteered to do 5-10 workouts at their heart care facility so I could hook myself up to some nifty gadgets. I get to watch my EKG (how my heart is functioning during cardio and weights... and it works like a charm!) and really nice doctor folks come by to check my blood pressure (which is always low) during the workout.
Yep... the doc and I wanted to put my workout plan to the test, I guess you could say. I wanted to do it just to make sure I was 100% healthy during my training. You never really "know" I suppose, so I was up for it. And my doctor wanted me to do it just in case what he found during the cath was serious. There's a lot to this process, and there's some details I don't wish to cover for privacy sake... but anyway, back to my story.
It's long, but it may save your life too. : )
The Good News... The Bad News...And The Stupid Jon News!
Turns to find out I made a few mistakes... some pretty costly mistakes... but (get this) none of them had to do with my dietary or exercise plan.
During the cath, here's what the doc said:
"Jon, your heart's two primary arteries look good... hardly any obstruction at all. And they are nice and thick from exercise." For a guy who has had a cholesterol level of over 400 before, and a history of heart disease in the family, this was really good news.
"However, your genetics are catching up to you in one of your arteries.... and you need to be more aggressive with your drug treatment to make sure we don't have to go back in here one day!"
Yep... turns out that the only thing that saved me from a BYPASS (that's right) was what the doctor called "an enormous amount of peripheral arteries formed from years and years of weight training and exercise."
"Look right here Jon..." (He showed me my beating heart on camera... freaky...) "See all these arteries? Well the average person doesn't have them. You do. Congratulations... you earned them."
Wow again. And remember, I only workout with weights 3-4 times per week and my workouts are rarely over 21 minutes (time under the weight.)
What I Did Right... And WhatI Did Wrong... And Why ThisCould Save Your Life
So, listen up folks as I'm about to tell you everything I did wrong for the past several years... how it ALMOST cost me dearly (a bypass?... no thanks!)... how I managed to prevent it... and how I ended up on the gym floor today with doctors all around me.
It's all related. And again, sorry for the novel-like email, but (again) this may save your life.
First, here's what my excellent cardiologist said I did RIGHT:
1. Exercise: "Jon, your exercise plan, to put it bluntly, saved you from a great deal of pain... in fact it probably saved your life as these blockages would have been far worse without it." With it, I had only one artery with enough blockage to warrant the drug therapy that I should have been on for years... more on that in a second...
2. Dietary plan: "Jon, your diet is perfect for this condition... low in carbs, high in protein and healthy fats is all anyone can do in order to help fight this genetic killer." Yep... again... prevention in the form of dietplan saved my butt. Or rather my heart. : ) But it wasn't enough... at least for one artery. However, it WAS enough to prevent them from having to do surgery on me.
"Jon, the take-away here is simple: Exercise and dietary plans, even the very best, may not be enough for super high-risk people... but in your case your lifestyle saved your life. And it certainly prevented you from having to have any serious surgery to correct a truly broken heart."
Talk about EXCITING news... yep... you CAN beat this killer, even when you have MY horrible family genetics. However, like me, you may need some help... more on that in a second.
3. Blood pressure: "Jon, your blood pressure is excellent. Your lifestyle and very low-dose diuretic has kept your formerly sky-high blood pressure (it was 200/110 when I was 32!) to an excellent 118/78." But you know doctors... even "excellent" isn't enough and they recommended a stronger BP med for "my intense weight training."
So, I listened... and ended up on the floor today. You see, many doctors do not realize the POWER of weight training compared to cardio. My blood pressure never budges during cardio, but less than 3 minutes into a resistance (weight-training) session it goes down like the stock market after a bad news day.
I mean SHOOTS down. I tried to explain this by letting the doctor see the veins in my legs... "Doc, my veins are MUCH larger than the average person's... trust me, my pressure is fine." "Jon, just try it for a few weeks."
Bad mistake.... like I said, I ended up on the gym floor today with a blood pressure of 72/45. If I hit 40, I'm literally in a coma. 5 points away... very scary. Needless to say the doc took me OFF these meds and let me do it my way: With my Every Other Day Dietplan (low-carb most of the days) and good-old exercise.
If you have high blood pressure, I URGE you to take up weight training or resistance (body-weight or band) training. Of course, ask your doc about it first... but I've seen first hand for three weeks now how powerful my weight training sessions are compared to intense cardio sessions.
They are night and day folks... weights RULE. Cardio is good, but weights are best. Both of course would be the best course for ultimate health, but most people do far too much cardio and far too little resistance training.
Now, here's what I did WRONG:
1. Cigars: "Jon, you cannot afford to smoke cigars... ever. They have lowered your protective HDL to a dangerous level. Stop NOW!" That's all it took folks. Yes, I smoked cigars for many years, but fortunately I was never an addict. I quit that very day.
Guess what? 10 days later my HDL DOUBLED (no kidding)... and without drugs. Of course that's not all I did...
2. Fat too LOW: "Jon, you've lowered your dietary fat too low... this affects your HDL." Yep, I normally eat about 35% dietary fat... and I cut it down to 20% to help me get ready for a photoshoot. Now that I put it back to where it belongs, I still have my abs (yep!) and my HDL is raising as I type.
3. Stress: "Jon, you are simply working too hard not to do some form of meditation or de-stressing." So I dove back into my meditation CDs. (I'll tell you more about Holosync and my hypnosis CDs in my next email... very cool stuff.)
4. Advil: "Jon, you take 4 Advil before you train? You're nuts! That stuff can cause sticky plaque formations!!" You know, I may never even had an issue if I had known this (and not smoked cigars) a few years ago. Live and learn!
5. And finally... oh, this hurt to hear... no drugs! "Jon, if you want to make sure you beat this thing, you simply must take some meds to help." Okay, I resisted any form of statin drug for the past 15 years (drugs to lower cholesterol.) I opted to try natural stuff... but unfortunately for me I was never too consistent. And I paid the price.
So the doc and I came to a compromise: I would take the LOWEST dose of statin along with 400 mg of CoQ10 (scary, but this was my idea, not his, and statins deplete this heart-friendly enzyme!) But I wanted a natural solution to the real issue: small particle LDL. You see, I've known for years that I carry the gene that makes LDL "small". LDL is not dangerous unless it is small... that's why "total cholesterol" means nothing to me. I've seen folks have heart attacks with a cholesterol level of 130. No joke. But their LDL was super-small... like mine.
And guess what? Dietplans cannot really help this. Well, they can HURT it (too many carbs, too many toxic fats, etc.) but they cannot shift the LDL from small to large.
For that, you need plain old niacin. Just a simple B vitamin... but in not-so-simple doses. In fact it's considered a drug at the dose you have to take, and you should NEVER take niacin over 50 mg without a doctor's supervision as it can be very toxic to the liver.
The Conclusion: The PowerIs In Your Hands
In conclusion, I'm A-Okay... my heart pumps and functions "like that of a strong 20-year-old" (my doctor's quote) thanks to the extra arteries I developed from my exercise program (how cool!) ... but in order to keep that one artery in check, I'm taking his advice and taking much better care of myself than I have been.
Today I learned that this does NOT mean taking blood pressure meds...thankfully... : ) But I had to make some changes. Some of them were "stupid" changes... sure, I know cigars are not good for you. I know you need good fats in your dietplan. I could have used common sense and figured out that 4-8 Advil on workout days was... well, stupid.
But the good news, which is what I choose to focus on, is this: In the areas that 95% of people NEVER change, I didn't have to change much at all.
Dietary plan and exercise.
Turns to find out that what I was doing works great... and it did, in fact, save my heart and quite possibly my life.
For more on my dietplan and exercise routine, go here:
Thanks for reading, and I wish all of you good health!
Yours In Fitness,
J O N B E N S O N
P.S. I got lucky in many ways, but especially so when it came to my doctors. Both of my doctors are young and savvy enough to be up on the latest research on nutrition. They know NOT to buy into this "low-fat" nonsense for heart health. (I'd use a harsher word, but kiddos may be reading... : ) That only works for about 10-15% of the population. The rest of us need to lower our CARBS, not our fats... but the way I do it I get to keep my favorite carbs in my dietplan every week.
The little that I do eat keeps me happy as a clam, and keeps my heart nice and healthy too. A little bit of bad food will not hurt most people... but eating it every day can flat-out kill you.
Please... take this seriously. I promise, my dietplan and exercise routine is a PLEASURE to follow... but if you don't follow it then find one that IS enjoyable for you to follow... and do it.
Life is too short, you know?