Into the Heart of the Alps

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Heart Health, a Renewable Resource

After thirty years of reduced aerobic capacity, with the few years pre-ablation seeing a rapid decline in stamina, breath and associated muscle loss, I had a lot of questions (and doubts) about what my "new" post-ablation heart and body would be capable of. No more wheezing or dizziness, yes, but could I expect to rebuild muscle and heart strength to keep up with my ultra-runner husband and coach Bob?

We Can All Be "Athletes"

About one year post-ablation, I went to a talk about exercise in mid-life given by Eric Heiden and Max Testa. Max Testa was the medical genius behind Eric Heiden’s Olympic speed skating successes and his impressive participation in the first American team to compete in the Tour de France. Eric and Max now have a sports medicine practice together and jointly claim credit for Eric’s five Olympic gold medals! Their current mantra is that anyone can be an "athlete" with the right training regimen (read their book). Anyone. So, many of the patients in their Park City practice are wealthy early retirees who want to become competitive athletes in their 50's and 60's.

The talk was fascinating and extremely encouraging. One of their charts showed VO2 max capabilities (peak aerobic capacity) of professional athletes compared to couch potatoes. Predictably, professional athletes maintained higher-than-normal VO2 max even as they got older, regardless of whether they continued to exercise rigorously or not. More surprising to me was the line that showed non-athletes who started exercising rigorously later in life -- their VO2 max line on the chart went up significantly (not as high as the professional athletes, of course, but much higher than the couch potatoes).

So I asked a few questions. Could someone who had not exercised their heart for years increase their VO2 max capacity after 50? Absolutely, came the answer. We (Eric and Max) have patients who are doing just that and loving every minute of it. The heart, they said, has the ability to rebuild its strength (assuming there is no underlying heart condition present).

Bzzzz … good answer! Exactly what this Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) survivor wanted to hear! I left that talk more hopeful than ever that Dr. Marrouche had indeed given me my "youth" back and that my dream of trekking the Via Alpina from end to end (from mountaintop to mountaintop) was possible.

Via Alpina Anticipation and Update

Dreaming of the Alps … Dreaming of the Alps…

1.5 weeks to go before we leave for the Via Alpina and it's feeling very real. I'm wearing the pack with 20 pounds on my daily long walks, as well as on steeper weekend ascents. Coach Bob wants that level of weight to feel "normal". Also did some heat and humidity training while in New Jersey last week!

Via Alpine Logo

The CARMA Center has been generating publicity about the trek and Bob and I have been handing out business cards I made with the blog link. So we’re hearing more AFib stories. It continues to surprise me how many people have a relative or friend with AFib; some have considered or had ablations, but not as many as I would expect. Others I talk to say they have heart rhythm weirdnesses that they should probably get checked out! There is obviously a lot more awareness-raising to do ... about the existence of AFib at all and the many ways it can manifest itself, as well as about the options available to fix AFib and make sure it’s not one more thing “we just have to live with.”

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