Stepping towards a healthier heart
FOR ANITA DWYER, a heart attack three months ago was the wake-up call she needed to get off the couch and make sure her health came top of her priority list.
Mrs Dwyer, 61, was at work at Hymbayumba Independent School near Springfield when she experienced tightness in her chest, followed by pain in her shoulder blades and back.
At home, the pain worsened and began radiating down her left arm.
Realising that she was having a heart attack, she rang Triple 000 and soon had two blockages in her heart cleared and stents installed.
Mrs Dwyer had a family history of heart issues and was the last of her six siblings to have a cardiac issue - she thought by monitoring her blood pressure, cholesterol and lifestyle, she had avoided heart problems.
"My brother came to visit me in hospital and said 'you've just lost your bragging rights now!',” she said.
Only weeks later, she was diagnosed with a separate electrical issue in her heart, which was rectified with the fitting of a pacemaker.
"I'd been having occasional blackouts since 2016, with seven since last December. Originally, they thought it was related to my epilepsy, but it turned out that my heart was pausing for up to 25 seconds,” she said.
During her rehabilitation, Mrs Dwyer's doctors recommended that she aim for 30 minutes of physical activity each day, combining strength exercises with cardio activities to raise her heart rate.
Now, less than four months since it all began, Mrs Dwyer is one of the thousands of Australians taking on a marathon with a difference. The Heart Foundation's MyMarathon is a manageable marathon designed to change the way participants think about fitness, while raising money to fight heart disease.
Rather than cramming the 42.2 kilometres of a standard marathon into a single sitting, MyMarathon allows challengers to spread the distance over the whole of October.
"I think this is achievable for everybody - that's the point. Everyone can walk 1.4 kilometres a day - it's so easy,” she said.
"What this has done to me, is it has made me say 'Anita, you have to have some form of exercise program for the rest of your life, no matter what it is there are no excuses' - exercise is absolutely the biggest piece of the puzzle when it comes to heart health.”
"Getting your heart rate up is such a simple thing, I had been making the excuse 'I don't like to walk really, I'll go out in the garden,' but you've got to get your heart rate up. I'm doing the MyMarathon to keep the routine going, so I never have a heart attack again.”
Heart disease is still Australia's number one cause of premature death, but many of the risk factors for getting heart disease or experiencing a heart attack are within our control. You can:
Monitor your cholesterol
Manage high blood pressure
Manage your diabetes
Maintain a healthy weight
Avoid unhealthy foods
Try to avoid becoming socially isolated
If you do think you're having a heart attack, the Heart Foundation recommends keeping an eye out for these symptoms:
Discomfort or pain in your chest
Discomfort in your arm(s), shoulder(s), neck, jaw or back
Feel short of breath
Have a cold sweat
Feel dizzy or light-headed.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, call 000 or seek emergency assistance immediately.