By Geoff Rand
When fitness celebrity Bob Harper suffered a heart attack on February 12, the news and social media were abuzz with many people questioning how this could have happened to a person many considered the epitome of health and fitness. The 51-year-old host and trainer of The Biggest Loser is a CrossFit coach, yoga instructor, and healthy eating advocate. I don’t know his personal medical history, but there were no reported warning signs leading up to his heart attack during a workout at a New York City gym. Fortunately, a doctor happened to be on site and was able to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) along with CPR to keep him alive long enough to get Harper to the next level of care. He is now recovering at home.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, with 1 out of every 4 deaths attributed to heart disease. While the following symptoms may be present leading up to a heart attack, often the first sign of a pending heart attack is the heart attack itself. As you can see, many of these symptoms could be difficult to differentiate from what you may experience in an everyday WOD.
Chest pain or discomfort
Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
Shortness of breath
Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats
Many people tend to normalize what they are feeling instead of recognizing it for what it really is, thinking it is indigestion or soreness from an activity. If you feel something unusual or persistent, that is the time to get it checked out.
Those who have any of these risk factors are at an elevated risk of experiencing a heart attack: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, family history, diabetes, overweight/obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use.
The big variable in all this is heredity. Bob Harper’s mother died of a heart attack. He is proof that you can do absolutely everything right in the gym and eat healthy everyday and still develop heart disease if genetically you are predisposed to it. Whether you have a family history of heart disease or not, your best chance of an early warning is regular medical screening.
I don’t know anyone who enjoys their medical check ups, but they are important to have done in order to monitor your health. Often, if detected early, many ailments can be treated and corrected before they become huge problems.
My job requires us to have regular physicals at a frequency depending on our age. If you are unsure where you fall or what tests you should be having done, this page has a chart detailing when and what you should be doing based on age and gender.
This periodic screening can also have benefits for you in the Box. In your blood tests, you may discover deficiencies in certain nutrients, which could be the cause of a difficulty in putting on muscle and burning fat, for example.
While some may see Harper’s incident as a reason to not work out, Neel Chokshi, medical director of the University of Pennsylvania’s sports cardiology and fitness program, disagrees. He says, “The long-term benefits of exercise outweigh the slight increased risk during acute exercise.” He adds that, “If you do exercise and have a heart attack, you are more likely to bounce back and less likely to have complications.”
We care about your health and want you around to complete as many rounds as possible. See your doctor for regular periodic screenings and tests. And, while we hope we never need it, we have an AED on site and all of our coaches are trained in its use and are CPR certified. While these devices are becoming more commonplace, they are not everywhere. If you are at elevated risk for heart disease and are travelling, you may want to ask if your drop in Box or gym has an AED, just as an added safety measure.