Healthy Heart, Healthy Life

Aaron Baker
Spinal Cord Injury Lifestyle Specialist | Shield HealthCare
03/19/20  3:39 PM PST

A few months ago I experienced a new, strange feeling in my chest: a heavy, pressing feeling followed by a fluttering heartbeat and shortness of breath. I’m not an alarmist, but I am very aware of my body functions and any new or different sensations. After a few days of persistent symptoms, I decided it was a good idea to have a proper cardiovascular exam. I am 41 years old, living with a high-level spinal cord injury and desire to continue living an active, unrestricted lifestyle.

As an ambassador for spinal cord injury research, I’m aware that one of the leading causes of mortality with this injury is heart disease and cardiovascular complications. Knowing this, I err on the side of caution and willingly play along with my healthcare professionals.

My doctor ordered a series of tests: Chest x-rays, EKG and an echocardiogram to hopefully uncover the source of my symptoms. During the evaluation, my doctor was surprised that I am medication-free and confident that my active, healthy lifestyle will aid in longevity and wellness as I age.

While waiting for the test results, I experienced bouts of tenuous uncertainty and subtle, yet apparent physical abnormalities. I began supplementing with canned oxygen (Boost Oxygen) throughout my day and especially during exercise. I paid close attention to my blood pressure and activities that provoked symptoms. I ate a clean, organic diet, refrained from alcohol and did my best to remain stress-free.

My immediate concerns were relieved by the test results. The doctor gave me a clean bill of good health for my age and condition. However, we were both still perplexed at my symptoms. He said I may have been over-worked, under-recovered and slightly stressed out, all of which made sense and I could not really argue.

I am happy to write about my experience and report that I am in great health with no signs or symptoms like before. Although we did not receive any real clear explanation for my issues, we did learn how the affects of stress, poor nutrition, inactivity and insufficient sleep can impact the heart and the entire cardiovascular system.

Be observant of these symptoms, and speak with your healthcare professional if you experience them:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Aches and pains
  • Swollen feet or ankles
  • Heart palpitations

The bottom line is, lifestyle matters! More and more evidence shows the link between diet and heart disease. What you put on your plate can influence just about every aspect of health, from blood pressure and inflammation to cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

Heart-Healthy Foods

Below are 15 heart-healthy foods to consider as part of a nutritious, well-balanced diet that can help keep your heart in good shape and ready to rock!

  1. Leafy green vegetables
  2. Whole frains
  3. Berries
  4. Avocados
  5. Fatty fish & fish oil
  6. Walnuts
  7. Beans
  8. Dark chocolate
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Almonds
  11. Seeds
  12. Garlic
  13. Olive oil
  14. Edamame
  15. Green tea

As my Italian grandfather would say, aside from eat garlic, drink wine, “Eat well, sleep well, and be merry! Salute!”

Check out these articles and videos for more information about diet and exercise when living with a spinal cord injury:


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1 comment

  1. While life style does matter, I myself did most of these right things, however my condition continued to worsen through my forties and now completing my 50’s. However my doctors continued to focus on my symptoms which also mirror those who do not exercise at all. Para-paresis, gastro-paresis and spastic-paresis due to an impingement of the nerve at T5 right side my diagnosis which I some how un-impinged

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