Johnie Hall has clocked many miles in his 72 years. From posting sub-4½-minute miles in his younger days to running races in 38 states and counting in retirement, an active lifestyle is the only one Hall knows how to live.
But in 2014, an unexpected heart attack nearly killed him and threatened his ability to ever run again.
“Heart disease runs in my family, but I never worried about heart issues because I’ve always taken care of my physical health,” Hall said. “The heart attack caught me off guard.”
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America, and according to the American Heart Association (AHA), impacts nearly 70 percent of adults ages 60 to 79. The average age of a first heart attack is 65 for men and 71 for women.
As February is Heart Health Month, it’s an important time to take steps that give your heart the love it deserves.
A Journey Begins with a Single Step
For those who have experienced a heart attack, taking the first steps toward recovery can feel daunting. It’s important to remember that you are never alone. There are people and programs that can support you.
“After my heart attack, the only thing I worried about was getting back to doing the things I wanted to do – including running,” Hall said, crediting a dedicated team of health care professionals for a successful recovery.
He adds that a cardiac rehabilitation program helped him pay attention to his body. “I thought I had been doing so all these years, until I was working with doctors and physical therapists. I saw their focus on my body, my movements, my abilities – it opened my eyes. So, I put their instructions into practice,” he said.
Only one in five eligible Medicare patients who suffered a heart attack participated in cardiac rehabilitation, according to a 2015 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association. People are often not aware of such resources and don’t take full advantage of the benefit, which is covered by Medicare Part B. Certain conditions may apply, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about what aspects of cardiac rehabilitation fit your recovery plan.
If you are enrolled in Medicare Advantage, it’s also worth investigating if your plan has added benefits that can help. For example, UnitedHealthcare’s Navigate4Me program assigns a personal health navigator to eligible members with congestive heart failure or multiple chronic conditions. This single point of contact can guide beneficiaries through the health system, from addressing questions about medications or symptom management to arranging appointments.
As a heart attack survivor, Hall also sees the importance of encouraging others on a similar journey and still attends his “healthy hearts” group. “It was an effort to walk for even five minutes when I got out of the hospital, but my doctors told me to do it and I did. So now, I go to help inspire others to keep going.”
Staying the Path
Beyond the physical recovery, working with your doctor to shift lifestyle habits is a key step to improving heart health. A heart-healthy diet includes reducing sugar intake while eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Quitting smoking is critical, as it’s a major risk factor for heart disease and can damage the heart’s structure and function. Also, establishing a regular exercise routine can help improve your heart health.
The last step? Love your heart a bit more every day and, like Hall, just keep going. “Before my heart attack, nothing would have stopped me from running whatever distance I set out to run. But today, it isn’t about the distance or the time. I’m grateful just to put one foot in front of the other. My engine is still running, and I’m going to keep going for as long as I can.”
Johnie Hall is a UnitedHealthcare Group Medicare Advantage member.
Plans are insured through UnitedHealthcare Insurance Company or one of its affiliated companies, a Medicare Advantage organization with a Medicare contract. Enrollment in these plans depends on the plan’s contract renewal with Medicare.