For as a long as I can remember, I’ve (from time to time) experienced the feelings some might describe as anxiety. As a kid, I never really knew what anxiety “felt like”, and even today the only way I’ve been able to describe it is to imagine you’re taking a deep breath and for some reason can’t open up your lungs enough to get that good, full, oxygenated feeling. It wasn’t really anything I worried about until I was old enough to know it “wasn’t normal”….and by the time I was in sixth grade, it had gotten so deeply ingrained into “mental game” that it damn near consumed me in vigorous competition. In fact, I’d get so wrapped up in worrying about it, that any time the going got tough (in a youth wrestling match)…I’d find myself worried I couldn’t breath….and eventually allowed a downward spiral from there…..the concern would push me into a state of exercise induced asthma…and eventually I REALLY couldn’t breath….almost paralyzed until I could regain control of my mind and force it to regain control of my body.
The episodes drove a concerned young athlete and a set of worried parents to seek answers…..and after numerous doctor visits and cardiology tests, it was determined that I have mitral valve prolapse (click link if interested), and one of the main side-effects was “shortness of breath”….and so it seemed our questions were answered. And since, with a bit more mental ease….I’ve worked through the anxiety like symptoms and couldn’t tell you the last time I’ve experienced them as a result of vigorous exercise. Maybe it’s because I have a better understanding of what was going on…maybe it’s because multiple doctors have told me I have no more risk than anyone when taking on vigorous activity….or maybe it’s because at this point, through enough repetition without tragic outcome…I’ve learned the human body is incredibly resilient (mine not being an exception) and has far more to give than most of us think, or allow. And believe it or not….even through maximum exertion cardiac stress tests, more than my fair share of high intensity workouts through collegiate athletics and the last 7 years competing in endurance sports (marathon, triathlon)….I’ve not had one single exercise induced episode……..BUT
….from time to time, they still occur during the “normal” day. WHY….is it the mitral valve prolapse?
Well – I’m not a cardiologist….but over the last couple of years (since my last cardiologist visit just prior to my first Boston Marathon when I was told “don’t come back…if I had more patients like you, I’d be out of business”) I’ve keeping a relatively close eye on the trend of when the feelings come on. And it seems as though two things tend to serve as a catalyst for the all-too familiar anxiety, tightness of chest, and lack of adequate breath that I got as a young athlete.
1) STRESS – shocking I know – but more on this at another time
2) Low-Grade Fuel – as in food intake. If you’re someone who typically eats pretty healthy….with the majority of your diet coming from plant-based foods…..you know what it feels like to fall of the wagon and pay for it. If on the other hand, you’re yet to get on that wagon and are like the roughly 97% of American’s who (according to the journal of nutrition) don’t consume enough daily fiber….you’re probably yet to experience what I’m talking about, after all…hard to fall off a wagon that doesn’t exist yet in your life (never too late to start FYI). But for me, this past weekend….not only did I “fall off the wagon”….I took a swan dive off the very tippy top. I let Saturday get away from me….exercised vigorously in the morning (7+ miles, then High Intensity Strength Intervals for 30 min)…had a sensible breakfast…and went back to a work project that required a bit of physical labor….and by the time I got home, I was starving for calories….and craving total crap food….a burger with all the fixings (it happens). And with almost zero convincing of the 8.5 mo pregnant wife to go out and “not cook”….we went, and down down I fell…feeling the repercussions since (just now subsiding, now Monday and 48 hours later). So…it got me thinking.
I remember sitting through a lecture a few years back by famous Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who boldly told his audience (many physicians, health professionals, HR representatives, fitness professionals, etc.) that we should “only consume everything in moderation if we ONLY want a moderate heart attack”…and further explained the effects that animal protein has on temporarily damaging our artery’s endothelial cells, and inhibit their use of nitric oxide (a vascular dilator that allows the artery to relax and widen). It was a powerful statement and one I’ve not forgotten…yet consistently heard from other nutritional experts…like one of my favorites Michael Greger who quoted research stating a single meal primarily comprised of animal protein and fat can paralyze the arteries and restrict blood flow (see video HERE). And so I wonder…..could part of the reason that we (I) feel so crappy after falling off the wagon be related to damaged endothelial cells and temporarily constricted arteries and blood flow…..hmm doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch….back to the books to learn more!