2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

How To Not Die At Your Health Club

All things considered, most of us would prefer not to become acutely ill in a public place. You’d rather not faint at Macy’s, upchuck in a theatre lobby, or suddenly become aware of the Mount St. Helen’s rumbling in your intestines as you sit third row center at Orchestra Hall. If you trip and fall on a busy sidewalk and a dozen helpful people ask if you’re hurt, your response is almost reflexively, “No, I’m all right, really,” as you bravely hobble into the anonymous crowd on a broken ankle.

Becoming seriously ill while exercising at a health club or outside running probably occurs a lot more often than we realize, but because of the wee competitive undercurrent lurking in the sweat-drenched air, you keep your chest pain or your shortness of breath to yourself. As a health club habitue for many years (what, you didn’t notice?), I’ve certainly seen fellow exercisers abruptly leave looking sweaty and ashen. Even if they were having heart attacks, to avoid the embarrassment of appearing vulnerable I’m guessing many would keep the pain to themselves. I’ve asked a couple of fitness trainers about this, and both told of multiple instances where an ambulance had to be called by staff because a client had collapsed, but never an example of a client requesting an ambulance.

If you work out regularly, you’ve probably thought at least once about this. When you join a health club, there’s always that recommendation advising the couch potatoes and over-40s to have an EKG and be cleared by a doctor before starting an exercise program. That’s actually pretty good advice if you’re out of shape, overweight, have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes, or you’re a smoker.

The problem is that a routine physician clearance doesn’t yield much in the way of useful information for higher-risk health club members. You’ll have your blood pressure checked, heart and lungs listened to, maybe a cholesterol test, maybe an EKG, and then you’re sent off to the sweaty trenches with an approving pat on the head. The reason the EKG isn’t helpful is that it’s taken when you’re resting on a table, which is exactly what you won’t be doing at your health club.

Evaluating blood flow to your heart…ahead of time
By far the better screening device, which insurance companies cover (though they don’t like to because of cost), is a nuclear stress test.The original heart stress test dates from 1950 and was called the Master’s Two-Step Exercise Test. You climbed up and down two steps a certain number of times and then quickly had an EKG, which looked for exercise-induced changes, a sign of possible heart disease. Later, the steps were replaced by a treadmill.

Compellingly, however, a stress test alone misses about 50% of potentially dangerous heart blockages.

Enter the nuclear stress test:

  • First, a tiny amount of harmless radioactive thallium is injected into a small IV line, carried by your bloodstream to your heart.
  • After the injection you lie on a table beneath a scanner (which looks like an x-ray machine) as it records a picture of your heart at rest.
  • Next you get on a treadmill, a technician attaches EKG leads to your chest, and off you go, walking for about ten minutes. As the angle of the treadmill increases, you’ll find yourself huffing, puffing, and sweating as you watch your heartbeat on the screen in front of you. Your goal is to reach 80% of the maximum heart rate for your age. (If you can’t manage this–due to a bad knee, for example–the cardiologist will inject a medicine that raises your heart rate to that vital 80% of max.)
  • Once you’re off the treadmill, panting and all sweaty, heart a-pounding, you return to the scanner, which makes a post-exercise picture of your heart.

The cardiologist can now see your heart pumping and ensure that its walls and chambers are normal. Your doc is also looking for defects, areas in your heart reflecting inadequate blood flow. These are the trouble spots. Defects can indicate areas of blockage inside the coronary arteries. A complete blockage translates to a heart attack.

If there are significant defects on your scan, the cardiologist may recommend a coronary angiogram, an x ray procedure in which dye is injected into your coronary arteries to visualize the actual blockages. Angiograms are done in a hospital cardiac lab. If there are one or two significant blockages in an accessible part of the artery, the cardiologist may be able to insert a small expandable tube called a stent (here’s a nice rendering), which squeezes the blockage against the artery wall and opens the artery channel. If this isn’t possible, the recommendation may be to call in a cardiac surgeon to perform a coronary bypass graft procedure.

If all of this sounds grim, don’t worry. It certainly beats falling over dead at your health club.

In basically healthy people, nuclear scans are usually negative and you go home feeling good about yourself. Also, by the way, being able to do the full ten minutes of the stress test without symptoms is now listed as an “independent longevity factor.” Just like it sounds, this means you’ve got a better chance of living longer than someone who hops off early gasping, “Can’t…do…this.”

If you’re a WholeHealth Chicago patient at risk for heart disease, call the Lincoln Park Heart Center, 2266 N Lincoln Ave (three blocks south of WHC), and let them know you’re our patient. You’ll work either with Sukhjit S Gill, MD, or his son, Sanjay S Gill, MD. Both are board-certified cardiologists with special training in nuclear medicine. PPO insurance (Medicare as well) virtually always covers this procedure if you’re over 40, but remember in these days of high deductibles that you’ll probably reach your deductible with this test alone. HMO members need to get a referral from their primary provider.

If you’re not a WholeHealth Chicago patient, ask your primary physician to refer you to a local cardiologist or hospital specifically for a nuclear stress test.

As always, the best strategy is prevention. You can generally avoid angiograms, stents, bypass grafts, and statins by keeping your weight under control, exercising, eating well, and meditating.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

 

 

 

Leave a Comment


  1. David says:

    By and large, heart disease is not a function of age but diet and exercise (or lack thereof). A high fiber vegan diet accompanied by freshly squeezed daily greens along with a moderate exercise regimen is better than any health insurance or western medicine has to offer. It’s never too late to ween yourself off the addictive and self destructive animal fats and proteins. When you do, your energy level will soar and you life expectancy, on average, increases a decade.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops

***WholeHealth for Winter Digestion
Saturday December 1, 2018, 10:30am-12:30pm
An Integrative Workshop with Yoga Therapist Renee Zambo, Dietitian Olivia Wagner, and Occupational Therapist Valarie McConville
Fee: $75.00 (includes take home materials and snacks)

Do you suffer from a sluggish digestive system, constipation, and/or bloating? Does it feel like those symptoms get worse as we head toward the holidays and winter season?  Are you looking for ways to optimize your digestion?  

Join us for two valuable hours of digestive health and cleansing!

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

 

***Healing Touch for Focus, Creativity, and Stress Management
Thursday, December 6, 2018, 5:45-7:30
Katie Oberlin, HTCP/I
Healing Touch Certified Practitioner/Instructor
Fee: $55.00 (includes take-home materials)

Are you feeling overwhelmed and stressed at the end of the year? Want to find a way to feel less scattered and more focused? In this workshop, you will learn how to use energy healing to feel more centered and grounded so you can bring more clarity and creativity to your life and work.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

 

**Winter Solstice Celebration: Drumming Circle and Shamanic Healing
Wednesday, December 19, 2018, 5:45-7:30pm
Katie OberlinHTCP/I
Healing Touch Certified Practitioner/Instructor
Fee: $55.00

Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season to enter the stillpoint of the Winter Solstice, reflect on the lessons of 2018, and set intentions for the new year. This will be an evening of individual and group healing, ceremony, and celebration.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

Recent Health Tips

  • Making Sense of “Controversial” Diagnoses

    I’m warning you in advance. You’re entering a minefield here, with explosive views among seemingly conservative health care professionals. At least wear a helmet. Protective eyewear wouldn’t hurt either. You wouldn’t think a slew of conditions you’ve heard about (including chronic Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic Epstein-Barr, toxic mold syndrome, food sensitivities, intestinal dysbiosis, chronic inflammatory response syndrome, and mast cell activation syndrome) Read More

  • Getting Tough With Your Immune System

    No reasonable physician (I modestly include myself here) can refrain from crowing delightedly when a clinical study confirms the value of a treatment he or she had been using for years, even if that treatment had contradicted prevailing standards. Ever since I learned something about natural medicine, I’ve been reluctant to prescribe antibiotics for respiratory tract infections, such as colds, sore throats, and bronchitis. Many physicians had Read More

  • For A Longer Life…Stand Up Now!

    By far the most common answer to my question, “Exercising these days?” is “Not enough.” This is usually accompanied by the briefest flicker of melancholy regret, as if by such a confession my patient has permanently abandoned the hopes and dreams of both a svelte body and enviable longevity. “Don’t worry,” I say, “It’s just a temporary glitch. You’ll start up again.” (Nod, nod). I Read More

December Sale: 20% Off the UltraLux IV Light Box

Full Spectrum Solutions has been an industry leader for the past 20 years, offering therapeutic lighting that is made right here in the Midwest (Michigan). The UltraLux IV is the first and only LED light therapy unit on the market that is both fully adjustable. Unlike many of their competitors, they boast a high CRI rating (90+) and a lifetime warranty so you never have to purchase replacement bulbs again. Full spectrum light therapy is often recommended in cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to help make up for the sunlight that is missing from these shorter, winter days.

To learn more about and purchase the UltraLux IV, click here.

To see past Health Tips on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Dr. Edelberg’s recommendations, including a full spectrum light box like the UltraLux IV, click here.