Well, 2019 has just bid us farewell and most of us welcome 2020 with open arms. It is after all a new year, a fresh start. Tabula rasa, if you will.

For me, 2020 meant a separation: that I could separate from the health challenges and near-death experiences that plagued my family in 2019. And that now it is time to focus on health and prevention – and my health. You see, within the timespan of one week I almost lost my grandfather and my father was very unexpectedly admitted for open-heart surgery. Talk about “stop the presses – this is your new reality checking in” ringing loud and clear. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe how you feel… fight or flight sets in and you do what you gotta do! Fortunately for my family, my grandfather is as good as he can be under his circumstances, and my father’s health issues were caught just in time thanks to his amazing doctors at Columbia Memorial Hospital and Albany Med, and the operation and post-operation process… well, he’s alive – that’s really all I need to say.

In my father’s case, the worst thing was realizing how close we were to losing him – like he could’ve literally died at any moment. He had no idea – we had no idea. Something like that is really a shock to your system, and my entire family is beyond grateful that it was caught in time and his life was saved. But we are also living a new reality: my dad is now a statistic, and so am I. My dad is someone who suffers from cardiac disease. And so am I.

Most of us hear about cancer, or diabetes, or cardiac disease and we understand it and know someone who has it. But we never think it’ll be us. I was one of those people. I thought that high cholesterol was something that one should just be careful about, to try to do something about. I never thought that it could lead to an emergency quadruple-heart bypass. Yeah – that’s what my dad had.

Because of high cholesterol.

But it’s not like my dad is unhealthy or unfit – he’s about the fittest and strongest and most active guy that you’ll meet – and he has always been that guy! His high cholesterol was / is genetic. And guess what, I have it too!

As soon as I turned 30, my cholesterol numbers soared – for no reason other than genetics. And so for the last few years I’ve had my cholesterol checked here and there and thought, “Oh yeah, I should get that number down … but ehhh, it’s not like it’s that big of a deal.” Well, boy, was I wrong! High cholesterol is directly linked to cardiac disease. And during those days that I spent at Albany Med with my dad, talking to his doctors, deciphering doctor-speak and what this all meant, a light bulb went off in my head, “If I don’t do something about my health, this will be me in 10 or 20 years – lying in that bed with a cracked chest, having my heart bypassed, and staring death in the face.” And that is exactly what I told my younger brother and all of my cousins on my dad’s side of the family, because we’re all genetically predisposed to cardiac health disease.

So now that I’ve set the premise for you – of how reality knocked on my door,  punched me in the face and kicked me in the ass (talk about a wakeup call!) – I pledged to myself that 2020 was the year that I would take care of my own health. I spent a great deal of 2019 taking care of the people around me and I neglected myself. Well, now it’s my turn. So I am going to share this journey with you as much as I can, because you know what: everyone has something. And if you don’t, you’re one of the few lucky ones.

For me, knowledge is key. I research and collect data. I try to decipher through all of the B.S. and fads, and at the end of the day I have to do what is best for me. So this 2020, I did not make a New Year’s resolution that I would break by the third week of January (like most people do). But I decided that I would take the steps necessary to start a new life in certain respects, and that I would create new habits and adjust others. It’s no longer an option because if I don’t make the changes now, I could be facing a heart attack or something cardiac-related in the next decade or two. That’s some scary reality to be faced with! I don’t want to be another statistic. I have too much to lose and life is too great!

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to try to post weekly, sharing my wellness journey to the best me that I can be. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned along the way, what I found that works and doesn’t, and I’ll even share some recipes and books that I come across on my journey. So to kick things off:

I met with my primary physician last week. I set the groundwork with her and told her what I want. I aired my concerns and told her my objective. I asked questions. To me, it’s a matter of life and death, so I’m not kidding around. She immediately had me get blood drawn to check my cholesterol and other things, we also set up an appointment with a cardiologist, and I have an appointment for a physical. OK, all great steps. That same day I got my blood results back, and my cholesterol levels weren’t great. My LDL is 144. My doctor had told me that for someone like me, with a family history, that my LDL needs to be under 100. The nurse on phone said that the doc advised putting me on a statin… That’s something I’d like to avoid. A year ago this month my LDL had been 169, but six months later I had gotten it down to 112 with diet. I can do that again – except this time I’ll do better. I told the nurse that I’d like to speak to the cardiologist and try to lower it myself – that the statin would be my last resort.

I also asked the doctor about diet and exercise. And of course! Come on guys, we all know the answer here. Eat well and exercise. Duh!!!

But you know, I’ll fully admit that I don’t do the exercise part… somehow I’ve found myself putting those types of (vital) things on the backburner because I had a newborn, because I was swamped at work, because, because, because. Well, now it’s life or death time. So my doctor said that one should commit to at least 20 minutes of exercise every day. I asked if that needed to be like strenuous activity and she said that if one “moves” for at least 20 minutes each day (more is of course ideal) that that will help.

So when it comes to exercise, what’s on my to do list to hit that 20 minutes a day? Here’s my game plan: start going to yoga twice a week again, start going to pilates again, use the rowing machine that’s in my office every day, stand up and move around, go outside for a walk, and ride my horses more. Other steps (no pun intended) that can help are things like parking further away, take the stairs instead of the escalator, and stuff like that. And you might be saying, “She didn’t mention the gym…” I’m fully aware. I’ve just never been a runner or someone who likes a treadmill. It’s boring to me. I prefer to go outside and take a brisk walk and breathe in some fresh air. That’s not to say that in a month’s time that I won’t return to a gym and start using weights. But baby steps. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Next up, diet. So the doc told me that the Mediterranean Diet has proven that long-term it is the most effective for people like me. OK cool. I like fish and vegetables. So that brought me to a bookstore the next day and I found one Mediterranean Diet book but I need to find more, and a few for recipes. So in next week’s installment I’ll hopefully have more info about what’s involved in the Mediterranean Diet.

To wrap things up and put the game plan in place, this is how my mind works is: I begin by collecting data and figuring out the starting point. Going to the doctor established that. I now know where my cholesterol is. I know that I should probably lose around 10 lbs. of fat and let’s not get into this, “Oh the lbs. are just a number and it’s about how you feel…” and “Muscle is heavier than fat…” bit. The reality is that I’m too heavy! It’s plain and simple. After I had my daughter three years ago, I struggled with those last 10 lbs. of baby weight, and my body had changed as a result of a very difficult pregnancy. Now my body is knocking on the door and saying, “Soooo time to get healthy!” In order to achieve losing those lbs. and getting my cholesterol down I need to exercise every day and I need to change my diet a bit. That’s not too hard, is it? We shall see, because I’ve started! More next week.