What doctors get wrong about exercise

Over the 18 months I suffered from debilitating angina and fatigue, I spent hours and hours online researching my condition. I was in an online support group for patients. I consulted with 2 cardiologists and my family doctor. The unified message from everyone was that heart disease and angina are permanent conditions whose symptoms may be managed through medications, but not well. The progression is always downwards, but may be slowed through lifestyle choices, particularly exercise.

When I was sitting in their offices, sobbing in frustration, no doctor ever told me that my suffering could be completely relieved by simple changes to my diet alone¹. In fact, no one mentioned diet to me at all, though every doctor stressed the importance of exercise. I found this particularly frustrating as exercise was something I desperately wanted to do, but was unable to because of the chest pain and fatigue of my condition.

Being told that the only way to prevent worsening of the condition which renders you unable to exercise is to exercise is simply cruel and unusual punishment. Especially since it is simply not true. Exercise cannot compensate for a bad diet.²¯³ Reversing heart disease is possible by eating a whole foods plant-based diet. Exercise will be easy and desirable once healing begins, but will not be the catalyst for change in the body. If exercise is too difficult right now, don’t worry, soon you will be happy to move.

After beginning my whole foods plant-based diet, the pain and fatigue lifted almost immediately. Within a week I was able to reduce my dose of nitroglycerin patches. Every week I reduced the dose a bit more until after a month I was pain-free on no medication. It’s difficult to describe just how liberating that was. I felt like dancing in the street. Quite literally. My urge to exercise once the endothelial function of my blood vessels was restored was overwhelming.

I sought out an exercise that would work more of my muscles than walking and give me more of an aerobic workout. I discovered indoor rowing and I’ve logged over 2 million metres (2000 km) in the last 10 months. When I was sick, the sheer effort of rowing was unthinkable, now I row 50 – 60 km a week. Of course, I haven’t stopped walking and I do that now just for the pure pleasure of being outside.

I love exercise and I agree that the benefits of exercise are immense. But just as your first stop with a broken bone is the emergency room, not the physiotherapist, it is unrealistic to expect good results from exercise with sick blood vessels. Luckily, the body starts the repair process very quickly on a whole foods plant-based diet.

No matter what your condition, listen to your doctor about exercise, just know that unless she is one of the rare breed of plant based doctors she doesn’t have the whole story. Fix what goes into your mouth first and the exercise will be easy and joyful.

¹http://www.pcrm.org/health/healthcare-professionals/nutrition-curriculum/section-one-preventing-and-reversing-heart-disease

²http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/12/16/comparing-vegans-arteries-to-runners/

³http://www.nealhendrickson.com/mcdougall/021200puExercisePF.htm

featured image credit: unsplash

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