Proof Positive: It's Never Too Late to Change

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Preventive Cardiology

Helen Martinson had a heart attack in 2009 when she was 79, and has changed her diet and exercise habits to improve her heart health.They say it's never too late, and for Helen Martinson, this has become a mantra.


After suffering a heart attack in 2009 at the age of 79, Martinson decided it was time to make some changes and work toward a healthier lifestyle.


"I had been having some episodes where my heart would beat fast and I could feel it

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in my neck," Martinson said. "I had some thyroid problems, so I just attributed it to that. I think I was denying it. I didn’t want to believe that I was having heart trouble."


Martinson saw her doctor a few days after the symptoms began and her doctor ordered an Electrocardiogram (EKG). During the test Martinson experienced a heart attack. The doctor called for an ambulance and she was sent to the hospital.


"The next day they put a stent in and a few days later I was released," Martinson said. "They also encouraged me to go to the UW Health for rehabilitation."


Martinson decided to take her doctor's advice and attend rehabilitation at UW Health Preventive Cardiology. Martinson began working with clinical exercise physiologist Laura Zeller.  They created a plan tailored to Martinson's needs, and as a supplement Martinson attended weekly sessions with different experts from University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.


"I really appreciated the one-week sessions when someone, such as a psychologist or a pharmacist, would come in and talk with us," said Martinson.


As a result, Martinson began to exercise more and to change her diet. She added fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other foods.


"I never had a veggie burger before and now we eat them at least once a week," Martinson said. "We also eat more salmon and walnuts."


Martinson has also added stationary biking and long walks to her routine.


"Before the heart attack, I didn’t realize how important exercise was. I would walk a bit or do an exercise tape, but now I walk and ride the stationary bike for 30 minutes a day, six days a week," Martinson said.


"She has always been forthcoming with her strengths and challenges," Zeller said. "That has allowed me to make some very specific recommendations to improve her quality of life. She visited with a dietitian, met with a stress reduction group and began exercise both at home and with our cardiac rehab exercise group. Despite feeling she did not like exercise, she understood the benefits and was willing to add it into her daily routine at age 79."


The transformation has been promising. Martinson now admits she enjoys exercise and it no longer feels like a chore.


"All that help I received helped me have a better attitude toward diet and exercise," she said. "I've lost at least 12 pounds, I have more energy and I now meditate at night before bed. ... I’m thankful that I followed the advice of the doctors who told me to go to rehab.


"I had this idea before that I was 79 and I shouldn’t be expected to work out. But you know, I needed it."

Zeller added: "Helen shows us it is never too late to take care of our bodies. Once we are adults, our lifestyle habits are well established, and breaking those habits can be very difficult.  She showed us that at any age, changes can be made to improve quality of life by digging deep and making the effort."