Listen To Your Heart On “How Not To Die”

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I absolutely love biographies. I love to hear the stories behind what inspires, motivates and changes someone’s life…and often times, his or her own family and future generations down the road.

Many of you know a bit about me, especially this month. Six years ago, my dear dad, Tony, was taken way too soon, shortly before his 65th birthday. Writing about my dad’s shocking passing in Fresh Lifestyle Magazine 2 years ago helped me to “get it out” and come to grips with that day when I received the call from my incredibly sweet but very strong mom, Jeanne. 

My Father in Law, Joe Murphy, is my fun former softball coach, whom I have known since I was a teenager and started dating his son, Scott, over 25 years ago. (Time doesn’t just fly. It seems to be on warp speed!) “Big Joe” knows I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years, and he thoughtfully bought me a book a few years ago that has clearly been a life changer – and likely saver – for many! It has quickly become a New York Times Best Seller since publication in 2015. I finally had a chance to sit down and read some of this fascinating book, and Dr. Michael Greger, M.D., had me at hello…or in this case, the dedication of the book as well as the very first sentence:

“It all started with my grandmother.” Dr. Greger explains that he was only a child when his 65 year old grandmother was diagnosed with end-stage heart disease and the doctors sent her home in a wheelchair to die. He thinks “what sparks many kids to want to become doctors when they grow up is watching a beloved relative become ill or even die. But for me, it was watching my grandma get better.” Wow. 

In learning a bit about Dr. Greger’s biography, I realized that we have something monumental in common. Our commonality centers around family history of heart disease…and some of those dearest to us struggling with health issues way too soon. In addition to my beloved father, my maternal grandmother, Helen, whom I was named after, also passed away suddenly due to a sudden brain aneurysm as she drove home from work in her early 50’s. I was still a baby when she passed. According to, in most cases, a brain aneurysm, which is a bulging, weak area in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain, causes no symptoms and goes unnoticed. 

Dr. Greger was fortunate to see his grandmother live, thanks to a healthy diet and lifestyle, another 31 years on earth with her 6 grandchildren until she was 96 years old!! Her near-miraculous recovery inspired young Dr. Greger to pursue a career in medicine and granted her enough healthy years to see him graduate from medical school! The devastating difference for me – and for my family and those who were blessed to have known my dad as well as my Grandma Helen, is that without any warning at all, they were both gone in an instant. 

Chances are, we all know someone affected by heart disease and stroke, because about 2,300 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of 1 death every 38 seconds. Heart disease is the number one reason we and most of our loved ones will die. 

The first American Heart Month, which took place in February 1964, was proclaimed by President Lyndon B. Johnson via Proclamation 3566 on December 30, 1963. At that time, more than half the deaths in the U.S. were caused by cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, remains the leading global cause of death with more than 17.9 million deaths each year. That number is expected to rise to more than 23.6 million by 2030.

Although “only a quarter of medical schools appear to offer a single dedicated course on nutrition,” Dr. Greger felt compelled to immerse himself into learning more about nutrition training.  He attended college at Cornell University, where he was hired to work on mad cow issues for Farm Sanctuary and became a vegan after touring a stockyard as part of his work. He was accepted by nineteen medical schools, but chose Tufts because they boasted the most nutrition training – 21 hours’ worth, although this was still less than 1% of the curriculum. Even with these 21 hours, there was no mention of using diet to treat chronic disease, let alone reverse it. He was only aware of this body of work because of his family’s personal story. 

America’s number-one killer is fatty deposits in the walls of your arteries called atherosclerotic plaque. Plaque accumulates inside the coronary arteries – the blood vessels that crown the heart and supply it with oxygen-rich blood. The buildup of plaque – atherosclerosis – is the hardening of the arteries by pockets of cholesterol-rich gunk that builds up within the inner linings of the blood vessels. Over decades, the restriction of blood circulation to the heart muscle can lead to chest pain and pressure (angina), when people try to exert themselves. If the plaque ruptures, a blood clot can form within the artery. This sudden blockage of blood flow can cause a heart attack, damaging or even killing part of the heart. 

According to William C. Roberts, editor in chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, the only critical risk factor for atherosclerotic plaque buildup is cholesterol, specifically elevated LDL “bad” cholesterol. The 3 boosters of bad cholesterol – the #1 risk factor for our #1 killer – all stem from eating animal products and processed junk.

So how do we prevent heart disease?? Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and they are related to what we eat. Our diet is the #1 cause of premature death and the #1 cause of disability. Unfortunately, many of us simply take meds when we begin having health problems. Global spending for prescription drugs is surpassing $1 trillion annually, with the United States accounting for about 1/3 of this market. The Mayo Clinic estimates that nearly 70% of Americans take at least on prescription drug. The cholesterol-lowering statin drug Lipitor has become the best-selling drug of all time, generating more than $140 billion in global sales.

Heart disease is reversible!! Dr. Greger explains that given the right conditions, the body heals itself. What saved his grandmother was a live-in program that she saw on a segment aired on “60 Minutes” soon after she was discharged from the hospital to spend her last days at home. Nathan Pritikin, an early lifestyle medicine pioneer, had just opened a new center in California, where everyone was placed on a plant-based diet and then started on a graded exercise program. Dr. Greger states, ”They wheeled my grandmother in, and she walked out.” 

“The pandemic of chronic disease has been ascribed in part to the near-universal shift toward a diet dominated by animal-sourced and processed foods – in other words, more meat, dairy, eggs, oils, soda, sugar, and refined grains.” Even vegetarians can suffer high rates of chronic disease, though, if they eat a lot of processed foods. 

Dr. Greger discusses “The Simple 7” factors that can lead to a healthier life according to the American Heart Association. Not smoking, not being overweight, being “very active” (the equivalent of walking at least 22 minutes a day), eating healthier (for example, lots of fruits and vegetables), having below-average cholesterol, having normal blood pressure, and having normal blood sugar levels. 

Please note that this article strictly covers the first 29 pages of “How Not To Die” because the focus on heart disease stops here. However, the book has 412 pages of eye opening information before closing with the notes and index. 

This book is thought provoking for me personally, as I know my husband and our 3 young children don’t have the desire to become vegetarian anytime soon, but they can exercise and eat meats and processed foods in moderation. I am very thankful for our Tower Garden on our back patio, which allows us to grow our own fruits and vegetables without soil, and waters itself via a small pump and timer.

Again, This Valentine’s and American Heart Month, if you are like me, and you can’t pick up the phone and call Heaven, simply reach out and say hello to those you are blessed to still have in your life. Now you have a few more things to talk about!

“Happy Times!!” – and thanks for this great book, Big Joe!


Source: “How Not To Die” by Michael Greger, M.D.

Graduate of University of Florida with Bachelors Degrees in Business and Spanish. Almost 20 years of sales management, marketing and accounting experience in corporate America, including 15 years as Vice President. Former President of the American Marketing Association. Passionate exercise enthusiast, Health and Wellness Coach, 30 year Vegetarian and proud mother of 3 children with her high school sweetheart, Scott.

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