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Heart Health and the Holidays: Bob Harper Tells All

Heart health and the holidays

The holiday season can be stressful for everyone, and especially heart attack survivors. Learn what The Biggest Loser host and heart attack survivor Bob Harper has to say about taking care of yourself during these challenging times.


When you are a personal trainer and fitness expert, the host of The Biggest Loser, a yoga instructor, and a best-selling author of books on how to successfully lose weight, you probably know a thing or two about health. Then throw into the mix the fact that this expert, Bob Harper, had an unexpected event—a heart attack—and the result is a man who is on a heart-health crusade to help other heart attack survivors live the very best life they can.

What better time to share that message than during the holidays, when it can be challenging for everyone to manage the stress, make healthy food choices, and keep up one’s normal routines.

The great awakening

In 2017, Harper was working out in the gym one minute and the next thing he knew, he was waking up in a hospital two days later. He had been shocked three times with an automated external defibrillator and had nearly died. He was only 52.

That heart event changed his life in several ways, and among them was his new association with the national movement known as Survivors Have Heart. Here heart attack survivors share their stores so they and their loved ones can embrace ways to best maneuver this new phase of their lives. The movement also strives to support individuals who may be at risk of experiencing another heart attack.

Harper’s work with Survivors Have Heart provides poignant lessons for survivors and their family and friends, as well as anyone who has a heart attack survivor in their lives. Because stressful situations can be especially challenging for people who have experienced a heart attack, it’s a good time to address those challenges as the holiday season approaches.

Harper’s heart healthy holiday tips

During a recent interview with Harper, he talked about how heart attack survivors can better take charge of their lives during this hectic and often demanding time of year. Harper’s experience gained from his own heart attack and in working with other heart attack survivors has led him to deal with lots of questions about how to stay healthy and focused during the holiday season. Here’s some of what he shared with us.

Question: How can heart attack survivors deal with or what can they say to well-intentioned family and friends who pressure them to eat or drink unhealthy holiday goodies?
Harper immediately emphasized the importance of having a support team. In these situations, he noted, survivors need to be open and honest with themselves and not be afraid to ask their support team to keep them on track. That can take the form of asking for help in staying away from unhealthy foods, continuing to go to the gym or do other daily exercise, keeping all doctors’ appointments, maintaining a healthy (7 to 8 hours nightly) sleep schedule, and practicing stress management techniques daily.

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Question: How can you be your own health advocate?
The bottom line, says Harper, is that he can provide tips on what heart attack survivors should do, but it’s up to them to implement the suggestions. He urges individuals to “look inward” and to consider that their lives are not just about them. In his case, he said “I wanted to make all the right choices for them as well as for myself.”

Question: What is the biggest hurdle you faced after your heart attack?
“Trusting my heart again,” Harper said without hesitation. While he admits to going through “the hills and valleys” of emotions the days and months after his life-changing episode, it also brought him to Survivors Have Heart.

One way heart attack survivors and their supporters can move forward is to talk about how the event makes them feel. Harper shared some of the thoughts from fellow survivors and supporters. On the survivor side, individuals remarked that they felt “vulnerable, “powerless and weak,” “horrified,” “helpless,” embarrassed,” and that the attack had “taken everything away.”

Yet on the supporter side, the rhetoric of family and friends was much different. They used words like “fighter,” “giver,” “brave, “an inspiration,” and “amazing.” They expressed that they were “so glad you are here,” and that you “make our world go round.” As Harper noted, “they saw our strengths, and we saw our weaknesses.”

Question: In your work with Survivors Have Heart, what are the most common challenges people talk about?
Again, Harper didn’t hesitate: “There’s so much information,” he said, “and it can be overwhelming. A good support group is critical.” He encouraged everyone to establish and maintain a relationship with their healthcare providers so they all can keep up to date with any health issues or questions.

What are some other heart health tips for the holidays?

  • Dress appropriately for the weather, especially when you travel. Be prepared for travel delays and temperatures that are much colder or hotter than you are used to. Bring extra clothing with you to accommodate the unexpected.
  • If you are taking any medications or supplements, be sure to take them with you if you are doing any traveling, even if it is a day trip. Weather conditions may prevent you from returning home when you planned.
  • Take some time for yourself and self-care. This may mean setting aside time each day for meditation, a walk, yoga, a short nap, or enjoying a cup of tea in a quiet corner.
  • Set limits when attending social events where food and alcohol are present. Take note of the options and call upon your support team to help you make nutritious choices.
  • Limit your alcohol intake or eliminate it altogether. You may want to begin with a glass of bubbly water with a splash of lime or tomato juice with lemon.
  • Pay attention to any symptoms. If you begin to feel fatigued, lightheaded, or weak, be sure to rest and reevaluate your activities.

Make this and every holiday a heart-healthy and safe one! For more information about Survivors Have Heart and how to heal emotionally as well as physically after a heart attack, visit the Survivors Have Heart website.

Deborah Mitchell - For more than 20 years, I have been a freelance health/medical writer, and have authored, co-authored, and ghostwritten more than 40 books, all published by major houses. Although I started my career covering medical symposia in the area of conventional medicine, today I lean more toward complementary/alternative medicine and gerontology. You can follow Deborah on Facebook on Twitter.

This story has been reviewed by Dr. Inaam Schneider, MD of Schneider Medical Group. According to U.S. News Health, Dr. Inaam Schneider is an internist in Raleigh, North Carolina. She received her medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine and has been in practice for more than 20 years.

Dr. Schneider adds: "It takes a support team and commitment on the part of the survivor to stay healthy! Keep up with visits with a cardiologist and be aware of he/ she feels. This is a 'new' journey towards wellness."