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Cardiovascular Health

Celebrity Trainer Bob Harper’s Tough Lesson in Heart Health

Photo: Courtesy of Phil Penman

Eating leafy greens and hitting the gym every day doesn’t make you immune to the leading killer of men and women in the United States — a fact celebrity personal trainer and author Bob Harper learned the hard way when he suffered a heart attack at 51.

“I don’t remember that day at all,” he tells Mediaplanet. Six weeks before, he recalls experiencing dizzy spells and fainting mid-workout. “I made excuses… that I was dehydrated or that I hadn’t eaten enough.”

The morning of the heart attack, Harper had joined friends at his local gym. After a routine workout, he dropped to the floor and stopped breathing. “[A doctor] tried to perform CPR on me, and I had already turned blue. I had a heart attack and immediately went into cardiac arrest.”

A hazy nightmare

For Harper, many of the day’s details are still unclear. “I woke up two days later surrounded by my closest friends from Los Angeles and family members from Tennessee,” he shares. A recent study by Sweden’s Lund University reports that half of all heart attack survivors experience memory loss, attention problems and other cognitive issues. “I was confused and asking what happened, and that’s when they told me that I had a heart attack. As soon as they’d tell me what had happened, I’d forget ten minutes later.”

A NEW LEASE ON LIFE: The experience has left Harper feeling more passionate than ever; he has continued to check in regularly with his doctor and urge those who think like he did to do the same. 

Harper’s heart attack prompted changes to his diet and physical conditioning, but had a larger impact on his perspective. “I was the workout guy; working out defined a big part of who I was, and it’s not like that anymore,” he shares. “I wasn’t allowed to do anything for a long time, and it was a big change. I had to find other outlets for self-release, and it was really hard.”

Doctor’s orders

A recent survey found that only 27 percent of respondents were aware of all the major symptoms of a heart attack and knew to call 911 when someone was having a heart attack. Harper, who currently resides in New York City, hopes that continued education and clear communication with health care professionals will help improve these statistics.

“I used to hate going to the doctor. I was always nervous. I had what they call ‘white coat syndrome,’” he laughs. “Now when I go to the doctor, I feel comforted. I’ve talked to so many types of doctors that it feels very comforting.”

Harper hopes that by sharing his story, he’ll encourage people to look beyond appearances when evaluating health and wellness. “You can look like the perfect picture of health, but until you know what’s going on inside, you don’t have the full story,” he urges. “Since the heart attack, I have a whole new lease on life and feel more passionate than I’ve ever felt.”

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