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Swimming Just Saved My Life

Over a million Americans will suffer a heart attack this year. Where are you on the cardiac risk chart?

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Jim Toedtman, swimming saved my life

Swimming and other forms of exercise can greatly reduce your cardiac risk. — Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting

En español | I am a statistic today, one of 1.4 million Americans who will suffer a heart attack this year. More important, I'm one of the million who will survive.

Sign up for the AARP Health Newsletter.

Here's how. I'm an active 70-year-old. On the cardiac risk chart, I'm on the margins. I do not have diabetes or high blood pressure. I am not obese. My cholesterol levels are under control. My genes do pose a problem: My dad died of a heart attack and brittle arteries at 66. To counter that, I've been swimming three or four times a week for more than 25 years.

With extra training, I was ready for a one-mile race in the Chesapeake Bay. It was relatively uneventful, though I swam faster than usual and my sense of direction was oddly askew — I spent more time heading for the Azores than Annapolis! An hour later, after collecting a third-place trophy and changing clothes, I became light-headed and felt a heavy pressure on my chest. My wife was right: It was more serious than I thought, and I needed help. There began an odyssey through the public health system, and at every stop — the EMS tech, the ER orderly, the ER docs and nurse-practitioner, the nurses and cardiac specialists — their verdict was unanimous. Swimming had saved my life.

From past AARP Bulletin articles, I know the importance of speedy attention and recognized the coordinated care I was getting. The ambulance was equipped with an electrocardiogram machine that transmitted a dozen tracks of my heart rhythm directly to the Anne Arundel Medical Center's emergency room.

Next: The ER greeting was harsh: "You've had a heart attack." »

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