The latest episode in our Resilience Unravelled series has now been released, Resilience Unravelled – How decision-making drives change. New heart for life.
In this episode, Dr. Russell Thackeray talks to Dan Williams who is based just outside Washington in Virginia. Dan survived open-heart surgery where he was revived multiple times and went on to achieve top USA ranking as a masters track athlete. He also received All American honors from the United States Track and Field Association.
Dan was admitted to hospital in December 2012 for a routine stent heart procedure. It was in theory a straightforward day patient procedure. However, during the procedure he suffered multiple heart attacks. The Head of Cardiology was called and the following day Dan underwent a nine-hour operation during which he was lost twice. He was put into an induced coma and was brought round five days later.
It was an incredibly frightening time for Dan and his family. A few months later though he started drifting back into his old lifestyle. He wasn’t eating properly or exercising and allowing his sales job to introduce stress back into his life. Dan’s old habits led to him not feeling good about himself. He was in denial about how close he got to death and his heart attack had become his story. He had taken on the persona of a sick person and got comfortable being uncomfortable. Dan had no energy or enthusiasm. He felt lethargic, uncreative, and physically tired. It was then that he started questioning himself about whether he wasting the new life he’d been given. He came to the decision that he needed to make changes.
After suffering a heart attack many people worry about starting exercising again. Dan feels that what’s important is making the decision to do something. Once you take that decision things start to come together. You don’t need all the answers as things gradually change and reveal themselves. Dan had been a keen runner in his youth but had turned his back on it when family and work commitments increased. He decided he would reconnect with his earlier passion and started off on the road to fitness.
Starting off with five minutes walking, he gradually built up the distance and pace. He then joined a local masters athletics team (in the US masters is age 50 plus), which connected him with like-minded people. This then helped to create accountability, gave him a routine and provided esprit de corps, all of which helps keep you on track to a healthy lifestyle. Now aged 71 Dan completes nationally and internationally at 200 and 400 metres and is ranked in the USA as a top athlete in his age group.
Dan returned to something he had really enjoyed when he was younger which helped give him the motivation for change. Any type of change is difficult so you need to minimise resistance. Exercise itself creates discipline and provides a process that is simple but not easy. What you need to do is change the narrative in your head. People feel exercise is easy but our bodies and minds want to fall back into our comfort zones. One way to trick our mind is to start small. If our mind perceives a challenge or test that’s small, it allows us to achieve it. Dan started walking for five minutes and gradually increased it. When we achieve small goals we start to see the benefits and the tasks become easier.
Dan’s wake-up call allowed him to return to something he enjoyed when he was younger and reconnect with his younger self, a time when he wasn’t ill. Now, at 71 he is able to do things that traditionally he wouldn’t have been able to achieve.
You can listen to the podcast in full and find out further information about Dan here. Our previous podcast episodes and upcoming guest list are also available and there is an option to sign-up to receive our podcast episodes on release.
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