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Getting Serious About Heart Health

Although he knew his family history put him at a higher risk for heart disease, WMC Action News 5 Chief Meteorologist Ron Childers never thought his lifestyle could harm his health.

“I was working the morning show and waking up every morning at 2 a.m.,” he said. “I was making it through each day on caffeine and fast food, and it wasn’t until I sat down with my doctor that I realized how unhealthy my lifestyle actually was.”

A native Memphian, Childers was impacted by heart disease at an early age. His mother suffered from heart damage brought on by a bout of rheumatic fever during her childhood. At age 35, she suffered a stroke and underwent several procedures to repair her damaged heart, including two heart valve replacements.

“At one point, she had a mechanical valve that made a soft ticking sound,” he recalled. “That’s how we knew she was okay; we would hear the ticking from her room while she slept.”

The Mid-South Heart Walk and Red Dress Dash will take place on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Court Square Park.

Activities begin at 8:30 a.m. and the walk/run begins at 9:45 a.m.

To register, visit http://www.MidSouthHeartWalk.org.

In 1995, when Childers’ career in TV was taking off, his mother underwent a heart transplant, which gave her an additional 19 years with her family. However, less than a year after her transplant, his father passed away suddenly from a heart attack at the age of 60.

“My dad loved to eat everything fried and rarely exercised,” he said. “That really should have been my wake-up call in regards to my own heart health.”

Years later, Childers discussed his diet and lifestyle with his doctor and was shocked when he realized he was making it through each day mostly by caffeine.

“I was drinking multiple cups of coffee, a couple of energy drinks and diet sodas, and taking vitamins which were also high in caffeine,” he said. “I was only getting about four hours of sleep a night.”

Childers cut caffeine, modified his diet and began exercising regularly. He also transitioned to the evening news, which allowed him to develop better sleep habits.

A few years later, while at a local pharmacy with his wife, he decided to check his blood pressure at the kiosk. His numbers were significantly high. He wanted to brush it off as just a glitch with the machine, but his wife knew otherwise and told him to make an appointment to see his physician. After he continued to have high blood pressure readings and became symptomatic, his primary physician referred him to Dr. Arie Szatkowski, a cardiologist with Stern Cardiovascular Foundation.

“He put me on blood pressure medication, but I knew I would have to take a hard look at my diet and up my physical activity to keep from having to take additional medications,” he said.

Childers refocused his lifestyle, and began exercising for 30 minutes a day through a combination of P90x, running on the treadmill, and walking. He also started packing a healthy lunch for work each day.

In 2015, the American Heart Association asked Childers to chair the 2016 Mid-South Heart Walk campaign, and it was a role he was happy to accept.

The Mid-South Heart Walk is the American Heart Association’s top community fundraising event. This year, the non-competitive 5K will also offer competitive runners the opportunity to compete in a timed component, The Red Dress Dash.

“For us, the goal is to get people up off the couch and moving, no matter how fast they are going,” Childers said. “The Red Dress Dash will offer those who like to run the opportunity to try and beat their previous time. To add a little fun, we are asking them to compete in a red dress.”

Lori Pope is the Communications Director for the American Heart Association Memphis Chapter

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