The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In my 20-plus years as a cardiologist, I have treated coaches in the high school, college and professional ranks. I'm also definitely a fan of the Atlanta Falcons and the Philadelphia Eagles, where I am originally from. You can tell on the faces of the coaches you see during games that the stress can be extreme.
Stress is a known risk factor and trigger for heart disease, and we know stress is directly related to events. After an earthquake or severe storm, for instance, we see a spike in heart attacks and other heart problems. Because coaching culminates in high-stress situations, coaches are at a higher risk for cardiac events than the rest of the population.
That said, I would emphasize that while coaches have a position in front of the public, they are no different than other people of similar personalities in high-stress jobs. It's important to pay attention to your health risks.
When I see coaches arguing, I know their blood pressure and heart rate is spiking. There are a lot of coaches who appear unhealthy, at least externally. They may be former athletes, but now they are obese, perhaps from not having such a great diet. At this stage in their careers, they may not be exercising like they used to. They are at particularly high risk for heart problems.
Most coaches are also often at midlife, when we face other risk factors that can be genetic. They are often Type A personalities to begin with, and that adds into a formula for real heart risks.
If a coach wants to truly be a good leader, modeling the best way for their players, he or she needs to be a good listener. Most of my coaches who are patients are. They take advice from medical professionals and are interested in staying healthy, even if they weren't great specimens of health to begin with. Coaches should never ignore cardiac symptoms, even if they occur during the playing season.
Coaches need to have techniques for managing stress. Some of these techniques are healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding smoking and paying attention to weight. A level deeper than that are numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol and BMI. Like a team's statistics, those numbers are important for a coach to know.
There are many different treatments that eliminate or reduce risk. You can learn more by going to the American Heart Association's Web site (www.myheartmylife.org or www.facebook.com/Atlanta.AmericanHeartAssociation).
As told to Michelle Hiskey, for the AJC