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Moving My Heart Muscles

By Alison Cunliffe

Do you know of a good disguise? Got any Invisible Man elixir kicking around the house?

I could use the help of either. They want to kick me out of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women's College Hospital, real soon now, once I successfully complete the program. But I want to sneak back in. So does everyone else who has won a time-limited ticket to the Holy of Healthy Holies on the seventh floor.

If you didn't know any better, you might call this shrine just another sweaty gym, run by Health Nut Hannahs and filled with instruments of torture, from the Traumatic Treadmill to the Wicked Weights and the Gruesome NuStep. It is true that this fitness facility gets you swimming in sweat, especially for people like me. My perspiration power plant rivals the hydro station at Niagara Falls, even if the exercise routine is limited to up, down, up, down – now the other eyelid.

Even with the tougher stuff, though, people on staff at the rehab centre manage to make it fun.

That's partly because the only time they ever yell at you is when you work too hard, and even then the chiding voice is raised to a decibel level about as high as the surf on a mill pond. The prevailing theory on the seventh floor, you see, is that pain equals no gain when you're teaching someone the simple joy of moving.

It's certainly working for me. When I got into the program, it had been six years or so since I'd been able to walk normally, thanks to blocked leg arteries. About this time last year, I could barely manage a two-minute walk before I had to sit down for a minute or two to let my blood-starved legs stop screaming.

Since then, though, I've had a Roto-Rooter job on both arteries and I've been able to turn the rehab crew loose on making my muscles get a move on after so many years.

About a month ago, they got me past the 10-minute mark, with a grin big and bright enough to light up the whole gym. Yesterday, I walked for 60 minutes at 2.5 miles an hour on a 2 per cent incline, and I could have kept going. They may have heard my hallelujah in China.

That's a thrilling way to measure results, of course, but the path toward a better quality of life hasn't stopped there. There's a precious camaraderie in this ever-changing group of exercise nuts in the making, and a spirit that makes it easy to push a little harder than yesterday and learn a little more the day after that on how to keep a heart healthy. Such an atmosphere has to start with the staff, I think. I figure some genius has gone into, not just developing the program, but also finding the right people to run it.

As my time starts to run out, though, I'm beginning to think something else is more important still: whether the staff can be persuaded to say OK when people chant, “Hell, no, I won't go.”

Got any good tips on successful bribery?

Editor’s note: The Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative comprises of a three-month primary prevention program for women with multiple risk factors and a six-month cardiac rehabilitation program for women with heart disease.

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