“The commitment was really made for me if I wanted to live.” — Jim Zanos, Pittsburgh

I just happened to see an ad for a screening test being given for stroke and cholesterol, and since my father died at age 62 with heart disease, I figured I might as well take it. The results were pretty startling. I showed a 50 percent blockage in my carotid artery and my cholesterol was 260. Oddly enough, the doctor wasn’t as concerned about the blockage as he was about the high level of cholesterol. He put me on medication and told me I needed to straighten out my eating habits. I immediately changed my diet dramatically. I was a big cheese eater, and that went, as well as most of the meat. Basically I started eating low-fat and fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods.

The whole thing surprised me, because I’m not overweight and I’m in pretty good shape. I don’t exercise as much as I used to because of a hip replacement that bothers me a lot, but I’m pretty active. I think that maybe at a certain age you just have to watch these things more carefully. I’ve gotten really good at interpreting those food labels too. You have to watch out. The figures they quote are usually for one serving, not for the whole package. So when you start to calculate, you’re getting way too much fat.

I don’t have any problems taking the medication. I trust my doctor and I’m tested often to make sure everything is OK. This is just the way it is now. You ask if I’m committed to this? The commitment was really made for me if I want to live. It’s pretty simple. A lot of people take the “I don’t want to know” approach with their health. If you don’t care if you live or die, I suppose that attitude is OK. Anybody who has a family background like mine should get the appropriate tests and then make the necessary lifestyle changes to keep themselves alive. There’s really not a choice, is there?

Controlling your cholesterol involves eating the right foods, getting plenty of physical activity and taking medication if your doctor has prescribed it. Your diet should be low in saturated and trans fats and include lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meat, fish, poultry, whole-grain, high-fiber foods, and low-fat and fat-free milk dairy products.

Thank you to the American Heart Association for this blog content!