Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States as well as in the world overall. “And South Asians, for us, fats are a gesture of love. The more ghee you add into the meal, the more love you add. But it’s time to change our diets and lifestyle because this disease can be battled,” says Akil Taher, M.D. He is a septuagenarian endurance athlete and a physician based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a survivor of heart disease.
In his 60s, after a bypass—and his own bevy of ailments—when most would retreat to a rocking chair and an overly-cautious lifestyle, Taher decided a transformation was in order. Just eight months after his surgery, he ran and completed a his first half-marathon, the 13.1-mile Nashville Country Music Half Marathon in Tennessee. Subsequently, he completed a full marathon in Chicago in 3 hours, joining less than 1% of the US population that has run a full marathon. Ever since, he’s run, swum, biked and mountaineered around the world; embraced spirituality and now relies on a whole foods, plant-based (WFPB) diet.
“You know,” he says emphatically, a twinkle of vitality shining through his eyes. “Adversity brings out the best in people. “It can, if you choose to treat it as a friend, instead of an enemy.” He was not always so genial and eager to connect with people. By his own admission, he used to have an acerbic personality—which also changed with his lifestyle.
For his transformation, “It’s not bad genetics,” he emphasizes. His own family illness history is nothing to be proud of. “It’s bad diet!”
Now, he’s decided that South Asians need not fall prey to their genes and there is a way to, well, bypass the bypass.
Thanks to the pandemic and some encouragement from his nephew, Asif Mandvi, he has written a book about it.
Open Heart is part memoir, part guide to life and part instruction manual. Taher opens up about his transformation from sedentary slob to a “…beacon of hope for senior citizens navigating the winter of their lives, or the darkest passage of their lives.”
The book has received great praise from a diverse range of people. In the words of Emeritus Professor at Emory University Bhagirath Majmudar M.D., who is also a priest and a poet, the book “… leads by demonstrating how a person, especially a physician, can lift himself from the nadir of negativism to a zenith of zeal.” Go ahead, give it a shot. You will not be disappointed.
There is a Chinese proverb which goes “Man fools himself. He prays for a long life, and he fears an old age.” The book is a must-read for those who have entered the winter of their lives and wish they could do more—to know that they can indeed achieve their secret or not so secret dreams and beat or prevent heart disease.