Dave walked back to health 'one step at a time' after a heart attack
Dave Altoft's story shows how walking can be a great way to improve your health after heart problems - and walking can be addictive!
Putting one foot in front of another might not sound like much, but it’s given Dave Altoft, 57, a new focus, and the knowledge that he’s doing a lot to reduce his risk of further heart problems. Dave says he’s “walked back to health one step at a time” after his heart attack.
Dave, who lives in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, was leading an active life, working at a chemical plant. So it took a while to realise that something was wrong with his heart. “I can understand why some people get caught out because they think it’s nothing,” he says. “We were in Boston, in America, on holiday. I started getting a little wheeziness, a bit of pressure about the size of an eggcup between my ribs, and aching down to my elbows.”
The symptoms subsided until Dave and wife Corenna got back to Scotland. “They became more and more frequent until one day I thought: ‘This isn’t right’,” he says.
Suffering a heart attack
After what Dave now suspects was an angina attack, his employer sent him to hospital. He was monitored for a couple of days before returning home, where his health took a downward turn. “I was sitting watching the telly,” Dave says. “I had instant sweating, then the pain went past my elbows to my fingertips and I couldn’t get comfy.”
The only motivation you need is to live longer and be healthier.
Dave caught a taxi to Kirkcaldy Hospital and was transferred by ambulance to Dunfermline. “I was in A&E and I had a heart attack ,” he says. “I was curled up in pain and I said to my nurse: ‘I don’t want to be a drama queen, but this is really, really sore.’”
Having angioplasty treatment
He was given heparin (an anticoagulant) and GTN spray to ease the symptoms, before being moved to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to have two stents fitted.
He returned to hospital six weeks later to have another stent fitted, in his femoral artery (the artery in the thigh). Called a femoral angioplasty, this means the same type of blockage that affected the arteries supplying his heart was affecting Dave’s thigh too – a condition called peripheral arterial disease.
Finding motivation for walking
Dave’s cardiologist Mark Francis explained that increasing his amount of physical activity would help extend his life. “That was all the encouragement I needed,” he says. ““I’ve always enjoyed walking, so I started meeting up with four or five friends, who all have dogs. We’d go to the local park and I’d walk around with them. For months after, people used to ask me: ‘Where’s your dog?’ The dogs were really good, though; they dragged me around.”
Dave built up the distance he was comfortable with. When two laps of the local park, at around two miles, became easy, he pushed himself further.
“Now I’ll walk a mile and a half to the park, a mile around the park, then down to the sea front and back round the town ,” he says. “That’s my usual route.”
Dave got himself a fitness tracker, which counts the number of steps he takes every day. Most people in the UK average 3,500–5,000 steps a day, but we should aim for 10,000 or more to benefit our health.
“Initially, I was doing about 2,000 steps a day, which I thought was alright,” Dave says. “I gradually built it up at a time to 5,000, then 10,000, then 12,000. Now I think 12,000 is alright as a baseline and anything above that is a bonus.”
Put down the iPad or TV remote and get walking.
Walking on holiday
Even on holiday, Dave makes sure he’s hitting his target. “Corenna and I just get out and walk, stop for a coffee or go along the river,” he says. “Anyone who has had a heart attack should get back on their feet and walk back to health one step at a time.
“Take it as something positive, a second chance, a warning, a gift of life. Just don’t give in. Put down the iPad or TV remote and get walking, whether it be 10 minutes or 10 miles. Get advice from your cardiologist, but as long as they’re happy, keep pushing yourself to go further and walk longer.”
Dave's top tips
- The only motivation you need is to live longer and be healthier.
- There’s no set time to go walking, there’s no routine, you just need to put in the steps.
- Using a fitness tracker or pedometer can motivate you. I’ve seen myself at 8.30 at night looking at my fitness tracker, saying: ‘I’m 2,000 steps short!’ and going for a walk.
Walking with the BHF
Whether you’re a seasoned long-distance walker or an enthusiastic first-timer, there’s a BHF walk to suit you. Here are a few of our upcoming hikes. To see the full list or register for an event, visit the BHF walks and treks website or call 0845 130 8663.