Alan Thicke’s death shone a light on the Growing Pains dad and his lifestyle. Alan was happy and lived in a healthy way that kept him full of energy right up to the moment of his heart attack during a hockey game with his son.
He paid attention to his diet, got lots of exercise, and enjoyed his relatively stress-free life. According to TMZ, Thicke was the picture of health when he attended a Christmas party at John Paul DeJoria’s house on Sunday just two days before a heart attack caused his death.
Alan had a great time at the party, and friends who were there celebrating with the Growing Pains actor say that Thicke was “happy, healthy and looking forward to the holidays.” Alan and his family were so far from thinking he could be at risk for a heart attack that they were planning a post-Christmas party at the Thicke home to “watch college football and celebrate the holidays.”
Tragically, Alan’s heart was already giving up the battle even as he was extending the invitation. Thicke was one of the many over-55 men who thought about his health and tried to do everything right, but who suffered a heart attack and died despite everything.
A heart attack happens when “blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked,” and the lack of oxygen leads to pain and damage, literally “starving the muscle tissue of oxygen.” If the damage is severe enough to stop the heart, that’s called a cardiac arrest.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum is a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She explained to science site Live Science that Thicke’s heart attack could have “quickly [led] to death,” because the damage was so severe that the heart could only beat irregularly and “eventually stop entirely.” He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital with the heart attack named as Thicke’s cause of death.
John Torres, M.D., writes a heart health column for NBC News, and the sad news of Alan Thicke’s death prompted him to answer some questions about how such a thing could happen.
“The big question I’m getting is, how can a man who seemed so healthy, who was exercising and seemingly fit, suffer a deadly heart attack?”
The answer is complicated, and includes paying attention to the kinds of exercise you’re getting, being willing to head to the hospital even when there’s probably nothing wrong, and just admitting it when you have unexpected, “weird” symptoms.
“I’d rather they make a trip to the ER for what turns out to be a pulled muscle or a stomach virus than risk permanent heart damage.”
The right kind of exercise is important:
Alan took care of his heart and his health, exercised a lot, and played hockey with his son. He cared about his family and wanted to be there for them as long as possible. Thicke’s workouts may not have been regular enough. Torres said that “health benefits actually come from how often you exercise, not how intensely,” and that it’s especially important to take time to warm up and cool down.
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t right:
Chest pain is a dead giveaway that the victim is suffering a heart attack, and few people would ignore that sign. But “more subtle signs like nausea and vomiting” are also a sign of heart attack like the one that killed Alan Thicke. In particular, men over 55 should learn to “know their own bodies” so that they recognize possible heart attack symptoms. Even shortness of breath or dizziness can be a sign of a heart attack.
Don’t wait. Call 911:
Too often, a heart attack victim hopes it will go away if they ignore it. If you experience any of the symptoms, sit down and rest. But don’t wait. If it’s not a heart attack, you should start feeling better within “a matter of seconds.” Don’t hesitate any longer than a few seconds. Call 911 immediately if you haven’t noticed marked improvement right away.
TMZ reports that Thicke first had chest pains at around 11 a.m. and shortly after developed nausea. It was only around 30 minutes from the first sign that Alan was having a heart attack to the moment the paramedics began working on him.
[Featured Image by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images]