From heart attack to health crusade

Heart & Stroke volunteer Praveen Varshney thinks we should all make time for healthy activity. And he walks the talk
Praveen and his family

Praveen (left) with his family.

Get up and exercise! These are more than mere words for Praveen Varshney. They have become a mantra.  

Almost seven years ago Praveen had a heart attack at age 46. He was at home in Vancouver, lying on the couch watching the latest Batman movie with his children, Aneesh and Jaiya, when he started feeling chest pains — a dull ache from neck to waist — and shortness of breath. He was suddenly sweating. He stepped outside for air but it didn't help. 

At emergency with his wife, Anuja, Praveen learned that he was having a heart attack. Soon he was in the operating room, where a stent was installed to open up a blockage of his right coronary artery. 

Praveen was shocked. "I always thought heart attacks happen to older people, people that don't make healthy choices." But he was also lucky in many ways: from the moment of his first symptoms to surgery was less than two hours, so there was no significant damage to the heart muscle.  

Finding a silver lining

Later, back at home, Praveen and Anuja began to ask why. Praveen had no family history of heart disease; his cholesterol levels were normal, his diet was pretty good, he has never smoked or taken drugs and he drinks only occasionally. Also, Praveen exercised regularly with a trainer, played hockey and practiced yoga weekly. 

He had to accept what his doctor told him: A heart attack can happen to anyone, at any time.

For Praveen, it turned out to be a blessing. "For me, my heart attack inspired me to change. I looked closely at my diet and took healthy eating to the next level,” he says. Praveen now considers himself close to a vegetarian, like his daughter.

And he has become even more passionate about exercise. He encourages others to find time for themselves and make physical activity a priority. 

Meeting on the go

“It’s important that we make time for exercise in our lives — no more excuses!” he says. “We have to ensure we are taking care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.”

One practice that Praveen has adopted is what he calls walk n’ talks. When meeting with colleagues or clients at his venture capital company, he’ll usually suggest heading outside. “Instead of having a sit down meeting in an office or coffee shop, you walk together. Not only do you conduct your meeting but you enjoy some exercise, fresh air and you get to see beautiful Vancouver,” he says.

As a member of the Heart & Stroke provincial board for BC & Yukon, Praveen encourages his employees, friends and family to make small changes that will add up to better health — things like taking the stairs, standing during a meeting or phone call or walking around the block.