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Hearts Together

Chopin plays on the stereo. The late-afternoon sun streams in the bay window. Hard-cover books line the built-in shelves -- all of them read.

Welcome to the living room of Elmo and Norma Anderson -- where living is all about the simple joys of learning, laughing and loving.

“And paying attention!” says Elmo, a retired Lutheran pastor from Fargo. “It’s so important that we take note of the world around us.”

This past year, thanks to close attention to a heart problem, the Andersons set forth on a path that’s made a profound difference in their health. Today they sing the praises of daily exercise at Sanford Cardiac Rehab.

A lifesaving observation

Elmo was no stranger to stable angina -- chest pain that emerged with exertion and went away with rest. He noticed it most when shoveling snow.

“But in March 2011 the chest pain changed,” he says. “A couple of times I’d sit down to rest, but the pain wouldn’t go away.”

His observation led to medical care at Sanford Heart Center. After a thorough assessment and several tests, Elmo underwent an angioplasty to open blocked coronary arteries and place two stents. He also had an unforgettable conversation with Sanford cardiologist Dr. Susan Farkas.

“She was excellent, particularly in the way she explained my heart situation. I knew exercise had to become a top priority, along with improving nutrition and taking medication,” says Elmo. “In the past I’d been half-hearted. I’d exercise for a while, then quit. Not anymore!”

Bring your companion

The team at Cardiac Rehab welcomed Elmo -- and Norma, too. Both could benefit from the exercise as well as the information on reducing risk factors.

“I went as his companion,” says Norma, chuckling. They’ve been married 55 years.

Twice a week Norma and Elmo attended the exercise and education sessions. “There’s a comfort level in exercising under close supervision,” says 78-year-old Norma. “You know that if anything happens, a well-trained person is readily available to help you.”

They noticed other things, too:

The quality and upkeep of the exercise equipment -- 30 pieces in all.

The helpful, cheerful nature of the staff. “They really encourage you,” says Norma.

The flexible exercise times. Cardiac Rehab is open and staffed every day Monday - Friday.

An exercise home

After completing their prescribed 30 Cardiac Rehab sessions, Elmo and Norma decided to make Cardiac Rehab their exercise home. Today they exercise an hour a day, five days a week.

“We have no problem spending an hour -- or more -- exercising,” says Elmo. “In fact we look forward to it.”

“It’s much better when you can do it together,” says Norma. “I’ve know for years I should be exercising, but just didn’t get to it.”

They’ve appreciated several health benefits:

Weight loss. Elmo’s lost about 15 pounds in the last year and Norma’s lost a few pounds, too. “But I don’t want her losing too much,” says Elmo. “She’s sexy just the way she is.”

Better health. “It seems like your whole system works better when you get exercise,” says Norma.

Less stiffness. Elmo’s noticed improvement in his rheumatoid arthritis.

Greater stamina. “The whole family including all the grandchildren were here for my 80th birthday. We had a wonderful time walking to the park and playing,” says Elmo.

More years of independent living. The Andersons love their “not so big house” -- and the book by the same name. “The better able we are to take of ourselves, the longer we’ll be able to stay here,” says Norma. “It inspires us to keep exercising.”

Worth a thousand words

Elmo has experienced no chest pain or heart trouble since his angioplasty. But he won’t allow himself to forget what happened.

He reaches over and pulls Sanford’s “Heart Owner’s Manual” from a shelf. He turns to a well-worn page: an X-ray image of his heart and coronary arteries.

“This is the picture I keep in my mind when I’m at Cardiac Rehab. It motivates me,” he says, pointing to the opened artery. “When I exercise, I know my heart and arteries are working like they should. But if I don’t, they’ll go to sleep. And so will I...”

Invested in exercise and committed to each other, the Andersons turn their rich days into treasured years.

The simple joys of learning, laughing, loving…

Posted Date: May 2012