Health Team

Senior citizen gets fit to keep heart healthy

Iris Vinegar, 82, is giving patients at Duke Health Raleigh Hospital's Heart Rehab Program inspiration to get active.

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Iris Vinegar, 82, is giving patients at Duke Raleigh Hospital's Heart Rehab Program inspiration to get active. 

“She's very physically fit. She's very motivated. She puts a lot of emphasis on risk factor management, controlling her blood pressure, her weight. She's just incredible,” said Pamela Arthur-Thompson, a RN nurse practitioner.

Vinegar wasn't born with an exercise gene.

“I was not active up until the time I was in my 50's. Actually, I was pudgy, not obese, but kind of pleasingly plump. Maybe not so pleasingly,” Vinegar said.

When dealing with depression – the widow and mother of two adult sons – decided to run. With professional trainers and her doctor's OK, she ran her first marathon eight years ago. Then last year, narrowing in her aortic heart valve slowed her down.

“I could drop dead of what they call sudden death syndrome (SDS) with a certain surge of exercise, even if I'm not running,” Vinegar said.

In January, Vinegar had valve replacement surgery at Duke University Hospital. Four months later, she is planning more races to run.

“But if you're in good condition, when you have it (heart valve) repaired, when you have surgery, you have a much better chance to get through it,” Vinegar said.

Vinegar encourages fitness for a long happy life.

“They don't have to run. I mean, a lot of people think I'm crazy to do it at my age, but I do it and it works for me,” she said.

Most people Vinegar's age have developed several risk factors for cardiovascular problems. However, some doctors expect to see more active seniors in the future.

As a more active generation ages, their fitness level is going to help them avoid the usual problems associated with growing older. If a person is as fit as Vinegar, they can be as active as they want to be, doctors say.


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