Six years ago, Chris Barritt, 63, of Mt. Airy, Md., had open-heart surgery at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center that removed a life-threatening tumor from his heart. Today, he has completed four Sprint Triathlons, a 56-mile bicycle ride and a cross-country motorcycle trip.

Chris offers his advice to people who may have had heart issues or perhaps just want to get back to regular exercise after a break.

What inspired you to become more physically active following your heart surgery?

I’ve always been a physically active person, but I didn’t exercise regularly. After surgery, I got the idea of surprising my son and daughter-in-law by joining them for a Sprint Triathlon, which includes a 400-meter swim, 14-mile bike ride and a 5k run. So, I joined a gym and began training.

Why do you feel that exercise is important?

If you allow yourself to become inactive then you’re more likely to say “I can’t do that,” and resign yourself to being a bystander. Live a physically active life and you’re more likely to have a “can do” attitude, get off the beaten path and experience life more fully.

In your experience, why is being physically active especially important if you are at risk for heart disease?

I think if you are not an active person before a heart problem strikes – especially one requiring surgery – you then have two hurdles in front of you. The first is simply recovery and the second is of course training yourself to become more active.

What keeps you motivated?

  • Being able to play, hike and travel with my four grandchildren
  • How great I feel, both physically and mentally, after a hard workout
  • How it affects my physical appearance and increases my overall endurance level
  • Paying my gym membership a year in advance adds more accountability

What is your advice to someone who has had heart surgery or just wants to exercise more?

  • Talk to your doctor and have a frank discussion about your fitness goals
  • Set realistic goals with the help of your doctor
  • Join a health club or exercise with a friend

Lastly, Chris reminds others looking to get in shape to be patient with yourself. “When I first started cycling, I would be exhausted after an eight-mile flat ride, now I ride 18+ miles with hills a couple of times a week,” said Chris. “It’s never too late to improve your physical health and fitness!”

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