Many of us in the Amateur Radio community enjoy contesting. Some like the challenge of operating for an extended period to test their personal endurance and/or to improve their operating skills. Others find the thrill of competition addictive, due to the adrenalin rush it creates (and they can't seem to get enough of it). Hams in this group talk about getting a mid-week mini-contest "fix" during a practice sprint or other contest-like event. Still others - like John Devoldere, ON4UN - view contesting as akin to Formula 1 racing and strive to build the best possible stations for competition and set their goals to win or to achieve a particular milestone. Those who are like me enjoy contesting for the new DX they can work, especially as the DX is eager to log as many stations as possible during a contest. Finally, many belong to contest groups and set their personal goals based upon trying to win the competition or helping their team to win.
The average age of the US ham has been steadily rising for several decades. Nearly all contest and DX-oriented ham operators are old enough to be at risk for a heart attack or the development of cardiovascular disease. I have learned that many within our hobby already suffer from heart disease. Tune aroung 75 meters any evening, and most likely you'll come across operators mentioning their encounters with the medical community - whether it be related to a new coronary stent, a defibrillator or pacemaker o recovery from coronary bypass surgery. Frankly, I try to avoid casual 75 meter operating, since my call sign reveals my medical background.
While I have been a ham for 32 years, my time with the hobby these days is limited. I spend most of my time practicing as a cardiologist, and this leaves a limited amount of time to operate. I like contests, as they give me a very efficient environment in which to work DX and enjoy testing my antenna farm at various times of the sunspot cycle. You may work me from another country too, as I try to combine overseas lectures on heart disease with radiosport. So far I have had the privilege of contesting from China, Chile and the Turks and Caicos.
The purpose of this article is to share some of my medical knowledge with the ham community to help you avoid having to see me or one of my cardiologist colleagues! I would rather have your QSL card than have to hand you my bill.
We all need to practice "preventive maintenance." Many of us routinely perform preventive maintenance on our ham stations. We regularly replace coax runs, repair broken antennas, replace or repair towers and keep our rigs, tuners and amplifiers in the best shape we can afford. This type of activity may not always be fun, but it's essential - especially if you're like me and hate doing repairs in the dead of winter. For those of us who live in Minnesota, a mid-winter antenna project can become a life-threatening experience!
The same advice pertains to everyone regarding our cardiovascular health. Modern science has identified 80 percent of all of the risk factors contributing to coronary artery disease and heart attack. These include issues such as smoking, obesity (eating too well at ham meetings), hypertension (high blood pressure), elevated blood lipids, lack of exercise, diabetes, renal disease and a family history of heart attack or coronary artery disease. The 2004 "INTERHEART" medical study nicely outlines these risk factors, and I encourage you to study this paper if you have a particular interest in the topic.
One great lesson drawn from the past three decades of medical research is that most heart attacks are preventable - provided individuals are willing to alter their lifestyles to reduce their personal risk and improve their health. I offer five suggestions for staying heart healthy during a contest or during ham operation of any nature. I hope you'll find them helpful and humorous.
Get regular exercise. No medication has been shown to be more effective than a daily exercise regimen lasting 30 minutes or longer.
Control your weight. We are seeing an epidemic of diabetes and heart disease in Western Society because of obesity. Keep your weight under the best control you can achieve. Learn your own body mass index, and aim for a BMI of less than 26.
Stop smoking (or never start). Tobacco use is a leading risk factor for developing coronary heart disease. There are lots of ways to effectively quit smoking, and doing so will - within just four weeks - reduce your risk of have a fatal heart attack and cut your long-term risk of suffering a heart attack.
For the complete version of this article, with corrections of the version published in the NCJ, view the pdf version.