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Mike Figliuolo never saw his heart attack coming. But a year later, he is doing his best to ensure another one doesn't strike, rebalancing his life while also maintaining his furious work pace.

A graduate of West Point U.S. Miliary Academy, commander of a U.S. tank platoon for five years, ex-McKinsey consultant and now offering leadership training to companies through his Ohio-based ThoughtLEADERS LLC consultancy, he has always attacked life like, well, a tank commander. At 43, he shrugged aside the fact he was putting on a few pounds and his clothes were getting tight as a sign of middle age. His hurried life often meant grabbing fast food, but a fast pace and fast food seemed matched.

In retrospect, he realizes he was having trouble at times catching his breath, was sleeping more than normal, and was plagued by heartburn which he attributed to drinking too much coffee and cola. He never bothered with a physician. "Who needs a doctor? I am too busy for that. I looked OK, felt good and was too busy. It was a nasty set of behaviours," he recalls in an interview.

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But they are no more. He banished them, after the jolt to the heart and taking stock of his life. "I have three kids. How much more of a message do I need? I love my kids and my work and my friends. I want to stick around," he says.

On the anniversary of the heart attack, he noted on his blog that he had:

  • Exercised on 172 of the last 365 days (almost every other day);
  • Completed 15,545 sit-ups;
  • Sent 5,079 hours on the elliptical machine or running;
  • Travelled 798 miles (1,284 kilometres) on the elliptical or running.

I suggest in our interview that the tallies show he certainly remains a Type A personality, keeping score. But he brushes that aside. When he returned to exercising properly, he simply set up a spreadsheet with the day, weight, exercises, duration, distances, speeds, and his heart rate. The year's total flows easily from that. In his work, he teaches that what gets measured gets done. Keeping score motivates him and provides feedback with nice graphs on how he is improving. "You can call that Type A. But it keeps me honest," he says.

He should have been doing that before, of course. Ironically, he was certified as a fitness trainer in the army. "I know this stuff. I realized, 'you have to do the exercise, you idiot. Being certified does nothing,' " he says.

And he still contours the exercise to work. He realized from early November to mid-December he would have a particularly hectic pace, hop scotching continents and running day-long training sessions. So he decided to pull back on exercise, figuring it would come in other ways as he moved around, and will return when it is more feasible.

He also has changed his diet dramatically. To spur him on, he placed the scan of his heart before and after stents on the refrigerator. He attached the hospital wrist band from his right arm on the microwave, the left arm's wrist band on the cabinet door for plates, and his cholesterol chart sits in the pantry. Whenever he is in the kitchen, he is reminded to eat well.

But he also eats out or orders food in. And he changed that as well. He hasn't set foot in a Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Burger King, or McDonald's in the past year. Subway has become his favourite, with its roasted chicken breast or turkey sub on wheat bread with a lot of vegetables and just some light mayo. The few times he has been to Wendy's he had the grilled chicken salad, which he recommends to others as tasty and filling. He also had plain roast beef sandwiches a few times at Arby's.

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His first few food shopping trips he didn't have a clue what he was looking for. But he read the labels, and aimed for as close to zero per cent as he could on fat and cholesterol. "You don't need to be a nutritionist. It's not hard," he says.

On his daughter's birthday he had a steak, but the next day recalibrated with a salad. He stresses there are many tasty ways to have salmon – all heart healthy. He loves sushi, and finds himself snacking at times on yogurt. Instead of ordering pizza, a salad can be a satisfying substitute. Occasionally he will indulge in something less wholesome, to avoid becoming frustrated and giving up.

He has taken vacation time with his kids, fishing with his son and walking all over San Francisco with his daughter. His weight is down 15 pounds and his cholesterol by 65 per cent. He sleeps better. Over the past year he has only experienced heartburn twice and each time could trace it back to spicy food. He knows there are no guarantees about what is ahead, but feels he has improved his chances and urges everyone to act similarly: "Do it before you're in the hospital like me. Make the small changes now – and track it."

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column, Balance. E-mail harvey@harveyschachter.com.

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