This is an archived article.

December 2, 2004

More exercise, fewer cookies and an AED for his sleigh

“T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Except in a tower, through a door, up a stair,

Where a cardiologist gazed at a patient chart there.”


The doctor shook his head. The Christmas spirit must really be getting to me if I’m thinking in rhyme, he thought as he phoned a colleague.

The dietitian had been looking over the same chart.

“If he’s eating the traditional native Alaskan diet his closest neighbors eat, which has a lot of heart-healthy anti-oxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, he may be actually reducing his risk of heart disease,” the nutrition expert said. “Still, he’s definitely obese, so I’d like to see that waistline below 40 inches.”

“It looks like he’s at big risk for metabolic syndrome,” the heart specialist mused. He thought through the symptoms: hypertension, high blood-fat levels, high blood sugar. Each of those diagnoses alone is a problem. In combination, they increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes. “Let’s recommend that he get a little more exercise on a consistent basis, rather than cramming it all into one night a year.”

“How about suggesting that he start a walking program, and build up to jogging alongside the reindeer when he’s training them?” the nutritionist said.

“Sounds good. And he’s doing well at work, despite having hundreds of employees,” the cardiologist said. “He’s definitely not a type-A personality: he seems to enjoy his work and seems well suited to his chosen career. My general recommendation is that people should do their best to reduce stress in the workplace, but we won’t be recommending he change careers, since leaving his current position would be even more stressful than remaining. He should consider ways to make it less demanding.”

“Taking exercise breaks and avoiding treating stress with handfuls of candy should help with that,” the dietitian said. She smiled. “He certainly was honest in filling out his patient information form. Can you believe all the cookies and milk, just in one night? That’s okay though, if it’s just once a year. Since he doesn’t get a lot of sleep on Christmas Eve, I’ll recommend that he take some healthy snacks along, like trail mix, natural peanut butter on graham crackers and maybe a half sandwich. That should keep his energy level up and stress down. Then he won’t want so many cookies.”

“That long commute is a worry, alright,” said the cardiologist. “If he’s in compliance with FAA requirements for passenger aircraft, he has an automated external defibrillator, or AED, on board, which might be a help in an emergency if he has an assistant who can use it. AEDs on aircraft have been shown to be real lifesavers in the event of cardiac arrest.”

“I’m sure he uses his seatbelt and a helmet over his cap when he’s in the air,” the nutrition expert said. “What advice are you going to give his friends?”

“At my house, we’ve traditionally put out cookies for him and carrots for the reindeer,” the doctor said. “Maybe we should put out carrots for everyone, and maybe a glass of fruit juice.”

The nutritionist said, “If he starts doing a moderate training program all year round and continues to eat a healthy native diet supplemented with fruits and vegetables, he should fly through Christmas Eve and enjoy the 25th with Mrs. Claus and the elves.”

The two health care providers exchanged season’s greetings and hung up. As they put on their coats on the opposite ends of the University of Washington campus, a voice echoed across the sky:

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night!”


Note: This Health Beat was written with the kind assistance and expertise of Dr. Rick Page, professor of medicine and head of cardiology at University of Washington Medical Center, and Judy Simon, clinical dietitian at UWMC-Roosevelt. And of course, Clement Clark Moore wrote the first and final lines of verse!